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Etiquette check: you've perfected your team's routine--now here's how to clean up your studio's offstage act.

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Competitions are a great venue for dance trend-spotting--rhinestones and ponytails are in, French braids and sequins are out--but sometimes the trends don't stop with the latest styles. Like bad manners. Nowadays dancers, parents, and teachers can be found talking in the audience during routines, leaving their trash behind them in the dressing rooms, and gossiping loudly--and publicly--about the poor performances of other studios.

Unfortunately, thoughtless and inconsiderate behavior reflects badly on everyone, and more judges and competition owners note it than students and teachers may realize. While it's easy to criticize bad manners, it's tough to combat them--especially when your dancers are the culprits. Here are some dos and don'ts that you'll want your dancers to know before they start packing.

DO be quiet. One of the most unprofessional things your dancers can do is make noise in the audience or backstage during a performance. This includes talking, tapping, and texting.

It's also important to keep your outbursts of audience team spirit at a tasteful level. "Dance is an art form, not a spectator sport," says Nancy Stone, vice president of IDC and DANCEAMERICA. "I'm all for cheering and applauding, but I like to see the dancer be able to perform to the best of their ability without distractions." Joe Lanteri, executive director of New York City Dance Alliance, agrees wholeheartedly. "I think the support adds to the energy of the event, but it can go overboard. Suddenly you feel like you're at a hockey game instead of a dance event."

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And really hush during the awards ceremony. "I hate it when I see a group that's just chatting away rather than listening to the awards until theirs comes along," says Stone. "If I was a teacher I would tell my dancers to sit and applaud for everyone involved in the competition. They're kids, they're going to do that but they need to sit quietly when everybody else is getting their awards too."

DON'T touch the props backstage. Whether it's a folding chair or a built-to-scale replica of Captain Hook's pirate ship, don't let your students go near any of the props backstage at a competition, no matter whose they are. You risk damaging another studio's essentials for their dance, which isn't a burden you want to bear. So unless it's your own and it's virtually indestructible, stay off. After all, you don't want someone from another studio playing with your cardboard jukebox, so don't touch their faux jail cell (or pirate ship).

DO sit down. If there's a dancer onstage, don't stand up. Don't walk in the aisles. Don't switch seats. Just sit and watch the performance. "We must say this 1,000 times per competition," says Stone. "Please be respectful of the people dancing onstage. Limit your walking to when the number is leaving the stage or the next is coming on the stage."

DON'T dominate the dressing rooms. It's a communal space where hundreds of girls have to prepare to go on. In most cases, dressing rooms are significantly smaller than you'd like them to be, and assigning studios to a specific corner of the room doesn't always work. Follow the golden rule and treat others (and their stuff) the way you'd like to be treated. Never move someone else's stuff that isn't from your team, don't throw their things on the floor and, most importantly, don't put your stuff on top of theirs. The last thing a dancer needs is to rush into the dressing room for a quick change and not be able to find her rhinestone ponytail clip because someone moved it.

DO designate an award-getter for each routine. For the younger dancers especially, it's an honor to be able to stand up in front of the audience and trot over to get the award. It's not such an honor for you, however, if your team breaks into a brawl arguing over who gets to be that person. Designate one dancer from each routine to be responsible for getting the award for that particular number. Rotate through the dancers from the group at each competition and make sure everyone gets a turn.

DON'T gossip about other studios. There will always be times when you and your dancers think the judges made the wrong decision, whether it's in regards to your own routine or someone else's. Keep it to yourselves. More often than you'd think, dancers are in dressing rooms or at a restaurant nearby and start running down other studios and dancers. Rule of thumb: You never know who's listening. You don't want to hurt other dancers' feelings by having them overhear you, nor do you want to get busted gossiping by another studio owner. The way your studio members behave in public is the way you are marketing your studio name and yourself. You wouldn't send out a brochure with your name on it that says, "We hated your jazz routine," so don't let your dancers get caught saying the same thing.

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DO be gracious, no matter what. Whether your team receives a fifth or a first place nod, train your dancers to accept their award with a smile. One of the most frequent complaints from competition directors is about dancers not saying thank you when they receive an award. Sure, maybe it's disappointing not to win the biggest trophy, but be proud no matter what. Train your dancers to clap for every routine that gets announced and do their best not to look bored during awards.

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DON'T swear. Ever. And make sure everyone on your team, no matter how old, watches his or her mouth. Competitions are family-friendly environments. Keep it that way and it will be great training for your dancers in the professional auditions and jobs that await them.

DO be prepared. Before the competition season starts, have a mandatory company-wide meeting with all of your dancers and their parents to discuss your expectations. "The parents need to be on board," says Lanteri. "Communicate clearly how both the parents and the students are going to represent your studio and make sure your expectations are clear." Whether you need everyone to don the studio's logo at competition or you want the dancers to arrive two hours before their scheduled performance time, be direct.

DON'T leave a mess. In the audience and in the dressing room, make it a rule to always pick up your trash. By the end of a long competition weekend, the dressing rooms tend to look more like war-torn shelters than makeup stations, so have everyone do their part by throwing out any trash (makeup, empty water bottles, ripped tights) that may have built up over the weekend. Do yourself--and the venue staff--a favor by picking up what you throw down.

DO be a role model for your dancers. As a teacher and studio owner, it's obvious that you have your dancers' best interests at heart. But your dancers--even the teens--are still kids. It's up to you to model what's right. So if you're sitting in the audience with your feet up on the seat in front of you, they're going to think it's OK to do that too. If you sneak food into the auditorium because you're hungry, they'll do the same. They look up to you and even when you think they're not watching, they probably are. Be on your best behavior at all times and they'll follow suit.

DON'T think behavior isn't important. The judges notice things. We promise. They notice who's talking in the wings and they hear what people are saying. Most competitions won't dock your team's score because of bad behavior, but they won't look fondly upon it. And in the long run, it won't enhance your reputation as a studio.

"When you're at a competition, you should feel like you're at the Academy Awards," says Lanteri. "Your dancers are wearing your studio name on their backs. They're representing you at all times."

Stone goes a step further. "Dance is about more than a stretched foot and a straight leg," she says. "Dance is an entire attitude that you go into a performance with. I notice how dancers are acting backstage and well-behaved kids are the kind I like to point out and acknowledge in front of everyone. They're not always the best dancers, but they're on their best behavior, and that quality comes directly from the teachers that they study with."

All of the dancers who hit the stage at competition have worked so hard to get there--and you've worked hard to get them there! So instill respect and courtesy in the dancers and their families: Show every competition dancer onstage the same admiration you'd show Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel during an American Ballet Theatre performance at Lincoln Center. If you show dance students respect, they'll thank you for it--and they'll give it right back to you.

Alison Feller is Dance Magazine's web editor.
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Author:Feller, Alison
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2008
Words:1492
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