Saturday, September 26, 2015




At Desert Star Dance, our belief is that children are precious and need to be nurtured and guided in a positive direction. It's not about getting Instagram famous or becoming a YouTube sensation. It's about a happy and healthy childhood. Often the message to our youth is that success is only found in fame on the internet or television. The culture of instant celebrity is not always a beneficial one for children.
Kids need a safe place to grow, learn, and have fun. We want to teach kids the value of movement and dance for personal growth and self confidence. We focus on the child and help them develop coordination and confidence in a truly family friendly environment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why I Teach Dance

Enjoying a Happy Moment with Students
For me, there is nothing more rewarding then teaching. I have been teaching dance for over 25 years and have enjoyed watching children grow up from a unique perspective. I realize the responsibility I have in working with children, and I do my best to have a positive influence in their life. I have taught some kids from the time they were in preschool and now have the privilege of knowing them as adults. I take it very seriously and I find great joy in my students and their accomplishments. People that I teach have a great deal of impact on me as well. Even the students that I only spend a short time with, often leave an impression on me. They all are unique and have their own set of talents and challenges. There is nothing more amazing than seeing a shy and timid student gradually transform. Even the most apprehensive can soon be arriving at dance class with enthusiasm and standing at the barre or strapping on their tap shoes with confidence - knowing exactly what to do. 
I do not teach dance with the goal of creating professional dancers, although I have taught several who have gone on to careers in dance, entertainment or arts education. It is most certainly gratifying to see a former student succeed on a professional level. However, I teach dance to help kids with their confidence and grace. I teach dance to help a student develop their personality and improve their social skills. I teach dance to help people feel less awkward or be able to loosen up and have fun. I teach dance because I know how much positive impact it can have on any person.  
I know my fellow dance instructors would agree that there is something wonderful about seeing a student achieve their goal - whether it be to become a professional dancer, get on their high school dance team, or to just be able to do a shuffle ball change or a pirouette. 
Miss Lisa
Dance classes are such an excellent choice for coordination development in children and young adults. Dance can have a big influence on a persons' overall confidence. It is also an excellent way to improve athletic agility. However the most wonderful thing about dancing is the personal growth that can be achieved. It can contribute to the overall success of any person, and best of all - it's fun! I love seeing that more than anything else as a dance instructor.
I am so thankful to have had a wonderful teachers myself. From the woman who taught me combo classes as a young girl, to the teacher who mentored and nurtured me through my teens, to the dynamic teachers who taught me in LA... I am so very thankful to them. It is amazing to have been given the gift of passion for my craft and also the talent of communication to pass my knowledge on to the next generation. There is nothing more rewarding to me and I feel so blessed to have found my calling! I always love that saying... "Pay It Forward", and I hope that I can succeed in doing it everyday. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Austin Brue - Home Town Boy Gets His First Break in Hollywood!

Last time I wrote about Austin Brue - he was off to Los Angeles after winning a scholarship at the famed Edge Performing Arts Center in Hollywood. 
After a year of intense study with the top teachers and choreographers in LA, Austin signed with one of the premier agencies for dancers. He diligently went out on weekly auditions, tried his best and pounded the pavement in earnest. 
Recently Austin came home to pay us a visit and bring us some exciting good news about his career. Austin landed a role on the TV series "Glee". With his boyish good looks and accomplished dance talents, he appears in this seasons' episodes as one of the members of the Warblers. He is donning the iconic blue and red jacket and singing and dancing in the final season of the popular show. Not only is he singing and dancing but he has secured a speaking part and has several lines and close ups. What a delight! He's a natural actor and looks amazing on camera. 

Austin and Jane Lynch
As a kid, Austin was undoubtedly destined for success. When I first met him he was a slightly awkward but incredibly confident and determined preteen with an intense desire to learn how to dance. As he studied, the awkwardness disappeared and he developed his skills in a number of different styles of dance. He showed a knack for the theatrical and excelled in musical theater with a comedic flair. He was also great at hip-hop and contemporary dance. He considered going off to college at U of A where he stood a good chance of getting a dance scholarship, but he chose to head towards the bright lights of the big city. Fortunately for Austin, it has become a very successful endeavor. He's got his foot in the door and is on his way to developing a rock solid career in dance and acting.
 
Recently I asked Austin to answer a few questions for us about his recent experiences. Here are his responses!

1. How often do you go out on auditions? There isn't really a consistent number of auditions. It's always different. December-February is known for being a dry spell when it comes to auditions, so there's not much going on at the moment. I have had as much as 3 auditions a day before.

2. What was the audition process for Glee like? I originally just had a dance audition. For Glee, they do photo submission for their auditions, so there were only about 12 guys in my audition. I was the second person to arrive to the audition, so I set my stuff aside to warm up in the corner of the room. The show's choreographers Zach Woodlee and Brooke Lipton approached me and told me that I looked just like one of the previous warblers, and asked me if I had any acting experience. I hadn't acted since junior high, but I responded saying yes. They took a photo of me, then sent it to casting. I got sent a script a few days later, with an audition time to act for the show's casting director, Robert Ulrich. I had to memorize 10 different roles, the night before the audition. Of course I was freaking out, because I felt so unprepared. I went to the casting, and I didn't feel too good about how I did. Probably didn't do as bad as I thought I did, because I ended up booking one of the speaking roles.

3. What was it like meeting your doppelgänger (lookalike)? It was cool meeting Chris Colfer. I got to work with him on 3 separate occasions on the show. He's really nice, which was refreshing, because you never know how stars are in their real lives.

4. Who's your favorite cast member? My favorite cast member would have to be Darren Criss. I was a huge fan of
Darrin Criss and Austin Brue
his before working on the show, so I was extremely nervous the first day when we had rehearsal with him. He's the coolest, kindest, smartest, and most genuine guy. Most of the actors would ride on a golf cart back to their trailers on set, but he'd gladly walk with all of us. I also love Samantha Ware. she plays a new character, Jane Hayward, on this season. She's become one of my best friends now, and I love her to bits. Easily the most talented person I know.


5. Any interesting stories or things you can share about your experience on the set? Something interesting I came to find out on set is how long everything actually takes to film. I didn't realize how many camera angles, different kinds of cameras, and lighting goes into every scene. Most of our musical numbers would take anywhere from 7 to 8 hours to film. Plus the acting scenes where we were with the main cast took about 5 hours to shoot, because of all the different factors.
his before working on the show, so I was extremely nervous the first day when we had rehearsal with him. He's the coolest, kindest, smartest, and most genuine guy. Most of the actors would ride on a golf cart back to their trailers on set, but he'd gladly walk with all of us. I also love Samantha Ware. she plays a new character, Jane Hayward, on this season. She's become one of my best friends now, and I love her to bits. Easily the most talented person I know.

6. How much rehearsal is involved for the Warbler numbers you were in?We'd have 1 rehearsal day for each number. We'd learn the number within 2 to 3 hours, then spend the rest of the day cleaning and perfecting every detail. After learning the choreography, we'd have to add in the lip synching, which was more difficult than I thought it would be.

7. Since Glee is ending.. What do you hope to do next? Now that I had this great experience with Glee, I'm looking into starting acting classes, so I can work as an actor as well. I really gained a love and respect for the craft being on set. I'd also love to dance with an artist. Just have to see what opportunities present themselves.

Thanks Austin for your gracious comments. I am sure you will excel at whatever you do. Best wishes from all your fans here in Arizona! We are all so happy for your well deserved success.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Power of Visualization for Dancers


I've been reading "The Law of Attraction". It is a very simple book with a simple point. Whatever you want in life, you must first identify what it is. Then you can focus your energy on attracting it in to your life. It's basically the power of positive thinking and visualization.

As I thought more about this and started practicing this to improve my life, I realized something important. Visualization can be a powerful tool in dance too. It can most certainly help a young dancer in their quest for improvement as well as enhance self esteem.There is nothing more powerful than the human mind! It can greatly affect our physical world.
Some people find this simple and others just can't stop the barrage of negative thoughts. It's not necessarily easy, but with practice (as with anything) we can get better at it.
Every day I encounter an array of different types of personalities in my dance classes. Some kids are instinctively positive and confident, while others are less sure of themselves. I do my best to convey this important principle to all of my students: In order to achieve a goal, we must first BELIEVE that we can do it. The next step is to set our minds on it and visualize success. The more a dancer is able to imagine themselves accomplishing things, the quicker they improve and achieve. Apparently I have been including these visualization principles in my dance classes for many years but just never realized that I was encouraging the "Law of Attraction". (Hmmm.. could I finally be growing up?)

There are times when a dance student is able to master the steps while following the teacher (with a "visual" in front of them) but when the teacher steps away, they are unable to remember the movement. The learning comes when the dancer can visualize the steps in their mind. I always encourage students to mentally rehearse the dance movements in order to truly know them. Visualization is a key component to success. We must identify what we want. It's seems it is easier to identify what we don't want. However, once we figure out what we do want and put that firmly in our sites, there's no telling how far we can go!


Sunday, August 3, 2014

Old School - Always know your roots

I've been involved in dance for many years. I became a professional dancer in my late teens. My era of come-uppance was the late 70's and early 80's which is right around the time that street dancing was really becoming popular. Movies like "Breakin'", "Beat Street", and "Flashdance" were the "You Got Served" of the Day. Breaking and b-boy culture was exploding on the streets of New York and popping and locking were emerging on the West coast. There was no such thing as "America's Best Dance Crew". The original dance crew (Rock Steady Crew) was just forming.

I started off as a jazz dancer, but the first job I was hired for was with a street dance troupe called "The Dancin' Machine" out of Los Angeles. I performed the jazz for the Flashdance number. I didn't know anything about this other dance world. I did, however, love funk dance as much if not more than the lyrical stuff. I liked it and wanted desperately to learn how to do it.

In those days, you couldn't go to a dance studio and take a "hip hop" class. Some of the teachers that I gravitated towards in Los Angeles (like the legendary and influential Billy Goodson) were definitely mixing street styles in to their jazz classes, but there were no official classes in urban dance. There were no options to take B-Boy 101 or urban grooves (I've actually seen classes called this). In order to learn, you had to hang out in the neighborhood, go to the clubs, or find a way to get in with the social scene connected to it. You had to watch from the sidelines and practice at home until you were brave enough to throw it down in public. The only way to learn was by osmosis, experimentation, lots of watching, and practice. There were no videos on YouTube.  It was an interesting culture since many of the creators and originators were very protective of what they were doing. They didn't want you doing their moves… they would consider you a "biter". However, I do believe that the art form was expanded by dancers just free styling from the heart and battling or watching each other. Everyone influenced each other whether they like it or not. The collective soul of the dancers is what created the styles.

The hip hop movement back in the early 80's was a cultural thing especially in the Eastern US. Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx were leading the way because it was part of the culture of kids growing up in that era. This culture included more than just breaking or b-boying, but emcee skills, graffiti, music, and dance were part of the whole story.  Rock Steady Crew is the original crew in my book.
http://www.inthecypher.com/forum/topics/the-rocksteady-crew-biography

The best history I've come across on line is from one of the pioneers… "Mr. Wiggles". His web site has a ton of information regarding the history of urban dance and hip hop culture. He has definitely done his research as well as lived much of this story. Check it out here: http://www.mrwiggles.biz/hip_hop_dance.htm

Dancers today are so fortunate to have so much access to education in any dance style they want. You can do an online search for dance and find just about anything. The history of street dance is a rich one and one that needs to be told. Now it is being told through those who lived it and are still sharing it today. I can only hope more writing will become available and video documentation regarding hip hop and it's dance origins.
Cool site with lots of products regarding street dance history:
http://www.cypherstyles.com

Here are a few more interesting links regarding various urban dance and it's history:
Very brief but fairly accurate:
http://dance.lovetoknow.com/History_of_Hip_Hop_Dance
My favorite site regarding locking and the Lockers:
http://www.thelockersdance.com/main.html

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dance Training and Kids


As a dance educator and studio owner - I have some distinct philosophies about teaching and children.
During the past 20 years I have been involved in dance education and instruction on a number of different levels. As a parent myself now, my feelings have definitely evolved from one of indifference to distinct resolution. 
1970's in the dance studio
As a young teacher, I don't remember ever considering the intensity of the instruction. I never thought of it that way as I was just going in and doing a job and sharing what knowledge I did have about dance and theater. However, back in the 70s and 80s dance studio life was a totally different world. 

As the years passed and I became more and more experienced at teaching and more involved in the studios where I was working, I began taking my job more seriously. I began to investigate and read about children and psychology as well as physiology. As my knowledge grew, I began to formulate some opinions and philosophies about the dance world in general, what is appropriate for young people in dance, and how much training is healthy and beneficial to the overall well being of a student. I do not have a degree but I have been successfully teaching and mentoring dancers for over 25 years. So I have a wealth of knowledge and experience on the subject and have taught all around the world. I was also a professional dancer in Los Angeles and Las Vegas for two decades. I feel safe to say I am an expert. 

Amazing yet perplexing
At competitions, I began to see students of an amazing technical level at a very young age. Kids spending hours and hours in training and sacrificing all else in their life for the one activity.  Young kids are fearless and impressionable, and if they love something - they can be pushed hard and accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. However I started to wonder if this type of training is beneficial to kids. I believe in commitment and fitness as well as healthy competitiveness, but there is a fine line between excellence and obsession. The trend that I see is not necessarily a healthy one. It seems that the art of dance is turning in to the sport of dance and in some situations is fostering the exploitation of young people. 

In my opinion, dance is different from sport. I realize there are many people that feel differently and are doing their best to turn it in to a competitive sport. Look at all the competitions for dance on TV. I think of dance as an art form as well as a form of entertainment that benefits from fitness and has elements of sport. That being said, what is the purpose of a child becoming advanced beyond their years in dance? What will they do with this skill? Unless a parent is hoping to take their child to Hollywood or New York to become a child star or a child shows a talent, potential, and desire in ballet... then what is the purpose of premature expertise? 

In the training of young dancers,  I don't feel it is necessary for a child as young as seven to train for five hours every day. I am more comfortable with a natural approach where a child can commit to the work but let it progress naturally, and still have success and a great time doing it. This way it does not overwhelm the family or the child's life. I believe in encouragement and not forcing or pushing a child since it may not be what a kid needs to excel. As a teacher, I generally know when a child is ready to be challenged.

Balance is important
I am constantly striving to strike the right balance in training the young dancer. Most kids who dance will not become professionals.  It is one out of a thousand in my experience, but dance benefits every kid who participates in one way or another.  Most of all, it is my belief that there is a delicate balance that is important to keep while teaching dance. Kids only get one childhood. As a teacher, I try to avoid commitments that rob dance students of valuable childhood experiences. There is a middle ground. I like to encourage excellence in an age appropriate manner while encouraging kids to experience the other things that can enrich their lives. It IS possible to maintain a commitment to dance while still participating in school activities and other extracurricular pursuits. Desert Star Dance has been making it happen for years. We strive to teach kids to have a healthy attitude and outlook towards dance as well as life in general.
To find out more about Desert Star Dance go to: http://www.desertstardance.com


Monday, December 9, 2013

Good Taste for Dancing Kids

It is apparent that there is a trend in dance out there that comes dangerously close to the edge when it
comes to kids and "age appropriate" material. I believe dance educators, mentors, and instructors should always keep in mind that they are working with CHILDREN. There is no question that much of the music and artistic material these days can be mature in nature and dance is most definitely a sensual art form. Therefore, I believe it must be handled very carefully by those presenting their work with kids. We must be responsible and thoughtful in our choices, and should be cautious of provocative and suggestive dance for little ones. Super sexy dancing in combination with suggestive music and barely there costumes is NOT appropriate for kids. Again, this is my opinion, and the tidal wave is unfortunately flowing the other direction.
Let's leave this for Dita Von Teese
not your 7 year old
All you have to do to confirm this is happening is to watch the episode of "that show" on TV where the dancers are wearing nude sports bras and dancing with pink feather fans while pretending to be Vegas showgirls... at 10 years old! This freaked me right out.. and I was a Vegas dancer once upon a time. These children are so talented and there are thousands of other subjects that would be appropriate for them! If a choreographer wants to create burlesque, perhaps they should move to Vegas or find a different outlet to pursue their dream instead of bestowing it on a group of preteens. Costumes can be cute and sassy without being too revealing. Eroticizing children is unfair. Dance educators need to exercise discretion. We have a responsibility to the next generation of artists and choreographers to show that we are creative enough not to take that cheap shot. Again, this is my opinion and you might think I'm off base and exaggerating.

Costumes can be cute and sassy
without being raunchy
I sometimes have an issue with the term "age appropriate". How about just "appropriate"? Is there really a situation where it is appropriate to teach other people's children something that is sexually explicit? I think it's a very bad choice and in poor taste. There may be a certain amount of sensuosity that is acceptable for teenagers approaching adulthood, as we know they are not asexual. However, do they need to be pushed in that direction? I'm not suggesting that a choreographer never explore this in any way, but I believe that sometimes we need to remember that these are young impressionable minds and bodies. We cannot completely ignore the sensuous aspect of dance but we can proceed with caution.  I do think dance for young people can be done with class AND style without being overtly provocative and still leaving room for choreographers and dancers to express themselves.

I've heard the argument that a child knows it is only acceptable to wear revealing clothing and move suggestively in dance classes and on stage. I am in disagreement. Are kids able to compartmentalize like that?  It hurts my heart to see little sweet girls bumping and grinding in really skimpy costumes in front of an audience when at home they are clutching their teddy bears and sucking their thumbs.

Dance instructors can be very influential in a child's life, especially if a kid loves dance! Beware of instructors who vicariously live out their dream of being an LA or Vegas choreographer on kids. My advice to them…GO FOLLOW YOUR DREAM! It's out there waiting for you. It's not necessarily in your local dance academy.

It IS possible to create entertaining, artistic, and excellent dance that doesn't embarrass an audience. I hope more dance teachers will make the right choice. We should not be in the business of teaching dance to children for our own notoriety.  If you do it for love, the notoriety will follow! We should be seeking to pass on our knowledge to the next generation of artists and entertainers as well as just teaching kids something fun and healthy that doesn't make them grow up too fast.

To find out more about Desert Star Dance go to: http://www.desertstardance.com