Why Free Lessons Aren’t Really Free

I had a friend ask me the other day whether they should charge for lessons in their dance organization.

My answer is almost unanimously “Yes!” and there are very few reasons to not charge for a lesson.

“But dance should be free for all,” or at least such-and-such dance should, is generally the response to charging for lessons.

The debate over free has raged along especially in the rise of digital tools, communities and services that are free or nearly free; what that means and so on has been of much discussion and vitriol on all sides. Something I don’t intend to delve into (regarding digital media).

The thing most people don’t realize is that free lessons are never free, as in gratis. Hosting a dance lesson requires work that take time, effort and skill.

  • Dance Expertise
  • Teaching Expertise
  • Organizational Work
  • Promotion Work

Dance instruction does not materialize out of thin air, even if you teach on a street corner to a group of friends (which is usually not the case).

Someone has to perform the instruction, hopefully with years of dance experience, while someone needed to have organized the space and time and managed the responses to promotion and inscription, while promotional materials had to have been created and distributed.

This work is not free, even if it is not paid for in dollars it is paid for in time, skill and effort. This is the cost of a free lesson even if no one gets paid.

Even if your lesson is free for the students, they are not free for everyone. Someone is paying the cost.

This is just one reason I nearly always advocate charging for lessons.

People are more invested when they pay for something, thus more attentive students who are more likely to continue on. Teachers and staff feel compensated for their time and effort which gives them the freedom to invest more into creating an exceptional class. Invested students, teachers and staff means better classes for everyone.

Unless you are willing to teach, organize, promote and dance as charity, which is valuable in its own right on occasion, I recommend sticking to charging for your lessons.

Teaching @ Cat’s Corner August 11th, 7pm

I’m really excited to return to Montreal and teach for a night at Cat’s Corner next Wednesday, the 11th of August at 7pm.

It was where I cut my teeth as an instructor and worked in an amazing community. I hope to give back a little bit with this class on solo jazz inspiration and choreography.

All are welcome so long as you have experience with solo jazz and charleston, including line routines like the shim sham and big apple, people of all levels will get something out of it.

I will also be out dancing and available for private lessons from August 10th to the 14th. Contact me directly to book.

Master Class: Solo Jazz Inspiration & Choreography

Delve deeper into your solo jazz and dance with this master class. Tools and ideas to go from doing cool moves to having good movement. Carl will walk you through his process that makes choreographing and solo jazz a journey that reveals itself as you go.

With experience choreographing multiple solo and duet jazz pieces like this routine with Davis Thurber at Midwest Lindyfest 2008, Carl’s take on choreography is one of exploring narrative and structure from a birds eye view.

Experience in solo jazz & charleston highly recommended.

Class 20$, Wednesday 7pm, pre-registration encouraged.


info@catscorner.ca or 514-874-9846

PayPal: info@catscorner.ca

Classe Maître: Inspiration Solo Jazz & Chorégraphie

Plongez plus profondément dans vos solos jazz et votre danse en générale avec cette classe maître. Vous développerez les outils et les idées pour passer de gestes “cool” à l’exécution de bon mouvements complet. Carl vous accompagnera à travers le processus qui rend la chorégraphie et les solos jazz une démarche qui se définie au fur et à mesure que l’on progresse.

Avec sa grande expérience en tant que chorégraphe jazz en solo et en duo, telle que cette routine avec Davis Thurber at Midwest Lindyfest 2008, Carl défini la chorégraphie comme étant l’exploration d’une structure et d’une narration vue de haut.

Il est grandement recommandé d’avoir une expérience en solo jazz et en Charleston.

Cours 20$. Mercredi 7PM. Il est recommandé de réservé en avance.

Pour s’inscrire:

info@catscorner.ca 514-874-9846

PayPal: info@catscorner.ca

Resources Roundup #002

I’ve been pretty busy lately with a few different projects, one being a series of performances with a new dance troupe here in New Orleans, others including a Challenge with @InstigatingAndi on Content Strategy, and a site redesign for The Dance Nomad (in progress picture).  So I share with you a few posts and articles that I found inspiring, useful and powerful today.

How to Act (and React) Like a Professional by Nichelle @ DanceAdvantage

A consummate professional is constructive, positive, is motivated and has the ability to motivate others, displays generosity, and takes the high road. If you want to be seen as a professional in your career and in your life, you must develop strong leadership skills. And leaders are most often defined by their reactions to situations, rather than their actions.

Alvin Ailey’s Uptown by Mikey Pedroza

This past Saturday night, I went to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. They a modern dance group based out of New York and they are in a word INSPIRING! You don’t just “go to see them,” you experience them. This new production featured a new piece called “UPTOWN”. This was a piece choreographed by Matthew Rushing and inspired by the Harlem Renaissance of the early 20th-century.

How to Opt Out of the Facebook Mistake at Technology in the Arts

Opt in policies are generally the most effective and considered to be best practice. This is where Facebook made their fatal mistake and where arts organizations need to ensure they are excelling. Organizations only want people to receive information that want to receive it. By allowing people to opt in to programs, the organization is letting the individual take responsibility and targeting individuals who want more contact with the organization.

The Lindy-Loggers by Jerry Almonte

The Lindy blogosphere is surprisingly larger than you think. When I started this post I thought I was just going to describe a handful of sites, but once I was done compiling URL’s I came up with over 50.

If you any suggestions for articles and resources for dancers, send them my way.

3 Ways to Release Your Creative Dancer

As dancers we’re constantly striving to create art with our bodies.

Sometimes we feel like we’re stuck in a rut, like we’re performing the same motions in the same uninspired, rote manner.

Sometimes we feel like we’re on fire, ideas, rhythms and variations pouring out of us raw and unbridled.

Creativity is a “seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbing about in a state of bewildering activity.”

~William James

How do we channel that seething cauldron of ideas?

Attempting to force creativity is akin to catch a river with your bare hands. It just doesn’t work that well.

Recent studies in creativity suggest that by recalling a time where we were free to act without worrying about doing the wrong thing, ala childhood, we unstifle the imagination. By casting ourselves as children, we unburden ourselves from the inner critic who tells us we are doing it wrong.

How then we do apply this knowledge to our creative pursuit–dance?

Visualization and Recollection

By visualizing ourselves or describing what we would do if we were seven years old, we incorporate that character into our creative process.

Take 5 to 10 minutes before creating and imagine yourself as a child, write down what you would do with your day if you had the entire day off and you were a child of seven years old.

Then go on to create.

A study at North Dakota State University by Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson used this technique to test creative solutions in a group of undergraduate students. They discovered that those students who were instructed to recall that childhood playfulness scored higher on creativity tests following the exercise than those who did not recall their childhood.


When creating place specific restricting criteria on your movement, or add an element to your movement that is unfamilar to your normal repertoire.

Once you have those restrictions, just go. Don’t take the the time to diagnose everything.

By releasing yourself from the requirements of knowing all of the elements or being fully comfortable with the situation at hand you force yourself to improvise.

A few years ago I danced almost solely in rubber soled shoes, but on the occasion when I was having an off night I kept a pair of leather soled shoes with me. I would change out my shoes and this unfamiliar element (slippery shoes) would release a whole different set of creative impulses that were bound up when wearing sticky shoes.


Take the two exercises above and you’ll see similar elements of play in both of them.  Children play a majority of the time, we don’t have the inhibited impulses of adults questioning ourselves, we don’t know all the answers, and we’re looking to explore.

Before creating take some time to play around. Goof off, mess around, whatever you want to call it. Be humourous, take risks, get on all fours and roll on the ground. Play a game that you played growing up (four square, tag, clapping games, etc.).

Exercise the physical playfulness of the body to release the tensions that inhibit creation.

Then shift modes into dancing.

How do you release your creative dancer?

5 Non-Promotional Twitters Uses for Dance

Most examples of Twitter uses revolve around promotion for your business; however it’s not the only or necessarily best use for Twitter for your dance event or business.

So, I’m showcasing a few solid examples of how to make Twitter work for your business without being just another advertising space.

Updates via SMS

One of the best examples of Twitter usage was at the Frankie95 dance event in New York City May, 2009.

They leveraged the Twitter mobile features to feed updates via SMS to hundreds of event participants.  They encouraged attendees to sign up for Twitter, follow them and then set up mobile updates via SMS for their tweets.

By doing so they created a way to quickly and effectively reach their attendees with changes to the schedule, last minute updates, and more with minimal cost.

For large conferences, dance events and workshops with fluid schedules this kind of notification system works wonders to keep your attendees in sync with what’s going on.  Whether your party has moved down the hall or the workshop has been pushed back an hour, your attendees will get an SMS notification delivered to them.

SMS is a direct line to your participants and Twitter’s mobile update feature leverage that connection well.


One of the most common uses of Twitter is as a networking tool.  There are many dancers and dance studios on Twitter who you may not be aware of in your area.

Whether you are looking for dancers for your company, looking to hire a new instructor or looking to network with out of town studios and instructors for possible joint projects, Twitter is a great place to find and connect with individuals.

Using services like Twellow, which function as directories of Twitter users grouped into categories, you can find dancers, musicians, DJs or organizers throughout the world to connect with, share information, tips and more.

Customer Service & Brand Management

While we all hope we don’t have too many complaints or issues to address, Twitter is a great tool for tracking issues and connecting with the individuals who have problems and addressing them directly.

Having an ear on the Twitter feeds for your brand name, your dance studio, your dance style, etc. allow you to monitor and deal with issues that may crop up with your business – and especially with your website that may get lost in the shuffle of e-mail.

Searching for mentions of your brand name, dance style, dance studio or instructors can give you a pulse on what people are saying about your business and the world of dance.

Sharing Content

Whether you want to share a photo of the latest dance competition highlights, a music track you just discovered or a video of an inspirational dance video; Twitter is another way to deliver this content to your customers.

With a camera in every phone, you can easily snap a picture of a dancer and immediately send it to Twitter through a service like TwitPic.

If you have a Flickr stream you can feed your photos to your Twitter account, so once you’ve got pictures from your most recent recital, show or even rehearsal you can feed them out to your followers automatically.

Many music streaming services like Last.fmBlip.fm, and Pandora allow you to share the song or channel you are listening to with your Twitter followers with the click of a button; so if you just caught a song that inspires your dancing – share it.

By sharing content of your dancers, your DJs, your inspiration and your studio you create a stronger community connection with your followers.

Dance Mobs

Who doesn’t love a dance mob?

Whether you are organizing a random club bomb where you descend en masse upon a specific club, a flash mob dance event, or a spontaneous dance party, Twitter helps you setup and share the details needed with dancers.

If a favorite DJ or band is playing at a club it’s a quick way to gather your friends to join you.

With the use of other online media, like YouTube or another video platform, you can share a dance to be learned, and then organize the meetup and performance entirely via Twitter.

These kinds of performances, jams and meetups are a great way to spur interest, engagement and media attention.

Better Dancer: How To Learn Choreography, Part 2

This is the second of a three part series on tips, tools and advice on improving your ability to learn choreography. The first part covered preparation, this part will cover tips and advice on learning in class, and the last part will cover recall and refinement of choreography.


Depending upon the level of the material and the teacher, choreography is presented and taught in a variety of ways. Whether the instruction is purely visual repetition, sequencing, or count by count; these tips helps.

Create a Blueprint

As the choreography is demonstrated, create a mental outline from what you see and hear. Mark significant changes, shifts and movements in your mind.

Having an outline or birds eye view of the overall structure of the choreography is like having the blueprints to a building. You’ve got the plan, now you have to become the construction worker – starting from the foundation to the frame to the sheathing, walls and so on until it is complete.

Break It Down, Build It Up

Choreography is in essence a sequence of movements, long or short. Experienced dancers can understand and recall large chunks of sequence quickly, while less experienced dancers understand more basic chunks.

Just like building with legos, you need to put the pieces together one by one to form each chunk and then assemble the chunks into a larger whole.

Know your chunk size.

By that, know how long or short of a sequence you can address and repeat quickly. As the choreography is taught or shown, begin with chunk sizes you can process easily (whether that is 8 counts of movement or a full phrase of music).

Start at this level and begin combining them into larger chunks.

Work on creating several larger chunks individually, then assemble the larger chunks into the even larger chunks until you have assembled the whole choreography.

Use Cues to Anchor Chunks

Develop verbal, spatial and musical cues to anchor chunks of movement to specific times, places, and rhythms.

Cues come in many forms.

Spatial cues anchor what comes next with where you are at a certain point in space. This can be placement within a group of dancers, location on a stage, or body position. By tying a chunk to spatial cues you take the pressure off of recalling larger chunks by placing chunks into context.

Verbal cues anchor what you are doing with a verbal phrase or series of sounds. They can be as simple as verbal rhythms spoken while performing the physical representation of the sound, or as deep as stories representing various movements or sections of the dance that carry one section into the next.

Musical cues anchor what you are doing and what comes next with the music being played for a piece. While not all choreographies are performed to music, many are. Knowing that a specific chunk follows a particular hit in the music, or a shift in the mood of the music changes the style of the momvent, allows you to place chunks into context.

Cues place content (the chunks of movement) with context. By understanding context we can deliver content adeptly.

Do It, Don’t Watch Yourself Do It

If your studio has mirrors, don’t focus on what you are doing as you dance it in the mirror. Focus on the experience of performing the movements correctly. The mirror is a refinement tool, not a framing tool.

Placing too much emphasis on a mirror distracts you from engaging your bodies memory.  Save the mirror for refinement – or even better, use a video camera to review your performance.

In Your Words

Whether you are using a physical dance journal, or a digital dance journal, capture each step of your learning process so you can use it to recall, reflect and refine your performance of the choreography in the future.

This note taking process puts the choreography into your own words.


When in the studio learning choreography put the rest of the world out of your mind. To learn swiftly you need intensity of focus.

Watch the lead dancer or instructor demonstrate first, don’t attempt to mimic immediately. Watch the whole presentation of the choreography, take note of the outline, the chunks, the cues. Create the outline, listen and watch for the cues, and fill in the outline with the pieces.

Focus ties all of the elements together.

What do you do to learn choreography? Leave a comment.

Better Dancer: How to Learn Choreography, Part 1

Learning choreography is a part of dance training, whether you are a social, competitive or performance dancer. It is a tried and true method for dance instruction.

Choreography may be as simple as learning a short sequence of steps as a repetition exercise, or as complex as learning a whole sequence of dances and routines for a show.

Understanding how to learn, recall and perform choreography is as much a personal endeavor as dancing itself is, yet there are some tools you can use to speed you on your way.

Part 1 will cover how to prepare yourself for choreography, Part 2 will cover tips for learning choreography, and Part 3 will cover tips for recalling and improving performance of choreography.

Be Prepared

Preparation is one of the biggest advantages you can have for learning a choreography.

Start with choreography in mind.

You know you are going to learn choreography so there is no use denying or avoiding it. Having a mindset that opens yourself up to the learning process is essential. If you believe you can’t learn choreography, you are sabotaging your efforts before you begin.

Know how you learn

We all have slightly different methods for learning, so prepare yourself by finding out how you process and recall information.  Knowing your core learning styles helps you translate the material you will encounter into something meaningful.  But in the end, remember, dance is about physical movement, so make sure not to neglect how you translate information into movement.

Know your limits and your strengths

Learning choreography is as much an understanding of what we can do and what we can’t do.  If you are learning a choreography outside of your area of expertise, recognize that and don’t set your standards based on your strengths.  If you are sitting in on a Master class choreography and are not at that level know you may not be able to perform to that level, although it doesn’t hurt to try your damnedest.

Know your steps

Choreographies are built upon the understanding of certain basic or core movements in a dance. If you don’t have solid basics and core movement you are going to be struggling from the start. Know your basics and common sequences, practice them regularly (there’s a reason even the best ballet dancers go back to the bar everyday). If you know the choreography is going to focus on specific kinds of movement, dedicate time to practicing and strengthening those.

Maintain your body and mind

If your body is shot and mind frazzled when you step into the studio to learn a choreography, you are assuredly going to stumble and maybe even get injured. Make sure to keep yourself in good health, including eating well, keeping hydrated, stretching, warming up and strengthening your body. Don’t underestimate the power of a limber and ready body.

Have your own tips to prepare for choreography? Leave a comment.