Dear Katie

September 16, 2015

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Dear Katie,

My technique is strong, but my teacher has told me that I look stiff onstage. How can I learn to express myself when I perform? —Sophia

Dear Sophia,

I know that kind of feedback can be disheartening, but don’t worry! You already know you love to dance—you just have to find a way to show that onstage.

First, remember that the audience is relatively far away, which means movements that look great in the studio may not read well onstage. Think of making each step as big and long as you can. To avoid looking “stiff,” focus on using your port de bras, your plié and your épaulement, bending and moving your body as much as possible. It might feel a bit silly at first, but it’ll ultimately help your passion shine through.

The other key is not to get fixated on the steps themselves. They’re in your body—you know the choreography!—so focus on your character and the music instead. What story do you want to tell? What is the music telling you to do? Shifting your focus from the steps to the artistry can completely transform your dancing.

Dear Katie,

I’ve been working on my splits for a long time, but I’m still not there. How can I get to 180 degrees? —Rachel

Dear Rachel,

The key to improving your flexibility is to do it gradually! I know taking things slow can be frustrating, but if you try to force your body into a deep stretch right off the bat, you’ll end up tearing your muscles rather than lengthening them.

To achieve a full split, you’ll need to stretch your hip flexors, quads and hamstrings separately. (Make sure you’re warm before doing any stretching.) Start with a “runner’s lunge”: Put one leg forward with the knee bent at a 90-degree angle above the toes, and extend the other leg behind you. Stretch through your hip flexors by activating your glutes and tucking your pelvis slightly—but be gentle. To target your quad, stay in the lunge and keep the knee of the extended leg on the floor as you pull that foot in toward your body. Finally, stretch your hamstrings by putting one leg up on the barre in front of you and bending your upper body forward as far as you can. Again, don’t force it! Slow and steady always wins the race.

Dear Katie,

I don’t think I want to dance professionally, but I’d love to keep dancing in college. What colleges have strong dance programs? Will I be able to take advantage of them if I don’t major in dance? —Tyler

Dear Tyler,

I think it’s fantastic that you’re planning to dance in college! Many dancers take this route and find it very fulfilling—even those who, like you, are unsure about dancing professionally.

There are many colleges with not just good but great dance programs. Off the

top of my head, I’d suggest looking into Fordham University, Indiana University, University of South Carolina, University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Butler University—but there are dozens upon dozens of strong options. Be thorough when you’re doing your research, because different schools have different rules about, for example, the classes non-dance majors can take. (The Dance Magazine College Guide is a great research tool; you can buy it at And try to get a sense of the school as a whole, not just its dance program. This is a place you could be living for four years—you want to pick a school where you’ll thrive in all aspects of your life.