Teaching Philosophy

It is our privilege to teach anyone who wants to dance, regardless of body type, age or background. 

We will pass on the full traditions and training methods of dance that were taught to us, with as much detail, clarity and insight as possible.

We strive to teach the student in front of us as efficiently and effectively as possible and consistently challenge them mentally and physically.  

We are teaching to awaken and inspire our students as individual dance artists and preserve their unique movement qualities.

We are not gatekeepers to the world of dance.  Our role is to ensure entry.


A Letter from the Director

When I started Susquehanna Dance Center in 2005 I imagined a place where smart, musical dancers would always be challenged and uplifted, where the full spectrum of dance from classical ballet to traditional modern dance and cutting edge jazz would be valued equally, and where dancers could be joyfully prepared to work on any choreography thought up by any mad genius out there- including themselves.

My passion for dance and background as a professional ballet dancer in the US and Europe brought me into contact with the very best -and some of the worst- of dance culture. It took me quite a few years and several alternate careers to understand that I could use my experience to help dancers and create a new and better kind of dance studio in the process.

SDC is a technique-oriented dance studio offers sterling instruction several methods of modern dance and jazz, as well as classical ballet. This makes us unique regionally and nationally. Our curriculum is much more evenly divided between classical ballet (of course including pointe) and the great tradition of classic American modern dance (Horton, Graham, Release,) than in most pre-professional studios. This allows SDC dancers to explore technical skills in all realms of dance as deeply as their time allows and to become fluent in multiple dance disciplines without an “accent”.

I could not fulfill my vision without an incredible faculty. SDC’s faculty are all professional dancers , choreographers and musicians who were trained at renowned dance academies and universities. They are people of substantial education, maturity, and natural ability who would be at home on the faculty of any fine college. Their devotion to their art and their passion for the art of teaching is inspiring and charismatic.

SDC is not a recital or competition studio. We do not spend weeks or months learning one “routine.” Simply put, instead of teaching you “a” dance, we will teach you “to” dance. (Wouldn’t you rather know how to play the piano instead of just one tune?) We do not emphasize sporty teamwork over individual accomplishment, or flashy moves over subtle ones. Dance is a language. At SDC students learn to use its vocabulary in all the thrilling complexity and nuance.

Dance technique is about aesthetics plus injury prevention. Good technique gives the dancer the safest and most energy-efficient path to the biggest possible range of motion and dynamics. A dancer should be able to execute steps in the most beautiful, articulate way possible while also staying clear of injuries. In dance, great technique is also the only path to great artistry.

There are many ways to teach excellent ballet technique, and I have studied several in detail. My roots are in Vaganova (Russian) method, but I also use the best practices of American ballet, informed by many European-based techniques, to ensure that my dancers are not ever stranded by a single mode of thinking.

Beyond stylistic choices in ballet, I personally emphasize spatial relationships, pattern recognition and motivation through metaphors in my classes; relying much less on rote memory than is typical. I never get “trapped “ at the barre without giving the students a chance to move across the floor. I also make sure there are enough repertory classes on the schedule so that students gain an understanding of the choreographic masters.

Dancers at SDC develop a refined musical sensibility and gain daily practice in “picking up” combinations of steps quickly and accurately. (These qualities are highly sought after by choreographers, and invariably get attention at auditions— from music theater camps to national ballet schools, to dance universities.) Finally, I try to present the material in a very clear and simple way, so that the progression of steps becomes obvious and accessible.

My mission at Susquehanna Dance Center is to develop students who truly come to know themselves better through dance. They internalize the vast power of disciplined, incremental work. They listen to teachers and respond to corrections. They trust their bodies. They feel the satisfaction of solving complex. layered puzzles and relish new challenges. They value their individuality, even as they unify in a group. They recognize and appreciate good design.

Not every student will be a professional dancer; but every student can transform and elevate themselves through dance.
— Shari Vegso-Wilson, Director, Susquehanna Dance Center

 

An Overview of the Dance Program at SDC

The Open Dance Class Program at Susquehanna Dance Center allows students to create their own schedule and take classes for fun, fitness. and education, and includes classes for adults, teens  and children. There is no particular number of hours per week required of students in open classes, and you are free to choose classes on your level and in your age range that interest you the most.  The restriction on Open Classes is that you may not take those that are designated Pre-Professional.

The Pre-Professional Dance Program at Susquehanna Dance Center allows students who take multiple hours of classes per week to be in classes with other students who are equally serious and excited about their dance studies. The hours of study required per week for each pre-professional level are the minimum needed to maintain a level of progress consistent with serious students of dance internationally.  Even if you are not sure a professional career in dance is your goal,  you can benefit in so many ways from an outstanding dance education.  In general, the classes in the Pre-Professional Program will be more rigorous than open classes in terms of pace, progress and detail.   Entry into the Pre-professional program requires a placement class.

Pre- Professional Level A

1 hour and 30 minutes  is the minimum required per week, with up to 3 hours recommended.

Pre- Professional Level B

3 hours  is the minimum required per week, with up to 6 hours recommended 

Pre- Professional Level C

5 hours  is the minimum required per week, with up to 7 hours recommended, plus rehearsal time for any performances.  This level is also required to see at least 2 live dance performances per year.  We also strongly encourage auditioning for national summer programs at this level.

Pre- Professional Level D

7 hours is the minimum required per week, with up to 12 hours recommended, plus rehearsal time for any perfromances.   This level is also required to see at least 3 live dance performances, preferably of dance companies at a nationally-known level. We also require auditioning for a minimum of two national summer programs at this level in order to understand and practice the audition process.

 


Frequently Asked Questions

What is your background?

SDC faculty are all highly trained, former professional dancers with many years of teaching experience.  We teach to the highest levels of technique and performance in ballet, pointe, modern, jazz and tap. Dancers trained at SDC have been accepted into such prestigious summer dance programs as the Mark Morris Summer Intensive, the Limon Intensive, Amercan Ballet Theatre, Kirov Academy DC,  the Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Bolshoi Summer Academy, the Carolina Ballet, the Atlanta Ballet,  the Orlando Ballet, Kaatsbaan, the Alvin Ailey School and many others.   Over the years, our dancers have performed in dozens of local music theater productions.  Student alumni have gone on to the best university dance departments in the country, many with partial or even full scholarships.  Students have also gone on to study neuroscience, dance medicine, dance therapy, nursing, education and one is now a professional ice skater.

What ballet technique do you teach?  

Shari Vegso-Wilson, Deborah Engerman,  Marie Cleaves-Rothacker and Warkenda Williams Casey all have strong backgrounds in Russian method classical ballet and we teach this technique with some modifications for American dancers.  (Kristin Pontz, Heather Butson and Lavon Holland have graduated from university dance programs where they studied the spectrum of classic modern and jazz techniques, including Graham, Horton, Limon, Fosse, release, and a variety of improvisation methods.)

The word technique as applied to dance is simply the tool box needed to dance beautifully and safely.   Though sometimes stylistically very different, it is true that good technique is good technique, regardless of which method the dancer used to arrive at it.  Most of the world's major ballet teaching methods were designed to ensure that dancers could dance specific types of ballet productions well.   Accordingly the various methods have differing strengths and weaknesses.

Shari was trained in strict Vaganova technique, and is also certified as an american Cecchetti instuctor.  As traditionally taught, both of these training methods have significant strengths, but also significant drawbacks for American dancers.  To give just one example, as frequently taught in the United States, the Cecchetti method consists of rote classes based on classical ballets. We fee this does not prepare dancers well for auditioning or working with a contemporary choreographer, where quickly picking up new phrases is absolutely essential and can mean the difference between getting a role or a job or not.   Our experience has been that even exceptionally talented students who train solely in this method have been under-powered as dancers and have trouble changing modes.   By contrast the Vaganova method is excellent for clarity of line and strength of movement, and it is creatively robust in the sense that specific combinations of exercises can be  created fresh each class .  However, it was developed in a country where dance students were chosen by body type from hundreds of applicants.  Dance schools in Russia are state-operated boarding schools where dancers take classes multiple hours per day six days a week, and one goal is to have everyone look just the same on stage.  Some very fine dance studios in the US do their best to approximate this type of environment.  However at SDC we are proud to offer excellent technique classes to everyone who is eager to dance and can commit the time, regardless of body type.

Ms.  Vegso-Wilson has also had substantial training with Bouronville-trained teachers ( Danish style) and with Balanchine-trained teachers and makes a point of cross-referencing style differences when appropriate for the dancers.   

Why don't the students take exams? It is our opinion that "ballet exams" benefit studios more than the student.  Internally at very large studios, they may be useful for grouping similar students.  But ultimately dancers are judged at auditions, and exam grades are meaningless.  Parents at SDC are encouraged to watch classes whenever possible.  The progress of dancers who are steadily challenged is readily apparent even to those who are not knowledgeable about dance.  The success of the dancers we are training speaks for itself.  We are also  happy any time to give dancers and their parent a candid assessment of strengths and weaknesses.  

Why don't you go to dance competitions?  While we have occasionally taken a few dancers to ballet competitions, in general its clear that dance competitions thrive on turning a complex, multi-dimensional art into a simplistic sport.  Additionally,  the expense for these competitions for families both in time and money outlay is very high, while the payoff for the dancer is very low.  It is rare for a competition-trained dancer to become a professional.

What is the content of ballet classes?   Ballet classes consist typically of barre and centerwork.  Barre work typically consists of a foot warm-up, plies, tendus, jetes (degages) , rond de jambe par terre , frappes, fondues or soutenous, rond de jamb en l'air, petit battement, developes, grand battement and a stretch. Balances in various poses are included in these exercises. Center work may include any or all of the following:  an adage, turn combinations ("pirouettes" and grand tours), some repetition of barre exercises in the center, petit allegro including glissades, sautes, echappes, pas de basques, assembles, jetes, sissones,  with beats in more advanced classes.  Exercises across the floor may include chasses, pique turns, ballones, ballotes, grande assemble, grand jetes, chaines, entrelace, balance, saut de basque,  etc. Exercises are given with a special emphasis on developing the memory skills and musical nuances necessary to becoming an artist.

Do you have a recital?  We do not emphasize a major costly recital every year and instead  have classwork demonstrations periodically. Our intermediate and advanced dancers have many performance opportunities associated with COBALT or other performing venues in the area.  Mainly we plan demonstrations for our youngest dancers, and are intended to give them a non-stressful performance opportunity for their parents and a chance to experience the transforming effect of a costume.  There is a fee for participation in the demonstration, and it primarily covers the costume and venue costs.

Can I watch my child's class? Yes, there are designated times for observing classes.