Tips to being a great Dance Teacher
What makes a great dance teacher? Loving dance and having a vast knowledge of dance is required, of course, but it is so much more. A dance teacher’s role and impact is enormous on their students. Your students and their parents are putting an extreme amount of trust in you with their kids. Think back to when you were a student. If you’re still dancing, likely your classes and studio experience as a whole, was fun, educational, rewarding, life-changing and inspirational. Likely you had a teacher or many teachers that made a difference along your journey. This difference likely went far beyond technique. As a teacher, you now are the one in charge of creating a class and studio experience that is fun, rewarding, life-changing and inspirational, far beyond just the technique. The things that you will face while teaching may not be what you could even think or imagine. Classroom and parent challenges come in to play every day you teach. Having the knowledge and tools to get through a day of teaching, while being the best you can be, will help you on your journey to becoming a great teacher.
Do not be fooled, just because you love dance or are an extremely talented dancer or have a wide range of dance knowledge, being a teacher is not for the weak. It is for the strong who have skills and knowledge far beyond the classroom.
If you work as a dance teacher, some of the qualifications and desires will be dependent on your individual studio. You will need to adhere to your dance studio’s philosophies, as you would with any job. The philosophies are what the studio is selling to customers and what is expected of you as a teacher working for them. Each studio is unique, and in fact, to be a successful studio, it is recommended that the studio set itself apart from the other studios in the area. Being different, from the dance studio down the street, is why people go to you rather than the other local studio. Embrace your studio's uniqueness and philosophies, as it is likely what keeps the doors open, and what the customers expect. Also, be the kind of teacher you (or your mom) would PAY to take class from.
Here are some of the qualifications and skills you can take with you in your journey to becoming a terrific dance teacher and role model:
Things are going to happen and even the best planned class sometimes has to be taken in new directions. Let’s face it kids are kids, and you need to have a keen sense of how the class is going. If you are just not getting their attention, change it up a bit. Every student is a human being, and they have real human days, too. Be flexible and be willing to change your class in the direction it leads you.
Go the extra mile
Great dance teachers are the ones who are willing to go the extra mile. They put in extra hours when needed, to benefit their students. They commit to extra practices and rehearsals for struggling students. Having a teacher a student knows will go above and beyond for them, can make all the difference.
Patience is a required quality of a dance teacher. ALL teachers face difficult students, difficult parents, a boss’s expectations and classroom challenges. This comes with the job territory. In fact, it is part of the territory for most jobs, not just as a dance instructor. However, when working with kids, your patience needs to be at an even higher level. Take a deep breath and know you can do this. An old boss of mine used to say "this too shall pass". It will pass and you can make it through with patience.
A teacher with continued positive energy will pass this along to his/her students. Being passionate about dance is a desired quality of the job. Try to instill this passion in your students. PASSION = PASS-IT-ON!
A great dance teacher is a lifetime learner. Educating yourself will help you improve as a teacher. As a teacher, it becomes more important at this stage in your dancing to take classes specifically geared for teachers. Learning skills to be a great dance teacher is different than learning skills to be a great dancer. Find classes that help you grow as a teacher.
When you were a student, class was about “you” and the students at your studio. As a teacher, it is not really about you. This is about the students and giving them a great dance journey. Being a dance teacher is not for the selfish, rather it is for a very generous and giving person. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of joy to be gained from working with kids, however, much like being a parent, it is not a role for the selfish. Much we do, will go unnoticed and without thanks, kind of. If the dancers are coming to your studio and the parents/students are excited to take class from you, this is the thank you. Much like buying a pair of jeans you like, you rarely go back and thank the the store clerk for the great jeans she sold you, you just wear them a lot; and you go back to the store, and buy another pair of jeans that is the same brand. Often, your thank you will come 20 years down the road when you run into one of your former students and they thank you for making a positive impact on their life, or at a dancer's graduation performance.
Professionalism with students and parents
A fantastic teacher will be one who is able to handle parents and students with positivity and respect. We need to remember we are teaching the parent’s babies. We need to remember the parents pay the bills, so they are the customer, too. We need to remember, that the studio owner manages the money, but the true boss of the studio, who pays your paycheck is the parent. It is imperative that they feel as though they are treated professionally. Create a good rapport with the parents right away. Be prepared that the parents will not like everything you do. It is okay and expected to hear from them: the good, the bad and the ugly. Always respond respectfully and with professionalism and DO NOT FEEL DEFEATED. Parents are part of the job. They have expectations too, and most importantly they are our customers. Be grateful you have customers and students, for without them, you couldn't teach your passion, DANCE.
Check your emotional baggage at the door
I’m sorry, in advance, that I do not remember the teacher who gave our teacher class this advice at a CNADM convention years ago. It is some of the best advice I can give other teachers and it is a requirement to be a good dance teacher. At the time, I was going through my own tough time personally and I took this advice to heart.
“Your students are paying for a great class and to learn about dance. A dance studio is a business and they are not paying to be victim to your emotional baggage. There is no place for it at the studio and in the classroom. No matter what you are going through, check the emotional baggage at the door. Find friends and family outside of the studio classroom to be your support system. You may very likely need a support system and friends, but it is not fair to your students to bring it to class with you. You cannot teach a good class if you bring your emotional baggage through the door. Your job is to spread the joy of dance.” Further, it’s a little therapeutic, to have an hour or so, where you can escape from your baggage.
Everyone has their own battles. EVERYONE! This includes your parents, students, co-workers and bosses. Often those who show their baggage the least, have more than you could ever imagine, they just don’t show it. Again, I have a personal story to share. Years ago, a former dance colleague and friend seemed to have the absolute perfect life. In fact, all of us teachers were actually a little jealous of her. Years later, we became aware of her personal nightmare she had been living for years, because it was splattered on every news channel in the area. It was a reminder to me that everyone, even those we least suspect, face personal battles, and some far beyond anything we could even imagine. So let me be clear, I am not saying you shouldn’t have support, you very well may need it, but don’t bring it into the classroom, as parents are not paying for this. Also, be kind to everyone, as we never know someone’s personal struggles, even those who seem to have it all together.
Are you a dancer, choreographer or teacher?
A dancer is: A dancer is someone who dances and likely loves to dance. They may be a student or a professional dancer. They will spend much of their time learning dances and improving their dance techniques.
A choreographer is: A person who composes the steps and moves of a dance and is likely artistic. They love to create the art of a dance for others to perform. Their main concern is creating the art of dance for a dancer or dancers. Their job is primarily creating, not necessarily teaching. Their concern is not likely about building technique. Rather, the technique would be taught by a dance teacher. A choreographers role is to create dances.
A dance teacher: A person who teaches dance and techniques is a dance teacher. This is a person who works with dancers to teach them something they previously did not know. Likely, this involves teaching all skill levels and working with different kinds of adults and kids interested in being dance students. A dance teacher is someone who is willing to work with beginners, intermediates and advanced students who need to be taught new skills and techniques. If you are someone who mostly wants to work with the best classes of high school girls at your studio, then you likely fall more into the choreographer category. Many of the advanced classes at studios have seasoned dancers who have already been taught great technique and dance moves over the years. Dance teachers are also dancers. Some dance teaching positions require you to be a choreographer too.
One more area of advice I got at a teacher convention years ago was this: "DO NOT PUT YOUR LEAST EXPERIENCED TEACHERS IN CHARGE OF THE YOUNGEST AND MOST BEGINNER CLASSES. " These classes are for your most talented and experienced teachers and they are likely the backbone of your studio." So if you are a teacher and your boss is giving you the babies of the studio, be proud, because this trust is an enormous compliment. It takes someone with true skills to work with the babies and beginners/intermediates of all ages. These are the hardest classes. Be proud that you have been entrusted with these classes, your director must have a lot of faith in you if they are trusting you with the classes that may very likely be keeping your studio open.
Lastly, remember you are working with the babies of your parents. As a teacher, we need to be role models and stand for more. Despite any trophy or accolade, it is important for your own integrity and your student’s well-being, to do what is right. It is our job to protect these kids. There should be no place in the dance world that exploits kids for a trophy. Your main goal as a teacher should be to cause no harm, physically or emotionally. Please, choose your music, costumes, choreography and words wisely and with the best interests of your precious dancers at heart.
Kim Mader, Footworks Dance Company Director