Growing up, I trained in all styles of dance and played a musical instrument, the piano. I could easily and proficiently count music, read music, and identify an upbeat or downbeat. Now, as a teacher, I notice that many students, across varying ages and skill levels, struggle with the musical components of dance instruction. Phrasing, tempo, and rhythm are concepts that require detailed explanation and practice in execution and understanding in all styles of dance. Here are a couple of exercises I have integrated into my classes to work on teaching rhythm and helping our understanding of music:
Finding the 8-Count:
There are so many times that I’ve asked a student to find an 8 count. And, they struggled. The understanding of musicality and musical phrasing is an essential part of being a successful dancer, teacher, and educator. In dance, counts are the road map to success. Musicality strengthens a performance into an experience.
Take the time to review rhythm. Explain the different possibilities for timing and counting. This will make your students more adaptable as they work with other teachers and instructors.
Exercise: Round Robin Counts
We will open a class with round robin style counting exercises. Students will take turns finding an 8-count of phrasing in the music, and they will “pass” the phrase onto another dancer who will work to continue the phrasing and counting of the particular music. To notate the phrases, we clap or march and say the counts out loud. For this exercise, we vary types and tempos of music used.
Occasionally, I will stop the lesson of regular classes to “find the 8 count!” Students learn to be ready for it- which means they are diligently counting in warm-up, across the floor progressions, and in combinations. This skills transfers to shows, dance teams, and auditions. It is a valuable part of their dance education experience!
Activity: Teaching 8-Count in other Languages
Here’s a fun Classroom Activity- teaching your students to count to 8 in different languages!
SPANISH: Uno / Dos / Tres / Cuatro / Cinco / Seis / Siete / Ocho
FRENCH: Un / Deux / Trois / Quatre / Cinq / Six / Sept / Huit
ITALIAN: Uno / De / Tre / Quattro / Cinque / Sei / Sette / Otto
This is a fun, educational (and applicable!) activity for all ages/levels.
Teaching With Counts
When I teach choreography with counts, I like to have the students repeat the counting to reiterate the importance of phrasing and timing. I tell them we are using the counts as our road map, and to stay on the same journey, we must use the same map.
Phrasing, Tempo, & Rhythm
I will teach a brief segment of choreography (8 or 16 counts), and we will practice executing it at different speeds:
It is important that students understand the process of counts and the ability to manipulate speed and tempo.
With time and repetition, these exercises strengthen the dancers’ understanding of rhythm, musicality, and phrasing, improving their overall performance and understanding of dance.
Tap dance is a fun and unique art form. Unlike other dance styles that emphasize light feet and soft sounds on stage, tap dancers strive to make their feet heard. In fact, many of the moves in tap are based on intentionally creating different sound patterns. Picking the right tap dance music makes all the difference!
With the right accompaniment, tap shoes can complement the music and create a dazzling visual and audio display. The key is to find an upbeat and energetic soundtrack for your dance class that can keep your students amped up and moving!
The musical genres you choose can be tailored to your own tastes. Tap goes well with a wide range of musical styles, and has a history with each of them. Here are a few suggestions for finding the right tap dance music for your classes:
1. Jazz, Swing, Bebop
Good for: Dance history lessons
Tap dancing and jazz music have made a fantastic pairing for decades. Though tap has its roots in dances that date back centuries, Theater Dance reported that the modern notion of tap dance started to become a part of pop culture in the 1920s. This was around the same time that jazz music became more popular with mainstream crowds as well. The soulful rhythms of fast-paced jazz numbers complemented the movements and sounds of energetic tappers when they went out dancing. Dances that were all the rage at the time, like the Charleston, were often adapted for tap dancers. The era saw some overlap between tap dance music and swing, so this could also be an opportunity to incorporate some of those elements into your lessons.
By the 1940s, bebop emerged as a subgenre of jazz music. Bebop included a number of upbeat, iconic classics that are fun to tap along to.
Try: “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Duke Ellington, “Jumpin’ Jive” by Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers
Good for: Life imitating art
Many musicals throughout the years in film and on the stage have featured legendary tap numbers. Teaching students some of the famous tap routines they may have seen on screen before (or modified versions of them) can be a fun project that keeps the whole class focus and engaged. Choose from your own favorite films and share the routines that you fell in love with, or pick from a published list of popular dance numbers, like this one from Buzzfeed.
Try: “Singing in the Rain” from Singing in the Rain, “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie
3. Today’s Hits
Good for: Appealing to your audience
Sometimes, students get more excited about dance when they know and love the songs you play. Browse through some of the Top 40 hits and find something that you’d enjoy playing with your class, or take suggestions of the students’ favorite tracks. Chances are good the dancers sing along to these songs whenever the come on the radio and dance around their rooms in a more freeform fashion. Teach them to bring their craft and their favorite tunes together for a fun and upbeat lesson.
Try: “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
4. Traditional Dances From Around the World
Good for: Exploring new styles
Variations of tap dancing can be found in many cultures throughout history and across the globe. Pick a new style and discuss its origins with your class as you try new moves to international folk songs.
Try: Flamenco from Spain, Step dancing from Ireland
Finding the Right Song
You know that with the right choreography, you can dance to almost anything. The key to picking the right tap dance music for your class is finding something that you’ll enjoy dancing along to, and hoping that your students will enjoy it, too. It’s so much easier to create routines with songs you’re excited about and want to listen to, so share your joy with your students.
Other considerations for selecting tap dance music include the moves you want to incorporate into your lesson, the age of your students and their experience levels. Make sure that whatever song you choose has a rhythm they can keep up with and appropriate lyrics. You can try to create a more collaborative program by soliciting feedback from the student on the music that’s played in class.
Teaching dance is a fulfilling career that allows you to share your passion with others. A dance teacher education can be a combination of performance, formal training, and other experiences with dance. After dancing their entire lives, some dancers decide to devote their time to teaching. However, dance teachers lead busy, hectic lives ruled by demanding schedules, and that means that it can be difficult to continue fitting in personal dance practice or finding the time to stay in shape as a dancer.
For some teachers, especially younger ones, this can be a cause of distress. When your life was previously defined by dance – and your identity defined as a dancer – what happens when you no longer have the time to commit to your own dance practice? Or when you realize that your flexibility is not as impressive as it use to be, or that you can’t turn quite as many pirouettes as you could before you started teaching? This change is even more noticeable in the summer months, when teachers typically have more downtime.
This is a natural shift that comes with the territory, but don’t let it get you down. There are still so many ways you can continue being a dancer while you’re also a dance teacher.
The best teachers are the ones who continue learning and growing through their own dance practice. But this is easier said than done. For example, the last thing you may want to do after a long and grueling class with distracted kids is lace up your shoes and hit the barre. However, taking the time to fit dancing into your life is key to strengthening your identity as a dancer, and not just a teacher.
Block out an hour of time before or after your class to devote to your own practice. You could also schedule time to practice in the studio on days you don’t teach or on the weekend. If you freelance as a dance teacher, ask the studio owner if they would mind if you used a classroom on your own time – most will be fine with this.
Treat this solo time as if it was an actual class you registered for. Stick to the same time each week, and pencil in your personal practice days on your calendar.
Great Teachers Keep Learning
You’ll find that making a conscious effort to continue developing as a dancer also makes you a better teacher – and a more attractive instructor to prospective students and their parents. In an article on The Dancing Grapevine, continual learning and development is one of the top qualities that dancers and parents look for when selecting a new teacher. The article described “green lights” for teachers as including if they “innovate or take on new dance challenges,” cross-train in other dance styles and train with other teachers often.
A large part of being an effective teacher is empathy – and by being a “student” of your own dance practice, you can relate better to your students.
If you find yourself lamenting lost skills during the slower summer months, don’t despair. In addition to scheduling your own practice time at the studio, there are many other ways you can stay in shape as a teacher.
Dance Information recommended taking time to regularly stretch at home, joining open classes in other dance styles or signing up for a summer intensive. Seek out workshops, seminars and conferences on dance in cities near you. You can also volunteer and perform with a local dance studio or company. Another option is cross-training – check out our article here.
If you need to get a lively conversation going at a party full of dancers and dance teachers, ask them which ballet method they think is the best. Ballet methods are different teaching styles or schools of ballet that have developed around the world since ballet’s inception in the 15th century. Each method has unique characteristics that define it and special characteristics in the manner it’s taught to students.
Read on to learn about the main methods of ballet – and to make sure you can hold your own in that dinner party conversation.
The Balanchine method is also known as the American method. It was invented by George Balanchine, an esteemed choreographer who immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in the 1930s, Juliette Dupre of the blog Ballet Scoop explained. Together with Lincoln Kirstein, Balanchine opened the School of American Ballet in 1934.
Younger in age than the other main ballet methods, Balanchine’s style is full of energy and vitality. While Balanchine took initial inspiration from the traditional Russian method, he rejected classical stiffness for jazzy, athletic movements, breathtaking speed and dizzying height. Every movement is pointed, emphatic and performed with the utmost expression and force. As Dupre wrote:
“Even a simple port de corp devant was not to be considered a stretch but a fully artistic movement where the aesthetic of the body’s journey through space was the most important thing.”
Consequently, the Balanchine method is considered neoclassical ballet. The modern and fresh approach to movement in the Balanchine method is expressed in other aspects of ballet performance as well. It rejects flouncy and frilly costumes for clean leotards, and scrapped fancy sets for simple backgrounds so that the focus is on the dancers, Ballet In You explained.
The French School
Where the Balanchine method is modern, the French School goes back. Way back – to the courts of Louis XIV in the late 16th century. In 1713, the Ecole de Danse de l’Opera was opened and was the teaching grounds of some of ballet’s greatest masters, according to the American Ballet Theatre.
While the French school traces its influences back centuries, it came into its own under the leadership of Rudolf Nureyev, who was director of the Paris Opera Ballet in the 80s. The French School is a classical ballet style that emphasizes elegant lines, fluidity and graceful dancing along with technical precision. The French school’s true trademark is the petite batterie – a prime example of the method’s emphasis on quick, precise footwork, according to DanceSpirit magazine.
Created by Italian Enrico Cecchetti, the Cecchetti method was invented as a way to teach ballet to new generations, ABT explained. Cecchitti meant business – his teaching method involves eight intense stages of training and includes strict repetition and routines.
The rigid and regimented teaching style is a result of Cecchetti’s scientific attitude toward ballet and the idea that jetes and arabesques don’t just involve one part of the body, but the body as a whole, according to Ballet In You. Technical skill is tantamount, and Cecchetti dancers must practice the same movements over and over again daily. The goal is that heavy repetition, dedicated focus and steady discipline will create dancers that can withstand – and thrive in the face of – the harsh demands of ballet.
The English Style is also known as the Royal Academy of Dance. It was pioneered in 1920 and is a blend of the French, Italian, Danish and Russian methods, explained Dance Informa magazine. The Royal Academy of Dance is also an international dance examination standard. For English-Style-dancers, the focus is on the details and getting each and every movement exactly, with an emphasis on perfecting the basics. Progress is ultimately slow for dancers taught in the RAD method, and it takes countless hours of practicing even the smallest movement to be able to move on to the next stage.
“The most famous of all Russian styles is the Vaganova Method.”
Of course, no discussion of ballet methods would be complete without the Russians. This school was formed from a blend of influences. French dancer Jean-Baptiste Landé is credited as its creator, while ABT noted that Italian ballerina Virginia Zucchi had an incredible influence on the Russian School when she performed in St. Petersburg in the late 1800s, along with Enrico Cecchetti, who also spent some time in Russia. Other ballet masters also influenced the Russian Method, including the legendary Marius Petipa.
However, the most famous of all Russian styles is the Vaganova Method. It was developed by Agrippina Vaganova, a Russian ballet dancer with the Marinsky Ballet who retired early to devote her time to teaching, explained Dance Informa. Defining characteristics of the Vaganova method include precise, crisp and strong movements that are still artistic and expressive. The Vaganova method is one of the most popular methods used in Russia today.
Maybe you need to come up with dance choreography ideas that showcase your students’ newly learned skills, or are a dancer yourself struggling to put together a new composition. You might have the perfect music picked out and have filled the choreography with impressive technical skills, however you just feel that the whole piece needs just a little something more. What you’re probably lacking is a story, emotional and narrative threads weaved throughout the choreography that make the performance complete and connect the audience to the dance.
If you’ve typically been of the camp that puts innovative movement and technical skill ahead of storytelling in ballet choreography, now is the perfect time to flex those narrative muscles. Story ballets have been making a comeback, according to Pointe magazine. Abstract performances that focus solely on movement are making space on the stage for ballets that tell a rich story through dance.
Sometimes, creative inspiration quickly strikes and you know exactly what story you’ll be telling through your choreography. Other times, it’s a little more difficult, and you might feel that that inspiration tap has gone and dried up. However, there are some tips that will help you tell a stronger story in your choreography.
Absorb the Atmosphere
Once you have a piece of music selected for the dance, sit listening to the music in uninterrupted peace – a creative brainstorming session. As you listen to the music, don’t just think about the skills and movements that would perfect fit the highs and lows of the piece, but also think about what kind of atmosphere or ambiance the work creates. What emotions does the music conjure? What kind of environment does the piece transport you to?
Identifying atmosphere is a major part of choreographer Miro Magloire’s process, according to his interview with Backstage. Magloire is the artistic director and founder of New Chamber Ballet in New York, and told the source that his past experiences as a composer caused him to create his choreography primarily from the technical structure of the music.
“But over time I grew more interested in trying to respond to the atmosphere or spirit of the music, the emotion maybe,” he told Backstage. “I’ve seen dances that had no apparent structural relation to the music and yet I felt they completely ‘matched’ the music – and vice versa.”
Shift your focus from the technical elements of the musical piece and instead try to identify its emotional and transformative aspects to create a starting point from which to develop the story of the dance.
Look In Creative Places for Inspiration
Truly great artists – choreographers and otherwise – create great works because they are always open to inspiration, anywhere and anytime. This may be because for works of art that have emotional relevance, that have to be based in true human experiences, and the only way to learn about these experiences is by going out into the world. Watching ballet performances online can help give you ideas, but for fresh inspiration that can help you create dynamic, story-based choreography, it’s helpful to get out there and soak up some inspiration from non-ballet sources.
Choreographer Chloé Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies dance company told Dance magazine that when she feels choreographer’s block, she seeks out experiences where she can see someone else being creative, or can watch someone that inspires her. She said she when to a Beyonce concert and felt creatively rejuvenated, and stayed up all night choreographing.
And if inspiration does strike outside the studio, don’t be afraid to embrace it. Arnold told the magazine of one experience she had while she was stuck working on a performance.
“Inspiration came to me on the plane. I went to the bathroom area and made the movement right there. People thought I was crazy. But it became Syncopated Ladies’ staple dance when we were on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
So, if you’re stuck on story and need some fresh dance choreography ideas, seek out new experiences and don’t be afraid to let the music move you. New perspectives can help jumpstart your creativity so you can put together fresh, dynamic choreography that truly connects with the audience.
Fitting 30 dancers on one stage might sound impossible. Even if you only have a group of 10 dancers, having them move together seamlessly during a performance can still be a logistical headache. Creating group choreography requires some advanced planning, careful consideration and keen spatial awareness.
You want the audience’s eyes to be on your dancers’ graceful movements and impressive skills – not on how they’re bumping elbows with each other. Follow these tips for creating effective group choreography that wows the crowd.
Identify the Strongest Areas of the Stage
To accommodate a large group of dancers on stage at one time, you need to understand the unique characteristics of each section of the stage itself. The center of the stage attracts the most attention, unsurprisingly, so place any soloists there. However, it’s important to not overuse the center, since the more you use the weaker its visible impact, noted Sandra Cerny Minton in her book, “Choreography: A Basic Approach Using Improvisation.”
Placing dancers downstage is good for intimate sections of group choreography or those that require dancers to be particularly emotional, because the area is closest to the audience. To create a sense of mystery, it’s effective to place dancers upstage. Cerny noted that the areas toward the right and left sides of the stage are comparably weak, though that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used at all. The key is creatively and effectively using the entirety of the space available to you.
Think Outside the Box
Sometimes, you need to expand your idea of what constitutes the stage. DanceSpirit Magazine described the experiences of Suzi Taylor, choreographer of the New York City Dance Alliance Nationals Senior Outstanding Dancer performance. She had to fit a whopping 145 dancers onstage at one time, and understandably couldn’t do so without having them all constantly bump into each other.
She then came up with the idea to have some of the dancers on the floor in front of the stage. It turned out to be the perfect solution, and she used the space to create unique level changes. Don’t be afraid to get creative in your group choreography or the way that you use the space.
An article by Dance Advantage provided a list of tips for dance teachers who were tasked with choreographing a musical theater show, and while ballet and performance theater are very different, there are some tips that ballet choreographers can borrow to effectively choreograph large groups of dancers. One valuable tip is to build patterns of movement into your choreography.
According to the article, audiences enjoy watching recurring motifs, and repeating the same group of movements in different places throughout the piece helps keep the audience engaged. Incorporating patterns is also useful because it helps provide structure for the dancers, especially if the rest of the choreography is complex or difficult.
Utilize Creative Devices
When faced with the overwhelming task of choreographing a dance for a large group of students, you may be tempted to have all perform the same movements in synchronization. Unfortunately, though, this is dull for the audience and doesn’t do justice to your dancers’ skill sets. But on the other hand, having every dancer do completely different movements can be dizzying and doesn’t give the audience anything to focus on. A good trick for effectively choreographing a large group of dancers is to take advantage of the myriad of patterns, contrasts and other unique choreographic devices.
Break your dancers into small groups, and have them do complementary movements where they are all doing the same movement but in slightly different ways – for example, one group jetés toward the left while the other jetés toward the right. You can have your dancers do contrasting movements, for example having a few dancers move across the stage quickly while a couple other dancers make slow movements.
Another idea is to include successional movements where a certain skill or movement is quickly performed by each dancer one after another, creating a waterfall- or domino-like effect. You have the power to create a spectacular piece that is full of visional splendor, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different devices.
While kindergartners won’t be performing “Giselle” anytime soon, you can teach them the basic building blocks of learning choreography that will set them up for success in and outside of the studio. The key is understanding the developmental stage young children are in and adapting your teaching style to work with this level of learning, not against it. Here are a few tips to use when putting together dance choreography for kids.
Keep It Simple
Kids in or entering kindergarten LOVE to move around and have fun in dance class, but you can’t expect them to always remember extended choreography. Five to six-year-olds have a better grasp on movement than toddlers, but they can’t grasp routines as well as grade school-age children.
As a result of participating in a dance class, students in kindergarten through second grade should be able to copy other people’s shapes and patterns, perform basic elements of dance, such as making a round shape or jumping in a certain direction, and describe dance movements in general terms, according to the book, “Teaching Children Dance.”
Third- through fifth-grade children, on the other hand, should be able to understand various choreographic structures, describe others’ movements using simple dance terms and reproduce choreography with multiple sequences.
Simple, brief choreography that only uses basic movements are best suited to the five- and six-years-old age group, and make sure you break down each step into easy-to-digest elements.
Prioritize strengthening your students’ sense of rhythm and their ability to match their movements to different speeds. This approach will better set them up for more advanced classes later on.
Build Repetition into Choreography
Young children need structure to thrive in class, and choreographer Jenny Duffy noted that songs and movement are often used in kindergarten classes to signal when it’s time to transition from one activity to another. She recommended that dance instructors use a similar approach when creating choreography for younger students.
She advised using the same movements during the chorus of a song, which makes it easier for children to learn choreography and also helps them develop musicality.
Positive reinforcement makes all the difference when teaching choreography to younger students. Five to six-year-olds will respond better to praise, and criticism on the way students are doing a certain movement should be used sparingly. As Donna Donna Furmanek wrote in her paper, “Classroom Choreography: Enhancing Learning Through Movement:”
“It is important that teachers acknowledge children’s efforts and participation more often than noting whether or not children are doing the movement correctly.”
“Positive reinforcement makes all the difference.”
A reward system is a great way to boost this positive reinforcement. One dance teacher on Dance.net wrote about how she creates a chart for each student and then gives them sticker or other small prize like a plastic gold medal when they learn a new step.
Focus on Fun
“You shouldn’t expect to teach young children technique,” writes Holly Shaw in a post for 365Dances. Kindergarten-age students are high-energy and are still learning how to move their bodies, so making dance class as fun as possible will be more beneficial for young children in the long run.
“Really what you should be focusing on at this point is the sheer joy of moving and learning their bodies,” says Shaw. “Keep the expectations low.”
As any dance teacher who’s worked with young children knows, kids have a boundless supply of energy. Attempts to teach them technique or choreography often end in vain, with aggravated children and an even more frustrated teacher. Young preschool- and kindergarten-age children generally don’t have the attention span or discipline to do barre work or learn correct technique, but this young and energetic age group is perfectly suited to succeed at creative movement. You can take advantage of their energy with creative movement lesson plans.
Creative movement is offered as a class at many dance studios and is designed to introduce children to the idea of expressing themselves through movement. The creative movement lesson plans work with young children’s natural enthusiasm, short attention spans and high energy levels to explore basic concepts of dance and creativity.
There are many benefits of creative movement. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, creative movement aids children’s physical development, teaching them body awareness and control and how to move around in a space. It also encourages them to use their imaginations and become comfortable with expressing themselves.
It helps them grow socially and emotionally, since they must learn to share space with others, and expressing themselves in a myriad of ways – for example, pretending to be a certain animal or acting like a type of weather – helps them recognize that they have a wide range of feelings. Additionally, creative movement classes teach children to be respectful in a class-setting and effectively listen to teachers.
Areas to Cover When Making Creative Movement Lesson Plans
A creative movement class is much more than simply telling students to pretend they are butterflies for 45 minutes and sitting back as they run around the room. The class needs structure and purpose to allow creativity to flourish. Let’s Talk Creative Dance Conversation recommended not staying with one activity for too long, so break up the class into smaller units.
Don’t cluster your activities in one space, either – move around the room. Use visual aids and props to inspire movement, and form your activities so that the kids have choices in the way they move and respond. A dynamic lesson plan will keep kids engaged.
“When you keep it moving, keep it structured, and use student demonstrators, kids stay focused and on task,” wrote Anne Greene Gilbert in a post for the site. “The teacher has control because the students have self-control since they are interested in what is happening.”
NAEYC suggested playing the game “Telephone” but with movement instead of words. Think of a theme for the day or week, and create activities related to that theme – the source gave the example that if your theme is “Spring,” you can have children “dance the making of a garden,” basing their motions off digging holes, watering plants, etc. Give children a prop like scarves and ask them to make their scarves flap like a flag, swim like a fish or float to the floor like a snowflake, suggested Childhood101.
You can also put on a song and ask the kids to move in a way that follows the rhythm and style of the song – for example, put on a fast song and ask them to hop like bunnies, or a slow song and ask them to crawl like cats. This helps them learn how to move with different types of music.
There are countless creative movement resources online. The National Dance Education Organization, ASCD, NAEYC and other associations link materials that will help you craft lesson plans, and creative movement activity ideas are also a popular topic on dance forums.
For teachers that are worried their creative movement classes will be more like creative chaos, preparing a structured lesson plan ahead of time reduces this anxiety. ASCD recommended establishing routines that guide your class, for example, doing a warm-up and cool-down and doing individual movement activities first and then moving to partner and group ones. Also, having a recognizable item or sound to signify switches between activities or that the students need to listen, such as a bell or drum, are also very useful.
Many creative movement activities can be adapted to fit any student, noted NAEYC. For children with special needs, you can modify the activity to accommodate the student’s abilities. For example, a jumping activity can include kids in wheelchairs by having them move their arms or shoulders instead. Or, in an activity where students make a certain letter with their body, special needs students can use a body part like their fingers to form the letter. The source noted that activities where students express the story of a song or book through movement are especially accommodating to children of all skill and needs levels.
Creative movement classes also don’t require expansive studio spaces. If you have a small space, you can do activities where the children stand in one place but jump up and down or wiggle their arms and legs in special ways, and if there are poles or shelves that break up an open space, you can incorporate moving around these obstacles into your activities.
The thought of improvising dance may make you nervous, but improvisation dance could be the secret to better choreography.
Just like taking a walk around the block helps clear a stressed mind, an hour of so of improv can spark creative ideas. In an interview with KQED News, Deana Criess, director of ImprovBoston’s National Touring Company, espoused the benefits of making things up as you go along. And even though her organization focuses on comedy, the inspiring power of improv is applicable across artistic and athletic disciplines.
Criess told the source that improv boosts quick thinking, helps clear away distracting thoughts that take us out of the moment and strengthens our communication skills and self-expression. Instead of constantly judging yourself for missing a step or being offbeat, improv dancing allows you to be spontaneous and tune in to your inner self.
Every dancer and choreographer is different, possessing a unique set of beliefs, values, talents and dreams, and the greatest joy of dancing comes from being able to be the best version of yourself. However, it’s easy for these one-of-a-kind attributes to become a little muddled when you’re constantly doing the same dances or formulating choreography with a repetitive, static approach.
By not worrying about directions and simply letting your body move the way you want it to, you’re able to identify certain motions that particularly connect with you, DanceSpirit Magazine noted. Connecting with your own preferences also helps you to better identify the unique styles of other dancers. You can then use this inspiration to breathe new life into your choreography and craft dances that respond to people’s strengths or challenge their weaknesses to improve.
Creating a “Toolkit”
Sometimes, choreographers fall into ruts where they use the same combinations of positions and skills over and over again. Improv can help you build a collection of new movements that you can then have at your disposal to keep your choreography fresh and exciting.
An article on Backstage.com profiled Helen Pickett, a dancer who teaches classes based on innovative choreographer William Forsythe’s improvisational technique. Forsythe would break improvisation into around 30 smaller, individual movements, which he called “modalities,” the site explained. These smaller movements, like collapsing and folding, then served as building blocks to create new dances.
“It opens up avenues that allow you to expand your ideas of what you thought you body could do,” said Pickett of the Forsythe method.
The thought of improv makes many people self-conscious, but the very act of exposing our unguarded selves to others helps improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. You learn that taking unexpected or approaches to problems can yield beautiful solutions, and let go of fear and self-doubt. Becoming more comfortable with thinking outside the box will help you expand the scope of what you believe you can achieve through your choreography. You also learn to trust yourself and to have faith in your unconventional ideas.
Tips for Improv
The first step to productive improvisation is casting all doubt, anxiety and self-consciousness aside. Don’t worry about what others will think of you, since improv is about getting in tune with your inner thoughts and artistic expression, not about others’ perceptions of your movement.
While you can simply turn on some music and start moving, a little structure can help guide your improv dance. Human Kinetics recommended following simple rules that force you to move creatively. For example, move in a circle on the floor, but only begin steps or movements with your left foot, or, go from one corner of the room to the other starting low to the floor and ending up as high above the floor as possible by the time you make it to the other side.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, not just music, and the site also suggested picking an art object or image that speaks to you and mimicking the patterns of shapes of the piece through movement, and then repeating your motions, observing how your movement changes in its reflection of the shapes. You can also pair each movement with an emotion that the artwork provokes in you, and move through each feeling as you mimic the patterns or shapes.
If you are a dancer searching for the next step in your career, consider becoming a dance teacher. Switching from student to teacher is one of the biggest leaps you’ll ever make in your dance journey, but it’s also one of the most rewarding. Being a dance teacher requires lots of hard work, passion and resiliency, but if you can commit to making yourself the best teacher you can be, all the inevitable ups and downs you’ll face along the way will be well worth it. Read on for some strategies on how to become a dance teacher.
Benefits of Being a Dance Teacher
Not many people get to do what they love for a living. Granted that living may be small – dance teacher’s salaries are typically modest – but being able to constantly share the love of dance with others is priceless. You won’t have to whittle away the hours at a desk job while your heart yearns to dance, instead, you’ll be dancing and choreographing every day. And one of the few things that makes you feel better than following your own passion is inspiring others to follow theirs, too.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a dance teacher is seeing your dancers improve. It’s that a-ha moment when a light bulb goes off and a student is finally able to perform a certain skill after months of practice. This rewarding feeling isn’t just limited to skills, though.
Another benefit of being a dance teacher is seeing your students grow personally. You’ll feel joy when you see insecure students gain confidence and shy students make friends. Dance is many things – an art form that inspires, a physical activity that keeps the body healthy and a provider of life lessons – and as a dance teacher, you’re responsible for making it all happen.
Qualities of Good Dance Teachers
Good dance teachers are those that not only have technical expertise but those are able to effectively communicate with students.
“Dancing ability and teaching ability do not go hand in hand,” wrote Rebecca King in a post for her blog, Tendus Under a Palm Tree.
You need to be able to teach just as well as you can dance. Dance teachers must possess a great deal of patience and the ability to stay calm under pressure or in the face of frustration. A certain skill might be second nature to you, but students may need to go over it again and again. They need to be able to pinpoint a specific issue that a student has and then offer constructive criticism that will help them improve.
They must be conscious of the tones they take when criticizing, too. You’ve likely been there before – a few harsh words of criticism that stuck in your memory or caused you to feel defensive. Even though criticism is necessary, we’re only human, so sensitivity is just as important.
Good teachers must also be able to empathize with their students and understand different learning styles and personality types. The stronger teachers can connect with their students, the more powerfully they can nurture a love of dance.
Teachers also have a responsibility to be role models for their students, noted UnityDance.org. Be conscious of your behavior, words and attitude in class, because your students aren’t just looking to you for advice on becoming better dancers – they’re looking to you for advice on what type of person they should be.
Realties to Be Prepared For as a Dance Teacher
With all the rewarding benefits of being a dance teacher, you’re going to face some stressful moments right alongside them. Students, particularly younger ones, will be antsy, distracted and unmotivated some days in class, and you’ll feel like everything you say goes in one ear and out the other. You’ll have to teach multiple age groups, body types and abilities, noted the blog Dance in Real Life, and it’s also physically demanding, with some teachers instructing four or more classes a day.
There will be days you want to stay home and have a break, or times when you wish you had a little more income. But those moments when you see your students’ faces light up as they learn a new skill or finish their first recital will make you forget about all the tough times.
Paths to a Career as a Dance Teacher
There are different ways of becoming a dance teacher, but no matter which path you take, it’s important to gain both teaching expertise and real-world experience. If you are a young student, enrolling in a college degree program in dance education is a great way to get started on your path to becoming a dance teacher, and you should also consider a dual degree in education and dance.
Research the regulations in the area you would like to work in, since many states require that teachers are certified, and even if it’s not required, education certifications will make you a stronger candidate. There are also graduate programs and training workshops that will help prepare you to be a dance teacher.
Look for opportunities to gain real-world teaching experience wherever you can. If you currently dance, ask the studio owner or your teacher if you can work as an assistant, volunteer teacher or intern. Helping out at a studio will give you valuable insight into what being a dance teacher is really like.
Finding the best dance teacher jobs requires unwavering dedication, thick skin and a whole lot of passion. To secure a teaching position at a studio where you are not only able to pay the rent but can truly thrive and make the greatest use of your passions, you need to reflect on what you’re really looking for and how you can present the best version of yourself to potential employers.
Read on to learn how to find – and land – the best dance teacher jobs.
What to Look for in a Job
A job should be more than just a way to pay the bills – it should be a way to both learn and grow as a person and dancer and change students’ lives for the better through the power of dance and expression. Only positive work environments can allow this kind of growth. Environments that are too stressful, hurtful or exceedingly negative will only stifle expression and will foster ineffective teachers.
“Great employers must shift the focus from trying to get more out of people, to investing more in them by addressing their four core needs – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – so they’re freed, fueled and inspired to bring the best of themselves to work every day,” stated the Harvard Business Review.
Dance studios should be no different in this pursuit. When searching for dance teacher jobs, zero in on dance studios that encourage their teachers to continue their own learning and encourage personal and professional development. A truly great dance studio will support its teachers to attend workshops and conferences and evolve in their practices, along with promoting a healthy work-life balance.
Work as an Assistant
No matter where you are in your dance teaching career, working as an assistant teacher is a great way to gain experience and make yourself a stronger candidate for any open dance teacher jobs at the studio. Working as an assistant allows you to receive detailed feedback about your methods and techniques, which helps you improve as a teacher, noted DancetoEvolve.com. Try to get an assistant teaching position at a studio you’d like to work at in a larger role, since many studios use the assistant position to train the next generation of their teachers. An added benefit of this is that you get to become familiar with the environment and unique characteristics of the studio, which makes you an even stronger job candidate.
Preparing for the Interview
Before your job interview, spend time researching the studio and reading its website. Showing that you spent the time learning about the studio will impress the interviewer. As Elizabeth Emery wrote in a post for DanceTeacherFinder.com:
“The bottom line to me was if they were interested in the job then they would take the time to look around the website; if they didn’t, it would make me wonder if they were serious about wanting the job and if they weren’t it would make me worry they would end up quitting in a few months.”
Also take the time to practice answering common interview questions. You’re likely be asked questions such as:
Why do you want to work at this studio in particular?
What is an example of a conflict that you had with a challenging student or parent, and how did you respond?
Why should we hire you for this position?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
What skills do you have to effectively teach different age groups?
Additionally, be prepared to answer questions about your passions. Reflect on why you love dancing, why you want to share it with others and what you hope to accomplish through teaching.
In dance, presentation is everything, and this is also true during the job application process. Arrive early to the interview and make sure you have copies of any materials you need, such as a headshot, resume, reference list and video reel. Also make sure you’re dressed to impress. Don’t wear a business suit, but dress stylish and professional. For instance, wear a pair of nice dress pants and a flattering top. It’s important to dress in a way that shows you have good taste and an eye for aesthetics, since the job interviewer may use your appearance to gauge which type of performances or costumes you would use in your classes.
After your interview, don’t forget to send a thank you note to the job interviewer, by email or a handwritten note. It’s a small gesture that will go a long way toward making a good impression with the employer. Let’s Talk Dance suggested writing this in your thank you note: “I appreciate you taking the time to interview me, I enjoyed meeting you, and I hope to have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to your organization in the near future.” And even if you don’t get the job, a thank you note is a great way to make yourself memorable and boost your chances of being considered for any dance teacher jobs that come up later on. Make sure you send the note within a few hours of your job interview.
Job Hunting Etiquette
When searching for a new position, always keep in mind proper etiquette. You owe your current opportunities and success to all the people that have helped you and hired you along the way, and the last thing you want to do is burn bridges. If you are currently working at another studio but accept a job offer elsewhere, don’t slack off. Instead, continue giving your current position your all, advised career site Ladders.
“Keep striving for top results and maintain your performance at work … This attitude fueled a more powerful, productive search,” stated the site.
Also, keep in mind that it’s generally poor taste to work at a studio that is a competitor of a place that you have previously trained at. Having a successful career teaching dance is as much about your skills as it is your relationships, and you don’t want to alienate the people who helped get you where you are today.
A dance studio sound system is an essential – the success of your dancers depends in part on whether they can practice and perform to music with a high sound quality. Unfortunately, many people are intimidated by the technical jargon associated with sound systems and may not be using the best one for their studios. Don’t let feeling overwhelmed stop you from getting the best sound system for your money. Instead, read through this simple guide to finding the right sound system for your dance studio.
Studio sound systems should include a music player, speakers and at least one amplifier. The music travels from the player and is amplified through the speakers to effectively fill the room. When possible, you should select equipment that is specially designed to work with the unique characteristics of a dance studio, recommended Kenleigh Industries, a sound equipment provider.
Studios have tricky acoustics because of their many hard surfaces, so general sound equipment may not be effective. The number of speakers and amplifiers you need for your studio depends on its square footage and ceiling height and on your class size, since the presence of people also affects how sound travels. The bigger your classroom space, the higher your speaker and amplifier power should be, advised Kenleigh.
According to Fitness AV, 80 to 200 watts is generally enough power for small studios, while bigger studios will need more.
Choosing a Music Player
If your studio is still playing music off of vinyl records, then it’s probably time for an upgrade. Your two main music format options are CDs and MP3s. A CD player is easy to use and connect to speakers, and ones with built-in recording and editing features will enable you to put compilations together or adjust songs to better fit with choreography.
Using MP3 files for your music saves a lot of space, and they won’t skip when dancers jump around, noted the Royal Academy of Dance. The source recommended purchasing a dual CD player and MP3 system for the most flexibility. You can play MP3 files without a docking station by directly connecting the player to the speakers via an auxiliary cord, however, you’ll miss out on remote capabilities, recording and other convenient features that come with a specially designed player.
It’s important to give some thought to how you install and set up your dance studio sound system to get the most out of it. The Royal Academy of Dance provided the following guidelines:
“Hi-fi separates should be wall-mounted at the front of your studio around 1.5m [4.9 feet] off the ground, away from the fingers of young children. Speakers should be wall-mounted around 2.5 metres [8.2 feet] from the ground on the front wall, at least 1m [3.3 feet] from each of the side walls. Basic loudspeaker cable is adequate for dance studios – make sure you get enough to run from the amplifier to both of your speakers. PA equipment can be mounted in a 19″ rack which can be portable (with wheels if possible) or attached to a wall. Be aware that powerful PA amplifiers can be extremely heavy and will require substantial support if wall-mounted.”
Depending on your prowess with tools, it can be wise to hire an AV specialist team to ensure your equipment is safely and correctly installed.
In addition to your music player, amplifier and speakers, there are other equipment and features that may be beneficial for your studio. One is pitch control, also known as varispeed, that is included with some CD players. According to the Royal Academy of Dance, pitch control is useful because it allows you to slow down or speed up songs.
However, the source noted that it may double or triple the cost of your music player. Another piece of equipment you might want to purchase is a wireless microphone so you can give instructions to the class over music without being restricted by cords. If you opt for a microphone, Kenleigh noted that you should also purchase a simple mixer, since it allows you to talk through the microphone while music is playing.
Additionally, it’s worth considering whether you want active speakers or passive speakers, according to the Royal Academy of Dance. Active speakers have built-in amplifiers, which make them heavier than passive speakers, so choose passive ones if you need your dance studio sound system to be easily transportable.
While music players are relatively inexpensive, amplifiers and speakers tend to come with a heftier price tag. However, consider amps and loudspeakers an investment. The Royal Academy of Dance stated that these two types of equipment “will often work perfectly well for 10 years or more if they’re not pushed beyond their limitations.”
While you’ll likely come across “integrated sound systems” in your search – music players, amplifiers and speakers that are sold together as a package – it’s more cost-effective to by the components individually, according to Fitness AV. This way, you can buy each piece of equipment and any add-ons over time, according to your budget, and can easily update or expand your dance studio sound system as your studio size or resources grow.
English, math and science classes are standard components of school curriculums, but dance deserves a spot in the schedule too. Whether students attend ballet classes at a local studio or shy away from dancing in front of others, teaching dance in schools has significant benefits for children’s personal development. For dance teachers who have only taught at studios, teaching dance in schools provides many rewarding opportunities to positively impact students and the rest of the community.
“If all children in every school from their entrance until their graduation … were given the opportunity to experience dance as a creative art, and if their dancing kept pace with their developing physical, mental, and spiritual needs, the enrichment of their adult life might reach beyond the results we can now contemplate.”
According to the National Dance Education Organization, there are an estimated 6,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. that include dance in the curriculum. Some 43 percent of children across the country receive some form of dance instruction in school, with 36 percent of them learning dance in physical education classes or in other classes that are taught by volunteers, parents and non-specialist teachers. Besides PE classes, dance is also sometimes included as part of a school’s general arts curriculum.
Why is Teaching Dance in Schools Important?
For many dance instructors, the ability to positively impact the community is one of the biggest reasons to teach dance in schools. Children learn to express their emotions through movement, and the focus that dance demands can help them find greater stability in their lives and form stronger self-identities. On a larger level, students create strong bonds with one another through dance, and parents and faculty are also connected through the dance activities of their children and students.
The community impact of teaching dance in schools was explored in a documentary, “PS DANCE!,” that spotlighted dance teachers and their students at public schools across New York City. Catherine Gallant, a dance teacher at a public school who also oversees two dance companies, was featured in the documentary. She didn’t intend to teach in schools – volunteering for her son’s class on a whim turned into a full-time position – and she’s now been teaching at the school for nearly two decades, according to Dance Teacher magazine.
“I think all children have a large appetite for movement,” said Gallant in an interview with the magazine. She crafts her lesson plans to improve students’ self-confidence, instill the importance of respect and trust and expand their vocabularies through movement.
There are also many personal benefits of teaching dance in schools. Teachers that also work at dance studios get their names out, which helps build their reputations and expand their client bases. In addition, dance teachers at schools can delve into their passion without the stress and costs that come with operating a studio.
Differences Between Studios and Schools
Dance instructors that want to begin working in schools should familiarize themselves with the differences between teaching in a studio setting and a school setting. While the aim of studio dance classes is to improve students’ technique, skill set and abilities as a dancer, school goals are much broader.
The guidebook “Teaching Dance as Art in Education” outlines several of these differences:
Studios stress technique and performance, while school classes are comprehensive and emphasize learning about a wide variety of dance styles
Private studios train committed dancers, while school classes introduce all students to dance in order to strengthen their bodies and minds
Private studios refine specialized skills, while school classes provide generalized instruction
School dance instructors should also think about the differences in class dynamics between the studio and school settings. Not all students in a school class will be interested in learning dance. Teachers have to have the skills necessary to deal with disruptive or unmotivated students. Dance Teacher emphasized that strong planning and organizational skills along with the ability to stay calm under stress are important attributes of successful school dance teachers. It’s also vital to constructively respond to students’ insecurities or concerns. As Lucy Vurusic Riner wrote in a post for 4dancers.org:
“Your advanced ballet student that competes at her studio is a very different person than the beginning dance student who is mortified to put on a leotard and tights. You have to be sensitive to your audience and know who you’re playing to. Otherwise you have the potential of losing some really amazing opportunities with new movers that you can mold into your program as the years progress.”
“It’s also vital to constructively respond to students’ insecurities or concerns.”
Certifications and Experience
According to Arts.org, around 60 percent of middle school students in dance and theater classes are taught by instructors who have either an education in their field or a certification to teach dance or theater. Only 20 percent of students are taught by instructors who have both an education in their field and a teaching certification. More and more states are requiring school dance teachers to have training or certification in education in addition to extensive dance experience and knowledge. Having an education certification will help make you more marketable to employers and prepare you for the challenges of teaching to a wide range of learning styles.
Some arts and humanities organizations maintain online directories of dance teacher vacancies at schools in their states, which are very useful for finding a position. If no dance teacher position exists at your local school, try volunteering to teach dance during a gym or art class – it’s a great way to make connections and get your foot in the door.
Congratulations! You finally are given the chance to choreograph your own dance. However, choreographing isn’t as easy as it looks. While you may have watched your dance teacher choreograph your performances with ease for several years, it can be scary to get started on your own. Many dancers experience the same pitfalls when choreographing their first dances. Consider these tips to avoid those issues.
When dancers think of beginning to choreograph something, they may get worried about walking into a room full of people who are looking at them for guidance. As a result, they plan out every single step and movement to a tee before even entering the room. While this might seem like a good idea, usually it’s not. When dancers aren’t following your direct lead and mastering every move and breath right away, you may get angry and become over controlling. This could lead to disarray among the group instead of making the practice about having a fun time, which is most important.
Many dancers forget how critical it is to go with the flow when choreographing a dance. As this is such a creative act, people need to listen to their changing thoughts and alter the dance as they go. Otherwise, it might not be as great of a collaboration as it could be.
Don’t Forget About the Audience
Some choreographers tend to be a little narrow-minded when starting out. They might be eager to start and choreograph, but only have interest to create a dance that pleases them, not anyone else. This is a seriously faulty mistake. When crafting a dance, it’s important to think of the audience along every step of the way. What do they want to see? What music would excite them and cause them to really pay attention? How can you draw them in?
Understanding and answering these questions before you begin creating your dance is critical. If you go into the dance only looking to please yourself, you may create a dance that isn’t interesting to anyone and essentially wastes the audience’s time when they’re watching it.
Don’t Forget About the Learning Curve
You might be the kind of dancer who can pick up a new dance within a day. However, not every dancer is like you. Others need a few practices before they can really nail down a whole song, and even then it might not be perfect. As a choreographer, it’s important to understand the learning curve that comes with dancing.
Even if you’re working with a group of advanced, experienced dancers, not everyone will pick up the moves as easily as you created them. Have patience with your dancers and help them along the way to allow them to understand certain moves better. Don’t get frustrated or upset with your dancers, which can only make the whole process worse for everyone.
Don’t Copy Someone Else’s Dance
Of course, as a dancer there were most likely some dances you watched that you loved, and probably some others that you hated. However, when you look for inspiration, it’s important not to mimic those beloved dances to a tee. While you can pull some moves from them, use your creative spirit to come up with a few new moves or reframe them in a new, refreshing way. You don’t want your audience to see the dance and believe that they’ve seen this routine before.
Instead, you want to wow them with pizzaz and originality and think a little bit outside the box. Look at several dances you like and pull from those to make sure you don’t end up reverting back to one performance you love. If you’re having a creative block, ask your dancers what they think. They might have a favorite dance too that they want to pull from or will suggest a new move they saw that helps take the dance in a new direction, instead of a familiar one.
When beginning any new job, you’re bound to make a few mistakes. The same goes for new dance teachers. Even after years of dance practices, routines and recitals, being a teacher for other dancers isn’t easy, and it can definitely difficult at the beginning. If you’re a new dance teacher, you want to make the best impression possible for your new dance studio teacher and your students. While some mistakes are unavoidable, others can be easily stepped past. Here are some tips for dance teacher training and the lessons to be learned from your students!
1. Juggling Too Many Things at Once
When you first become a dance teacher, you may bite off more than you can chew, Discount Dance noted. In some instances, you want to impress your boss so you take on more classes than you can handle, leaving you tired, weary and mistake-prone. It’s important to realize that you can only volunteer for as many classes as you can realistically take on.
It may be smarter to only begin with one or two classes and then add on a few more as you get the hang of things. In other instances, you might be the studio owner and the dance teacher. You may also be the receptionist and the studio cleaner. Taking on too many roles can leave you overwhelmed and cause your business to crumble before it even gets off the ground. If you just opened a dance studio, look into hiring dance students from local colleges as teachers.
2. Short Attention Spans
Sure, there is a lot more to being a dance teacher than just dancing. Any talented dance teacher will tell you that you have to have a passion for teaching at heart. However, though you might have had lectures in school, it’s important to not bring those to dance classes.
Whether you’re teaching young students or an older, advanced class, all students will become bored if they’re listening to a teacher ramble on. After awhile, they might even stop listening, Adventure and Me stated. Though you want to impress your dance students and let them get to know you, talking too much isn’t the right move. Instead, let them get to know you through your dance style and instruction!
3. Different Tones for Different Students
When many dance teachers begin their careers, it can be hard to differentiate the dance levels of students. You may be asked to take on a beginner’s class for adults and an advanced class for children, and it can lead you to potentially talk down to a student. After taking years of dance courses yourself, you may have a hard time understanding what different levels need and what they already know.
From teaching an advanced dancer a commonly known move or expecting a beginner to pick up a routine with very little flaws, these actions can be discouraging for dancers and potentially cause them to leave the class. Every good dance teacher supports her students and knows their exact skill levels, so they never feel out of their league or underwhelmed, Dance Advantage stated.
4. Students Need Repetition
As a dance student, you may have been a skilled learner and had the ability to pick up routines very quickly. Without issue you could get the basic moves down and quickly execute them with precision and grace. As a result, that may be the only style of teaching you’re familiar with.
Some dance teachers tend to rush through a routine with dancers, causing them to be confused and unorganized. As a teacher, it’s important to realize that your dancers aren’t familiar with your style – and pace – of dancing. When going through a routine for the first time, take it slow – your dancers will appreciate it!