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!
If you asked whether your dance students were eating too much sugar, the simple answer would be yes. Research shows that more than 70 percent of Americans consume too much added sugar on a daily basis. So in a class of 10 students, chances are that seven of them eat an unhealthy amount of sweeteners each day – shocking, isn’t it? Read on to find out the significant health risks associated with continued over-consumption of sugar and how this bad eating habit affects dancer nutrition in particular.
“70% of Americans eat too much sugar.”
Health Risks Associated With Sugar Consumption
Most people know that eating too many sugary foods cause weight gain, but there are a number of other health conditions that come along with an unhealthy sweet tooth. A study from the journal JAMA Internal Medicine showed that people who consume 25 percent of their daily calories from sugar are twice as likely to develop serious cardiovascular problems, regardless of whether they are overweight.
Other research has linked sugar consumption to high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, diabetes, dementia and other health problems.
What Happens When Dancers Overindulge?
Those are some of the long-term consequences that come along with unhealthy eating habits. However, there are also immediate side effects for dancers who drink too much soda or snack on sweets all day.
Dance magazine explained that sugar provides empty calories, and while it may give dancers a temporary energy boost, they’ll have more sustainable levels of energy when they eat complex carbs and protein-packed foods. When your students’ diets are loaded with sugary meals, they may also find it hard to build muscle or stay satiated throughout the day.
All of these factors can hold back an otherwise talented performers, so what’s a dancers to do? Don’t fret! There are simple ways that dancers can slowly decrease their sugar consumption and get into the habit of eating healthy foods for dancers.
How to Switch to Healthy Foods for Dancers
Cutting sugar consumption down to healthy levels is challenging, as sweets are addicting. However, it’s doable with the right preparation and attitude.
“Dancers should drink water – not soda or sports beverages.”
The first step dancers should take is to stop drinking sugary beverages, which are the largest source of sugar for many Americans. In general, a 20-ounce soft drink contains around 40 or more grams of sugar – more than the daily recommended intake for women. Sports drinks usually contain some beneficial ingredients like electrolytes, but they still often have high sugar levels. Dancers should drink water instead. One way to ease into the change is to use fresh fruit to sweeten the water that they’re sipping on throughout the day.
Next, dancers should identify the times when they’re prone to cravings and be prepared with healthy snacks.
“When people think they’re craving chocolate, they’re actually just craving calories,” Jan Hangen, a consulting nutritionist for the Boston Ballet, explained to Dance magazine. “Because the body is focused on getting food, the mind goes to the foods that give the most pleasure.”
Performers may want to carry fruit, trail mix or whole-wheat crackers to snack on when cravings strike. Eating a number of small meals (after doing some research and finding healthy foods for dancers) every few hours will keep dancers satiated and energized throughout practice and rehearsals.
Finally, many people think that cutting out their favorite treats completely is the best way to adjust their sugar consumption, but this can lead to binging when you have a moment of weakness. Instead, dancers could allow themselves a small treat after a particularly good class. This will make it easier to stay on track and not undo all the process they’ve made.
The same things that you love about young dancers – their high energy, cute behavior and candid outbursts – can often become the things you struggle with the most during dance class. On good days, you may walk away after teaching preschool dance classes with a big smile and lots of hugs! But on the less-than-perfect days, the hour might as well have been spent herding cats.
Teaching young dancers comes with its own set of challenges, but the good news is that many of these problems are easy to solve. Here are five common problems that you may experience when teaching preschool dance classes and how you can solve them.
1. Making a Scene
According to HealthDay, kids between the ages of 3 and 6 are particularly prone to tantrums, as this is the time when children start to exert their independence. This is also around the same age when young kids enroll in dance classes for the first time. So what’s a teacher to do when an unhappy dancer starts making a scene?
Stacey Schwartz, founder of the Leaping Legs Creative Movement Program, explained on the 4dancers blog that in times like these, it’s essential that dance teachers have good relationships with parents. After all, who knows better how to calm an upset child than her parent? If a dancer has an outburst or tantrum, approach her parent after class and ask for pointers if the situations arises again.
2. Not Paying Attention
Young dancers are easily distracted. Something as simple as a person talking in the waiting room may be enough to make your students lose focus – especially if they’re not engaged to begin with. Dance Advantage explained that you need to be the most interesting thing in the room if you want your students to pay attention. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to keep the energy high throughout class. Play games, try new activities and move on if something’s falling short.
3. Fussing Over Props
One poster on a Dance.net forum expressed her frustration that her young students constantly fuss over props. She got to the point where she avoided using them in class because she knew the students would fight over getting the color they wanted or some other trivial factor.
It definitely makes it hard to teach when students argue over who gets the pink bean bag. There are two solutions you can try. The first is to pick props that are all the same – no color, size or pattern variations. The other, as suggested by Dance.net members, is to adopt the maxim “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!”
4. Talking Back
Students who are wielding their newfound independence often talk back. You probably won’t get anything rude or offensive with young kids, but you’ll certainly encounter resistance to instructions or discipline. Education World explained that the key rule when dealing with backtalk is to simply not respond. You’ll get further simply waiting in silence for the student to comply than arguing with the dancer.
5. Not Retaining Lessons
It’s certainly frustrating when you spend 15 minutes working on plies, only to have your students forget everything they learned by the next class. However, keep in mind that your students are new to dance, and that the best way for them to learn is by repetition. Don’t be afraid to try new activities and games to mix things up, but make sure you’re reviewing essential skills often. This will help your little dancers retain the techniques that they’ll need to advance in their dance careers.
You probably have a system for planning classes for dance season. Maybe you have some tried-and-true methods that you’ll be repeating or perhaps you’re going to revamp your class structure to better your studio. Either way, you should make a point to create class syllabi for the different courses you’ll be offering in the coming season. Here are some of the benefits that studio owners can reap from a structured dance class syllabus and a few pointers for drafting these documents.
Benefits of an Established Syllabus
A carefully crafted syllabus can benefit not only the teachers, but the students as well. When you take the time to create these documents for your classes, you can ensure that everyone will have a better experience at your studio.
The perks for instructors include:
Syllabi help teachers prepare for classes.
The document helps teachers keep the course on track throughout the year.
Syllabi serve as a reminder of the skills teachers need to cover.
It helps staff enforce studio policies.
It clearly establishes behavioral expectations for students.
According to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the benefits of syllabi for students include:
The document can help students establish educational plans. In this case, it helps them to plan their growth as dancers.
It provides essential information, such as contact details, class times, rehearsal schedules and the like.
A syllabus serves as a remind of studio policies on behavior, dress code, attendance and more.
It informs students of what they’ll be learning, when they’ll be learning it and what they need to do to succeed in the class.
What to Include in a Syllabus
When you first sit down to create a syllabus, you may be tempted to simply jot down all your thoughts and goals for the class. This is a good way to get your thoughts down on paper, but you’ll want to create a document with a little more structure.
Start by writing the static parts of your syllabus – these sections will likely remain unchanged between courses and seasons. If you have a studio contract, you may even want to simply copy and paste the sections about classroom behavior, attendance, proper attire and other studio rules.
Next, you’ll want to create sections like:
Instructor info: Note who will be teaching the class and his or her contact information.
Class description: A general description of the course, genre and skill level.
Course goals: List the skills and techniques that students will ideally master over the course of the season.
Class timeline: Lay out the major events and lesson plans that will take place in the class. Include the topic for each class, as well as dates for performances and dress rehearsals if you know them.
Once you have these sections written, you may want to have the instructor look over the document and make changes or suggestions. This will ensure that the syllabus is a team effort and that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the class.
Don’t Forget to Revisit Old Syllabi
If you have syllabi that you’ve been using for years, it’s a good idea to revise them each season. After all, there are likely things that your studio could be doing better and you’ll want to reflect those changes in the document.
“We constantly reassess what we are doing, but it’s the team effort that makes it successful,” Peter Stark, dance department chair at the Patel Conservatory, explained to Dance Teacher magazine. “Star students come and go, star teachers come and go, but a methodology can maintain through that.”
Once you’ve written, revised and reviewed your syllabi, you’ll be ready to distribute them to the students, post them on your website and jump on into the new season of dance.
Chemistry is an essential part of many dance performances, especially duets. However, it’s a little bit like musicality – difficult to explain and even harder to teach. After all, many people might say that dance chemistry can’t be learned, it just has to be felt.
That’s not entirely true though. Talented dancers can figure out ways to amp up the sizzle when performing with a partner. It just takes time and lots of practice. Here’s what dance teachers should know about improving on-stage dance chemistry between their students.
What Qualifies as Good Chemistry?
So what exactly is “good chemistry”? Well, similar to musicality, it’s something that you know when you see it. When a dyad can work seamlessly and dance effortlessly together, that’s chemistry. However, contrary to popular belief, there don’t have to be any romantic feelings between the partners for them to have that special connection. Trust and mutual respect are often the key components of believable on-stage chemistry.
Some past performers on “So You Think You Can Dance” explained you can create natural chemistry by drawing from real life experiences. Hear what they had to say in the video below.
Tips to Improve Dancers’ Connections
When you first pair up dancers to perform together, they’ll probably feel a little awkward. That’s completely natural, as it can be uncomfortable to let someone into your personal space. However, it’s your job to work with them to establish the levels of trust and comfort necessary to create believable on-stage chemistry.
“Encourage your dancers to get to know one another.”
The first step toward better dance chemistry is often for dancers to get to know one another. Encourage the performers to talk about the performance and what they hope to get out of it. Fostering open lines of communication will help the pair feel more at ease with their performance.
Next, your dancers will need to get comfortable dancing in tandem and feeding off one another’s energy. Dance magazine explained that your students will need to be comfortable making eye contact if they want to give a great performance.
“Establishing eye contact is the biggest thing—it’s all in the eyes,” Victoria Jaiani, a member of the Joffrey Ballet, explained to Dance magazine. “From the first moment of the first rehearsal we need to learn how to look at one another. It helps us breathe in the music together.”
From here, the best way to improve on-stage connection is simply to practice. The more dancers work together, the stronger their bond will be. However, it’s essential that both partners are working toward the same goal. If one member thinks he or she is better than the other or isn’t willing to collaborate, the pair may run into problems along the way.
“We have to leave our ego outside the dance studio,” Junio Teixeira, a member of the New Jersey Ballet Company, told Dance Informa. “When both dancers are trying to reach the same proposal, the partnership will reach a great level.”
Another Kind of Chemistry
While having a connection with one another is essential, remind your dancers not to forget about connecting with their audience. Plenty of eye contact, smiling and a general openness will make performers seems more likable to the people they’re entertaining.
If you run a pre-professional dance school, chances are that some of your budding ballerinas will soon be heading off to one of the many summer dance intensives. It’s an experience that’s often invaluable for dancers when it comes to honing skills, building influential relationships and becoming all-around better performers.
Before your students ship off to their summer dance intensives, give them some advice on how to make the most of their time.
Keep a Positive Attitude
Half the battle of having a good time at a summer intensive is keeping a positive attitude. If your students go into the program worried, wary or above it all, they probably won’t get as much from the experience.
Coach your dancers on how to keep an open mind when it comes to summer classes, meeting new people and taking constructive criticism. These skills will all come in handy when they enter the world of professional dance.
Write It All Down
One way that dancers can retain everything they learn over the course of an intensive is to keep a journal. When they write down notes after each class, jot down tips and tricks shared by experts and document contact information of new friends, they’ll be able to refer back to their experiences later.
If you want to send your students off with a special journal, consider purchasing some inexpensive notebooks with your studio logo on the front! It’s a small gesture that will mean a lot to your dedicated dancers.
Don’t Only Focus on Skills
Yes, summer dance intensives are great places to learn new skills and techniques, but that’s not all these programs offer. Explain to your students that the relationships they make during the summer can serve them throughout their careers. Networking with instructors and other students is an important part of the intensive experience, so don’t neglect it!
Dance Spirit magazine offered some tips on how students can build and maintain friendships while they’re away from home.
You watched them don their first tutus, perfect those tricky steps and blossom into beautiful young dancers. Now, it’s time for them to spread their wings and leave your studio. It’s a bittersweet moment, isn’t it? However, there’s still one more thing you can help your students with. When dancers are considering how to best pursue a career in the arts, they’ll probably ask for your help choosing the right dance program. Pass on these nuggets of wisdom to your graduating performers to guide them down the path to success in a college dance program and elsewhere.
Dance Programs vs. Conservatories vs. Trainee Programs
One of the first steps in whittling down a dancer’s higher education options is to decide whether a conservatory is the right path. Dance Spirit magazine explained that at these intensive training programs, such as the one at Juilliard, dancers live and breathe the art. Students usually spend six to eight hours a day in dance classes, with a few other academic courses sprinkled in.
Tiffany can der Merwe, a teacher at the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management at Oklahoma City University, explained to Dance magazine that students who enter conservatories are usually 100 percent certain that dance is what they want to do.
“There are programs where your commitment to dance is prime,” Merwe told the magazine. “Then there are other programs where you’ll be actively challenged in dance, but at the same time you’ll have to be excellent in your academics.”
This other common option for aspiring dancers is usually attained through a dance program at a college or university. This path is a great choice for students who want to explore other academic programs while earning a fine arts degree. Some dance students even choose to double-major or take a minor in another area of interest.
It is also possible that a dancer has the drive and talent to forego conservatory or university-program training, and go directly into a professional company’s trainee program. There are many factors that determine a student’s suitability for this path, and it’s crucial to be realistic about a student’s potential, as well as whether they have the mental toughness and maturity to pursue such an opportunity, should it arise.
It’s worth mentioning that, every year, a free event is held in New York City called “Dancing through College and Beyond.” It’s designed for high school students, and it’s a chance for them to meet one on one with college dance educators, alumni, and students from all over the country. It’s an incredible opportunity to network with many different schools all in one place, learn about their programs, and even apply for scholarships! If your student can make it to NYC, it’s a unique way to see what dance programs might be right for them.
As a studio owner or instructor, your dancers may very well look to you for advice on which path is better for them. And the truth is that you likely have some great insight for these aspiring performers. Give your students your honest opinion on what you think they would be best suited for. However, be sure to emphasize that they should take their own goals and desires into account as well!
Audition Processes as Peepholes
Once your students have a rough idea of which higher education path they want to take, it’s time to make a list of contending schools. Some dancers may have their hearts set on the big-name dance schools, such as Juilliard, Skidmore or the Boston Conservatory. However, this process gets tricky when students are looking for a more general college dance program – after all, these are hundreds to choose from!
If you’re working with dancers to narrow down their program options, Dance Advantage suggested that you take a close look at each contending school’s audition process. The requirements for applicants can provide you with a glimpse into what the school expects from its students and what life will be like within the program.
For example, a university that requires an audition tape, personal essay and in-person performance is likely looking for highly skilled dancers who are serious about their craft. This means that accepted students will be in classes with similarly skilled peers and held to higher standards of achievement.
On the other hand, schools with lax admissions processes may have classes with mixed-level students and provide a less specialized education to dancers.
At the end of the day, your dancers should take the same considerations into account that normal college applicants would. Are they looking for small intimate classes? Do they need one-on-one instruction? Will they be able to pursue extracurriculars? How far from home are they willing to move?
These factors will all contribute to a college dance educational/training experience, so it’s important that they don’t get overlooked. Just because a university has an amazing college dance program, that doesn’t mean it’s the right school for every aspiring professional.
If you offer acro-dance or tumbling at your studio, you know the importance of spotting your dancers (and we’re not talking turning technique…at least not in this article). Sometimes even a simple trick can go awry, and it’s essential that you’re there to prevent students from hurting themselves while the learn acro skills or other potentially dangerous moves.
Even if you’re experienced with teaching tumbling, there are likely ways that you can become a better spotter. Here are five tips to improve your technique and keep your dancers safe.
1. Adjust Your Position Accordingly
You likely have one position that’s your go-to for spotting. The most common stances are kneeling on one knee or standing alongside the student. However, you shouldn’t be using the same position for every single dancer. Cheerleading Central explained that you’ll have to adjust your position based on the dancer’s size and experience level.
2. Spot with Your Whole Body
Another way you can improve your spotting abilities is to use your whole body during the process. Not only will this benefit your dancers, but it will save your arms and back in the long run. If you’re only using your upper torso to hoist students, you’re increasing the chance of being knocked off-balance and putting significant stress on your own body. Instead, use a proper squat stance and always brace your spine.
3. Always Wear Shoes
If you’re teaching a hybrid class, you may ditch your shoes from time-to-time when you need to demonstrate a tricky combination or step. However, don’t start spotting any tumblers until your shoes are back on and securely tied. You need optimal traction to safely spot your students, so it’s best to wear shoes to anchor your stance.
4. Alternate Sides Regularly
This tip is more for you than for your dancers. Hybrid Perspective explained that when you’re able to spot with both arms, you can prevent overuse on the dominant side of your body. Start working on ambidextrousness with simple tricks, like walkovers and backbends.
5. Condition When You Can
If you’re going to be hoisting and catching 100-pound athletes, it goes without saying that you need to keep yourself in pretty good shape. While you probably have a long list of tasks to complete each day, it’s a good idea to fit in a little time for conditioning. When you keep your body in shape, it will make spotting easier, reduce the chance of you getting hurt and allow your students to get the best education possible.
Rest and relaxation may be tempting during the warm weather, but dance students who are serious about staying in shape and being ready to excel come fall need to stay active to maintain their muscle tone, flexibility and endurance. Here are some tips on cross-training for dancers that studio owners and dance teachers can pass onto their students.
“Summertime indulgences can set dancers back.”
Benefits of Cross-Training for Dancers
If students are going to truly commit to cross-training, they need to understand its importance. One of the big benefits of cross-training during the summer is that it will help dancers stay in shape. Week after week of lounging around the house, hanging at the pool and indulging at summertime cookouts can set dancers back if they don’t keep up their activity levels. Dedicated students should be working to maintain muscle strength and flexibility while also improving trouble areas.
While these short-term goals are important, there are also some bigger benefits of cross-training for dancers. Students who are consistently engaging in activities outside the studio often are less prone to injuries and can push past training obstacles faster than dance-focused peers.
Activity Options for Dancers
So does this mean your students should spend their vacations in the gym? Not at all! There are many different methods of cross-training that will appeal to even the most reluctant dancers. David Popoli, M.D., a primary care sports medicine physician from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, explains that there are activities that allow dancers to express their artistic side while still giving them a great workout.
Yoga and Pilates
As Popoli mentioned, yoga and Pilates are great summertime activities for dancers. These low-impact activities will help students improve their flexibility, control their breathing and target specific muscle groups. You may want to see if a group of your dedicated dancers are willing to take a yoga class in the studio over the summer – hosting an instructor is a great way to bring in a little extra revenue during the slow season.
Another viable option is weight training. Many females are hesitant to lift weights, as they don’t want to end up with big bulky muscles. However, when done correctly, weight training can be extremely beneficial to dancers.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about weight training,” Emery Hill, athletic trainer at Houston Ballet, explained to Dance Spirit magazine. “People think that if you lift weights, you’ll get big musculature. But it can be very beneficial as far as being able to lift or be lifted, or to hold your position, because you have more basic strength.”
Encourage your dancers to work on their cores, biceps and legs by lifting weights. Three sets of each exercise with eight to 10 reps is the perfect amount to keep them looking long and lean while still building up strength.
When the weather is simply too nice to stay inside, dancers can continue their training with outdoor sports. Students who want a full-body workout can try swimming laps at their local pool. This activity doesn’t put any pressure on the joints, but it can really get your heart pumping, helping improve endurance.
Biking is a good choice for dancers who want to build up their leg strength. Encourage your students to ride in low-resistance areas – like flat stretches of land – so their leg muscles stay trim.
Most dance classes are filled with structured lessons about different skills, techniques, tricks and combinations. After all, these are the aspects that make up a great performance. However, you may want to consider incorporating a little bit of dance improvisation into your classes – even if your students balk when you mention it.
“Almost every student I’ve ever had has been terrified,” Chloe Arnold, director of DC Tap Fest and her company, Syncopated Ladies, told Dance Teacher magazine. “[Improvisation] is scary, but once you give it a try, you realize it’s the best thing that ever happened.”
Here are five noteworthy benefits of taking a less-than-structured approach to dance class.
1. Boost Confidence
If your students are only comfortable in predetermined steps and combinations, they’ll likely be insecure when it comes to improvisation. However, pushing through this fear and letting their bodies guide them can often serve as a huge confidence-booster. Improv exercises can also help alleviate fears that your dancers may have about making mistakes. When they’re making up steps on the fly, there’s no “right” and “wrong.” Instead, it’s just about being confident and creative while having fun.
2. Encourage Self-Discovery
Sometimes stepping outside of their comfort zones can help students discover who they are as performers. It’s impossible for dancers to grow if they’re constantly held inside a box, so encourage your performers to spread their wings. Maybe a few improvisation sessions will inspire your students to take up choreography or pursue a few classes in modern dance. When students aren’t solely focused on learning your steps, their minds will be open to all the possibilities that dance offers them.
3. Improve Musicality
It can be hard to teach dancers about musicality, as the skill is multi-faceted and complicated to explain. However, when words are failing you, sometimes a little improvisation can help demonstrate what this quality is all about. Incorporate free-style dance into your lessons about musicality. Have your dancers feel the music and let it guide their steps. It may seem awkward at first, but encourage your students to take it seriously – no giggling – and soon they’ll understand what you mean about connecting their movements with the music.
4. Aid Performance Recovery
There are times in every performer’s career when she misses a step or falls during a trick. These moments are embarrassing for any level of dancer, but what sets the pros apart from the beginners is how they recover. Many times young performers will freeze after making a mistake. The Dance In Progress blog explained that working on improv can often help dancers recover from mid-performance mishaps more quickly. When they’re used to going with the flow, they’ll be able to turn a trip into a graceful turn, then get right back into performance. Many times, the audience won’t even notice the misstep if the dancer recovers fluidly.
5. Inspire Choreography
Choreographer’s block is all too real, and sometimes you might find that your recital pieces are a bit lackluster. When this happens, you may be able to break free of your inspiration rut with a fun, free-flowing inprov session. Let your dancers have a free eight count in spots where you can’t find appropriate steps, and see what they come up with. Your students may lend that bit of creativity and passion the piece was missing. For older students, you can even hold a light-hearted competition to see which dancer or team can come up with the best opening sequence.
As you can see, both dance teachers and students can benefit from incorporating improvisation into practice. It helps everyone to think outside the box and continue growing as performers.
If your beginner dance classes are growing in size but you’re not ready to bring on another instructor, you may be considering asking one of your older, trusted students to become an assistant dance teacher. It’s a common practice throughout the industry to have older dancers assist in preschool and beginner classes to keep kids focused and complete certain administrative tasks.
However, just like with any other business decision, there are both pros and cons of bringing on assistants to help out in your classes. Here are some of the considerations you should take into account when you’re thinking about creating this new role in your studio.
Pro: They’re a Big Help
The most obvious benefit of having an assistant dance teacher is the relief he or she can provide an overburdened instructor. Dance Advantage explained that assistants are frequently responsible for taking attendance, escorting students to the bathroom, handing out props, leading warm ups, keeping kids focused and answering basic parent inquiries. Naturally, these duties will vary between studios depending on what your teachers need help with. More advanced students sometimes also aid in correcting dancers’ form and technique during class, but it’s important that you keep in mind that an assistant’s duties should be directly related to his or her compensation.
Con: You’ll Need to Compensate Assistants
You may think that teaching assistants are the way to go if you don’t have the funds to hire another instructor, but you shouldn’t assume students will work for free. The Dance Teacher blog explained that while many studios don’t pay students monetarily, they implement some other form of payment to compensate assistants. This could be with free lessons, reduced tuition, free merchandise or even just a weekly stipend. Before you start recruiting students to be assistants, make sure you figure out what you’re willing to offer in return for their services.
Pro: The Role Benefits Students
Having an assistant dance teacher in the classroom is a big help to teachers and studio owners. Dance Studio Life noted that teacher’s assistants are able to develop leadership skills, get experience working with children, improve their own dance knowledge and build up their resumes. The role may be especially helpful for students who are considering pursuing a career as a dance instructor, as it shows them what life is like on the other side of the classroom.
Con: They’ll Need Training
The students you recruit as assistants may be eager and ready to take on their new responsibilities, but chances are that they’ll need a fair bit of training. Most students will be a little awkward in their first few months of assisting, and you’ll be able to get them comfortable more quickly if you have some sort of training system. This will require some work on your part before your teaching assistants are living up to their full potential.
Pro: It Can Be a Great Selling Point
If you’re looking for ways to set your studio apart from competitors, having a helping hand in each classroom is definitely a selling point. Once you have training and capable assistants, you can explain to prospective parents that students get as much individual attention as they need and won’t feel lost if they’re ever in a large class. It may seem like a small difference, but it can really be significant when you’re located in an area with a saturated dance market.
When you’re preparing for recitals, you’ll probably start thinking about how your dancers will take their performances from the classroom to the big stage. An important part of transitioning dancers into a venue setting is teaching them stage directions like upstage, downstage and the like. This lesson can be tricky, especially if you’re working with young performers, but it’s important for students to learn if they plan to pursue dance in the future. Here are three tips you can use to make teaching stage directions easy and fun.
1. Explain the Terminology
The first step toward helping your students fully comprehend stage directions is to take a few minutes to go over the concept. The Scottish Ballet explained that modern stage directions are from the point of view of the dancer, which makes them easier to learn.
However, there are also the terms upstage and downstage, which may seem counterintuitive to some dancers. The origin of these directions comes from when stages were “raked,” or built on a tilt so the audience could see better. In those days, going upstage, or away from the audience, literally meant going up in elevation. Understanding where the terms came from may be beneficial for your students.
2. Use Directions in the Classroom
Another way to help your dancers get the hang of stage directions is to use them in the classroom. The Dance Exec recommended taping signs to your mirrors that detail stage left and right after you teach the lesson. Begin using the terms during classes and rehearsals so your dancers become accustomed to responding to the directions. You should be sure to use the terms when teaching recital choreography, as these performances will have to be moved out of the studio and onto a real stage.
3. Play Games to Check Knowledge
You can also use games to measure how effective a lesson has been at teaching stage directions. Take down any signs that you may have up, then call out a stage direction – downstage center, upstage right and so on. Have your students go to where they think the direction dictates. Dancers who go to the wrong zone are “out,” and you can continue playing until you have just a few students left. It’s a fun way to test your dancers’ knowledge between run-throughs and other activities.
As a studio owner, you probably hear one burning question each year during registration: “When is it too late to start dancing?” Because it’s such an important and prominent question in the dance industry, there are ample blog posts, forums and articles dedicated solely to the topic. The answer from experts and amateurs alike is that it’s never too late to start pursuing a passion for dance! That said, late starters should also have realistic expectations about how fast and far they can progress as dancers.
Too Little, Too Late?
Many dancers put on their leotards as soon as they begin to walk. Sometimes the calling is simply undeniable, and keen parents enroll these children in dance classes as early as preschool. The prowess of lifelong dancers often deters older students, who believe they would never be able to catch up to the same level of skill. However, this notion is extremely misguided, as you’re never too old to follow your dreams! Whether it’s a teenager or middle-aged adult asking about dance classes, let them know that there are notable physical benefits to taking up dance at any age, and with patience and dedication, they will likely achieve their goals. However, it’s important to be realistic about expectations. Pointe Perfect noted that while there’s no “cutoff age” for professional dancers, it’s unlikely that an adult who has limited time to practice will be able to catch up with students who have dedicated their lives to dancing. Explain to inquirers that even if they may never make it to the professional level, that doesn’t mean they can’t compete in national events, become an inspiration to others and have a whole lot of fun while dancing!
Success Knows No Age
While the odds of a late bloomer making it to a professional level are low, it does happen from time to time. Imagine if someone had told Misty Copeland that she was too old to start ballet class at 13? The world would have missed out on a trailblazing icon who serves as an inspiration to dancers around the world. There are a number of other unconventional success stories that demonstrate that you’re never too old to start dancing. Dance magazine pointed to David Zurak, a member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, who didn’t find his passion for dance until he was 23! There are also a lot of dancers who take up the art form without hopes of making it big, but are still amazed at how dance transforms their lives. The Guardian interviewed a 75-year-old man named Muhammad Yusuf who joined a weekly dance class at a local community center in hopes of staying active and socializing more. Yusuf explained that not only has the opportunity allowed him to reconnect with his passion for dance, but it has helped to keep his health problems under control as well. These stories show that success and ability isn’t determined by age, but rather by passion, dedication and desire!
Encouraging Students to Follow Their Dreams
Chances are that you decided to open a studio to share your love for dance with the next generation. That’s why it’s part of your responsibility to encourage students of all ages, shapes and sizes to do what they love. Be honest about what latecomers can expect – months or years of beginner-level classes and lots of extra practice time – but let them know that there’s no such thing as “too late.” Once students make the decision to step into their leotards, they’ll probably fall in love with the art form the same way you and so many others have.
Amid your other beginning-of-the-season tasks, you’ll probably be trying to learn the names of all your new students. If you’re lucky, a lot of the same dancers will be returning to your classes, but in some cases you may need to commit 50 or so new names to memory. This is a tricky task, especially if you’re not great with names to begin with or if there are five different Ashley’s to remember. Here are some ideas for dance teachers on how to quickly learn the names of your new dance students.
1. Study the Class Roster
If you know it’s going to be a challenge to learn the names of a new group of dancers, give yourself a head start. Duquesne University’s Center for Teaching Excellence explained that it is often helpful if you study the class roster before your first session. This way, you’ll be familiar with the names and will just need to associate them with the right faces. Take a few minutes to review the list after your first few classes and make notes of which names are giving you trouble.
2. Be Honest
You might not want to be the teacher that outwardly admits you struggle to remember names, but that type of honesty is often beneficial. Tell your students that you’re going to learn their names as quickly as you can and set an ideal date for yourself. Chances are that they’ll help you out if they see you’re floundering for someone’s name. This will speed the process along and help you start to build relationships with your students.
3. Make a Conscious Effort
Many times you may struggle to remember names simply because there’s too much going on around you. If you’re silently running through your lesson plan and distracted by kids messing around in the waiting room, you won’t be giving names your full attention. Forbes magazine recommended that you make a conscious decision to focus during roll call. This can really make a big difference in learning the names of all your dancers.
4. Start Classes with a Name Game
If you’re working with younger dancers, don’t be afraid to play fun ice-breaking name games during the first few classes.
“If you can’t remember their names, chances are they can’t remember each others names either,” explained one teacher on Dance.net. “For little ones, every few weeks we play some sort of ‘game’ where everyone says their name.”
With young students, you can ask them to say their names and demonstrate their favorite dance moves. Another option is to pair them up and have the duos share fun facts about each other. You can use similar games with older students, but try to make them a little more advanced or challenging.
5. Try Word Association or Alliteration
Another trick that many teachers use to learn names is to pair each student’s name with some sort of memorable identifier. For example, if you have a student who just moved to town from another state, try to come up with some way to remember that fact. It might lend itself nicely to some alliteration – like Jane from Jersey – or you may have to get a little more creative. Another method of assign identifiers is to pick up on students’ attire, makeup or overall appearance. You’re more likely to remember a cute quip, such as “redheaded Riley” or “sparkly Sarah.”
This tactic is particularly effective if you’re struggling to keep straight a few students with the same name. Maybe you’ll have Limber Liz, Loveable Liz and Lacey Liz – say that five times fast! Whatever nicknames you choose, just make sure they’re positive, in case you accidently use one out loud.
When you find a method of learning names that works for you, it will be much easier to identify your students within the first few classes. When you know their names by heart, it will help you to build personal relationships and give each individual the attention he or she deserves.
It doesn’t matter if you’re working with preschoolers or pre-professionals – dance props can be a welcome addition to just about any class. There are lots of items that can be incorporated into dance lessons, from floor spots to umbrellas and hats. If you’re looking to switch up your usual class structure, use these four tips to incorporate some fun props into the mix.
1. Consider Safety
Before you choose dance props to work with in class, it’s essential that you take safety considerations into account. DanceStudioOwner.com explained that you’ll want to think about the space you’re teaching in when picking items. Your dancers should be able to move freely with the prop without running into others, so canes or umbrellas aren’t a good idea if you have a big class. Similarly, you’ll want to choose items that are proportionate to the age of your students. Long ribbons are easy to trip on, so save them for older students. Think through your prop choices carefully and try to anticipate any problems you may run into.
2. Get Creative
Many dance teachers have a few go-to dance props, such as scarves, hats and canes, but the sky is the limit if you use your imagination. Head to a local dollar store to pick up some unique items to incorporate into your lessons. Dance Advantage suggested using masks, beanie animals, stretchy bands or bandanas as teaching aids. You can also play around with fake flowers, cones, baskets, novelty items, accessories, fans, toy instruments, sporting equipment and more!
3. Drive the Lesson Home
Props are fun to perform with, but they can also be used to teach important lessons. Bean bags can be used to help dancers improve their posture, while stretchy bands can help students execute a series of sharp movements. When you’re using props to teach a skill, don’t let your students get too distracted by the change of pace. Be sure that your lesson is clear and that the objects are being used to their full potential.
4. Use Props in Competition
If you find that your students work well with props, you may want to consider using the objects in an upcoming performance or competition. Dance Studio Life noted that the right supplement can help augment a theme and bring your team to the next level. However, you’ll want to be sure your dancers can handle the props like pros, otherwise it can make for a sloppy performance.