Dance Teachers (The Good and The Bad)

Dance teachers play a crucial role in preparing their students for a lifelong future in dance – be it professional or recreational.

A dance teacher not only has to be proficient in the style they teach, but proficient in how they teach – it takes one bad experience for a beginning student to decide to never give dance a chance again or an inexperienced teacher pushing students to execute movements that may lead to injury.

How does one become proficient? You have to start somewhere and it is always at the bottom – Every great teacher was a novice. This means that there has to be a place for the novice teacher to practice and grow to some day become proficient at teaching if it is his/her wish. Where do we put them and how do we monitor their progress?

Well managed, local dance studios are a good place for aspiring dance teachers and here’s why. A local dance studio that has at least one highly proficient dance teacher on staff has the opportunity to cultivate future dance teachers through mentorship. It’s a win, win – providing students with teaching experience as well as preserving the longevity of the studio due to high teacher turnover rates. Student teachers will also learn how to teach in a safe, systematic way in order to continue to peak a child’s interest as well as ensure that learning is being scaffolded for those that are ready for something a bit more challenging.

The sad news is that not all local dance studios are well managed – hiring teachers with very little experience. This leaves aspiring dancers and their parents with very few options. For this posting, I’ll focus on teachers and what constitutes a good dance teacher.

Classifying a dance teacher as good or bad, is subjective – A student that is always getting corrected on execution or posture might think that his/her teacher is bad. On the other hand, the student that is standing right next to him might think that the teacher is good. The parent of the child getting the correction may agree or disagree with the correction, deeming the teacher as good or bad. Maybe the way in which the teacher is giving the correction may give the impression that he/she is a good or bad teacher. You could see where I’m going with this.

What constitutes a highly proficient dance teacher? It is my opinion that a highly proficient dance teacher is a person that has a desire to learn as much as a desire to teach – a person that is always in contact with his/her students and parents so that they understand the overall class trajectory as well as individual student progress – a person that is always researching how to teach his or her students in the most effective way – a person that is open to learning other forms of dance – a person that has a professional dance history and a person that is willing to make mistakes and laugh.

Twyla never believed in mistakes, just opportunities.

On the other hand, some dance teachers are taught by other dance teachers that were taught by other dance teachers that were taught by other dance teachers and so on. The bad news is that not all were taught how to be good dance teachers so the bad habits and techniques get passed on from one bad teacher to the next.

These days, teachers receive degrees in Dance Performance, Dance Education or “certified” such as the certifications offered through ABT’s National Training Curriculum. These are all well and good…they’re lookers. When you apply for a job these are the bells and whistles that employers look for. However, it does not measure how a teacher teaches.

In the end, as a new or seasoned dancer, its up to you to decide who is a good teacher and who is a bad teacher. You may live in a town with just a couple of dance studios. If this is the case, go to each one and ask to observe the teachers…do not observe the students, that’s not what you are there for. Listen for the teacher’s tone…does it sound positive or negative. Does the teacher make an attempt to always address the entire class or does the teacher play favorites. Does the teacher demonstrate the movement systematically the way it should be done or does the teacher call on one or two favorites to do the movement. Does the teacher find time to laugh…even at his/her own mistakes. Does the teacher learn from his/her students. Does the teacher check for understanding to make sure that each student understands the exercise.

Here is an example, sometimes I get a hankering for a Three Musketeers. I stop into a store, pick one up and head out the door. When I open up the bar, I notice that the chocolate isn’t brown how chocolate is supposed to look like…it’s the color of chalk – YUK! Do I settle for this nasty old Three Musketeers bar or do I return the old one and go to a different store…yeah, I’m going to a different store.

Don’t settle to take dance with a bad teacher. If you are able, ask mom or dad if you could check out some of the other studios and look at some other teachers and make a decision. Be honest with your parents. Let them know the reasons why you don’t like the teacher.

The sad news is that if you live in a rural part of the country, you may not have that much of a choice so if you love dance, you might just have to chose between the lesser of two evils. This means that you are going to have to have an iron mental constitution. I’ll talk about the mental game in my next post.

Good luck and Dance On!

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