Fifth-graders in lower ManhattanMeghan Grupposo never planned on becoming a teaching artist. She graduated from Juilliard in 2000 and went on to dance and choreograph for the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center. But a stress fracture from her senior year of high school kept coming back. “I needed to find another avenue to live my passion," she says.

Fortunately, her Juilliard ballroom instructors, Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau, were holding auditions for teaching artists. “I was mortified at the thought of having to speak in front of people," Grupposo says—a severe challenge for any would-be educator—but she got the job with Dancing Classrooms and now teaches 16 ballroom dance classes per week to public-school students across New York City. Like all successful educators, she had to learn that classroom settings require a very different skill set from the traditional dance studio.

1. Engaging students who didn't choose to dance

The key to success, says Miki Ohlsen, artistic director of Island Moving Company, is understanding that students in public-school dance programs aren't self-selecting. “In a studio, they want to be there," she says. “But in our outreach programs, we have to find ways to engage each and every student, some who don't want to dance, maybe haven't had breakfast or don't have warm clothing."

Her company does this by making its curriculum directly relevant. “We talk about what gives us our motivations: poetry, news articles or the world around us. Then we build a dance just like we would build text, using verbs or action words to tell a story."

Middle school ballroom partnersRodney Lopez, a teaching artist with Dancing Classrooms who now serves as its executive director, urges his educators to remember that mastering technique is not the goal. “You have to impart more than technical skill. You have to be a coach, a facilitator, a source of inspiration and a joyful mentor. Technical mastery will happen along the way, but it's not the point."

So, when Grupposo encounters reluctant male students, she might refer to Victor Cruz's dance moves in the end zone. Then, she helps them to see that learning to dance is a transferable skill. “We talk about the pivot turn, for example. How else will you use it? In basketball."

2. Staying centered as an educator

“The work of a teaching artist is incredibly rewarding, but it's not easy," says Lopez. “You have to put in the personal work so you can bring your best self to the classroom and bring the best out in these kids."

Grupposo refers to this as becoming “triggerless." “If they push, we're not gonna push back," she says. “Nothing the students say is wrong."

While a dance teacher working in a studio environment might reprimand students for making too much noise, Grupposo works to maintain a positive environment throughout her entire class. She thanks her students for being quiet, even when they're being loud, and asks them to face front by saying, “I need all your beautiful faces toward me. You look amazing!" Her classes emphasize respect and teamwork, reinforcing Dulaine's Dancing Classrooms principles of compassion, humor and joy.

A similar philosophy informs the work of teaching artists at National Dance Institute. Although founded by famous New York City Ballet dancer Jacques d'Amboise, the organization doesn't teach ballet per se. “We believe that every child deserves to dance, and that every child can dance," says Emily Meisner, director of professional development.

Math students in Rhode Island

3. Using gender-neutral language

Language plays a huge role in student engagement. This can be tricky when teaching a form like ballroom, which has a long history of strict gender roles. Dancing Classrooms tries to ensure that classrooms have a relatively even split between males and females. But Grupposo calls them “apples" and “oranges," or “inner circle" and “outer circle" dancers.

“We did some Title IX work to see how we could gender neutralize," she says. “Some of the schools ask for it outright. And even though we use the terms 'ladies' and 'gentlemen,' our students get to decide where they fit on that scale."

One child, for example, had recently come out as transgender. He insisted that he was a boy and wanted to be referred to as such. Grupposo was happy to honor this request.

4. Empowering all students to succeed

At NDI, Meisner encourages her trainees to be larger than life in their movements. “If you want the dancer to do 100 percent, you have to do 150 percent. What a child sees is as important as what you tell them."

Island Moving Company leads a residency at Claiborne Pell Elementary School in Newport, Rhode Island.In a typical NDI class, students change their orientation at regular intervals. The lack of “front" and “back" reinforces the philosophy that every child can dance, because there's no way to hide “less talented" dancers in the back row. It also keeps children engaged. “They never know when they're suddenly going to be at the front. They don't get to hide, and they don't get to follow."

At Dancing Classrooms, Gruposso uses a variety of classroom management techniques including call-and-response (she claps a rhythm, and the students play it back), physical shapes and gestures.

“Schools are structured in such a way that people with certain kinds of talent move to the top," Lopez explains. “If you don't fit into that mode of logical intelligence—if you have kinesthetic or artistic intelligence instead—or if you're labeled as 'special needs,' you're going to be tracked for a less ideal experience."

The magic of teaching artistry, he says, “is when you get to see the class clown or the kid who never does well on tests show up, experience success and be proud of themselves. It never gets old." DT

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and professor of both cultural anthropology and dance. She lives in Philadelphia.

Photo by Matthew Murphy; courtesy of Dancing Classrooms; by Kim Fuller, courtesy of Island Moving Co.; photo by Jen Carter, courtesy of Island Moving Company

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Show Comments ()
How does your studio handle enrollment for boys? Photo courtesy of Shona Roebuck

I recently set up a classical ballet partnering master class for my youth dance company. A pas de deux class, if you will—think Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, etc., chock full of promenades, pirouettes and lifts.

I knew we would have plenty of girls interested in signing up, but enlisting boys is always a challenge.

Without much thought, we offered it for free to boys who attended because, here's the thing: no boys = no class. At least, in a ballet partnering class—every Sugar Plum Fairy needs a Cavalier, right?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Sean Boyd, courtesy of White

Julie Hammond White is an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she directs the dance education BFA. Here, the mother of two (Townsend, 10, and Dominic, 7) takes us through a typical week of juggling her personal and professional life. We caught up with White in October on the first day of work after her fall break. —Jill Randall


6:30–10 am Up and trying to rouse the boys. Throw in a load of laundry, pack lunches, set out uniforms. Drop kids off at school and head to the library. Finish planning advanced ballet.

10:30–11 Read 99 (?!) work e-mails. Taking a few days off is a bad idea…

11 am–12:30 pm Teach advanced ballet. I'm doing what I call "vitamin phrases": 2- to 3-minute phrases that focus on one aspect of ballet (this week, petit allégro).

12:40–1:55 Teach Methods in Dance Education. This is a course that all juniors, regardless of their major (performance/choreography or dance ed), must take to learn how to effectively teach dance in K–12, studios, higher education or community programs.

3:30–4 Grab a quick salad at restaurant across the street. Read letters from the promotion committee—passed the first stage of being recommended for full professor!

4–6 Grade DED 360 papers. These take a while. DED 360 is one of two writing- and speaking-intensive classes for the major. In their papers, students comment on eight areas of diversity as defined by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and find a media resource that addresses each to compare and contrast their views.

7–8 Grocery: bread, cantaloupe, Go-GURTS, apples, bananas, peanut butter, Nutella, pasta, cheese and oatmeal.

8–9 Laundry. Three loads. Also do a quick pickup of the house.

9 Boys home from day with Dad. They shower, brush teeth and set out their clothes for tomorrow. I sign homework and read them a story. Hugs and kisses, then bed by 10 pm.

10–10:30 More e-mails. Bed.

Next Page
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Kyle Froman, courtesy of The Ailey School

Depending upon whom you ask, there are different approaches to mastering the art of turning. Whether it's fouetté turns or a single pirouette, every teacher tends to have their own unique way to break down the physics of pulling off balance, strong arms and quick spotting to students. And here's one more visual to consider, courtesy of master ballet teacher Finis Jhung.

Bottom line: There are never enough ways to describe how to do a pirouette.

Keep reading... Show less
Best Practices

Do you call the pirouette position passé or retiré, or do you use both? What about the term élevé? Do you use it? Have you ever considered what these French words actually mean?

“Ballet terminology is somewhat subjective," says Raymond Lukens of ABT's JKO School. “Often there is no definitive way to say something. What's really important is to create a picture in the minds of your students so that they will do the step you're asking the best way possible. You can split hairs forever over this stuff!"

Keep reading... Show less
Viral Videos

Taylor Swift's latest music video for her hit song "Delicate" has taken the internet by storm since its premier at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Awards. (Is anyone surprised? 💁) If you've been watching headlines, you know that it's simultaneously dancey, goofy, nods at Margaret Qualley's dance advertisement for KENZO and is chock-full of secret messages for all of Swift's biggest fans.

This entertaining video has us reflecting on some other dance-centric music videos we'll never get over. Check out our list of dancey music videos you need to watch right now. Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider (Warner Brothers)

Today in Ballet Dancers Are Actual Superheroes news:

You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet Schoolwas far tougher.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
DaSilva (center) teaching at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Performing Arts Center in NYC. Photo courtesy of DaSilva

Chanel DaSilva has two pillars of focus for every class she teaches: performance quality and musicality. The former Trey McIntyre Project dancer asks her students to really listen and be the music, emphasizing the importance of being expressive artists. She wants students to find that euphoric place dancers feel when they're under the lights with an audience watching. "I want that in class," she says. "Don't wait for the stage."

Keep reading... Show less





Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!