Dance Teacher Tips

10 Things to Consider When Subbing for a Modern Technique Class

Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.


  1. As you sub for the class, what is the hope of the teacher? Is it to repeat/continue/pull forward some of the material (the combination, the current theme of class, etc.)? Can you get access to some of their music? Can you meet up in the studio to review (and possibly video) some of the phrases?
  2. Do you get free studio time to prep for the class?
  3. Music details. Is there wifi so you can use something like Spotify? What is the stereo setup?
  4. Which studio will you be teaching in? Studios vary greatly in size and shape. Knowing this key detail will help you build the class plan.

Now, into the actual lesson planning:

5. Sketch out the potential timing and chunks of the class. Are you trying to emulate the format of the current teacher? Here is an example, using Mo Miner's Advanced Adult Modern class at Shawl-Anderson as an example. (Mo is a master teacher and meticulous with her timing and format.)

-Floor warm-up (10 min)

-Center warm-ups (20 min)

-Across-the-floor phrase (15 min)

-Floorwork and inversions phrase (15 min)

-Jumping phrase across the floor (10 min)

-Final combination (20 min)

6. Backplan. Create the final combination first.

7. Do you want to teach any parts of the final combination earlier in class—in a warm-up or as part of the traveling work across the room?

8. Warm-ups. Are there any favorites of yours from some of your favorite teachers? Can you respectfully borrow (AND CREDIT) from these teachers? (If you can, even ask their permission.) Insert these combinations into your class plan now.

9. Introducing yourself and the class plan for the day. I suggest even practicing how you want to introduce yourself and your lesson to the group. The students want to know who you are and how your class will be similar or different than the regular teacher. This might be the moment in class when you ask each student their name as well. (This all should take 3 minutes or less.)

10. Once you have sketched out your whole plan, go back and put a rough time estimate next to each bit (ex. 10 minutes; 5 minutes). Make sure that your notes are complete enough so that you can understand them in a few days. Take the time to video any warm-ups or combinations that might be loose on the brain, so that your hard work is not lost.

Dance News
Getty Images

Dancers are resilient by nature. As our community responds to COVID-19, that spirit is being tested. Dance Teacher acknowledges the tremendous challenges you face for your teaching practice and for your schools as you bring your offerings online, and the resulting financial impact on your businesses.

Perhaps we can take hope from the knowledge of how we've managed adversity in the past. I'm thinking of the dance community in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I'm thinking of 9/11 and how that changed the world. I'm thinking of the courageous Jarrah Myles who kept her students safe when the Paradise wildfire destroyed their homes. I'm thinking of Jana Monson who rebuilt her studio after a devastating fire. I'm thinking of Gina Gibney who stepped in to save space for dance in New York City when the beloved Dance New Amsterdam closed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

While summer usually sparks dreams of warm vacations in the sun, many dance teachers don't have the luxury of taking a week off to lounge by the pool. But what if a stellar educational opportunity for dance instructors just happened to take place in sunny Las Vegas?

The Dance Teacher Web Conference and Expo, happening August 4–7 and founded and directed by longtime successful studio owners and master teachers Steve Sirico and Angela D'Valda Sirico, gives dance teachers and administrators a chance to learn, network and recharge during a one-of-a-kind working vacation. Here, attendees can rub shoulders with esteemed industry professionals, get inspired by a variety of workshops and even walk away with a new certification or two:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Photo courtesy of Misty Lown

Please join us for a Virtual Town Hall with Misty Lown, owner of More Than Just Great Dancing, an affiliation of 300 studios worldwide, and Youth Protection Advocates in Dance. She's also a dance studio owner of 23 years.

Register here to join the call for Monday, March 30, at 1 pm CST (2 pm, EDT).

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

On Wednesday, March 18, I was supposed to return to Juilliard and teach Pilates after a two-week spring break. Instead, I rolled a mat onto my bedroom floor, logged in to Zoom and was greeted by a gallery of 50 small-screen images of young ambitious dancers, trying to make the best of a strange situation. As I began class, I applied our new catchphrase: "Please mute yourself," then asked students to use various hand gestures to let me know how they are coping and how much space they have for movement. I asked dancers to write one or two things they wanted to address in the sidebar, and then we began to move.

This is our new normal. In the midst of grave Covid-19 concerns, dance professors across the country faced university closures and requirements to relocate their courses to the virtual sphere. Online education poses very specific and substantial challenges to dance faculty, but they are finding ways to persist by learning new methods of communication, discovering untapped pedagogical tools, expanding their professional networks, developing helpful new resources and unearthing old ones.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Choreographer Molly Heller with musician Michael Wall. Photo by Duhaime Movement Project

Love electronic music? Calming notes of a piano? Smooth, rich trumpet? Want music in clear meters of 3, or in 7? This week is the ideal time to check out musician Michael Wall's abundant website soundformovement.com. I myself have enjoyed getting to experience his music over the past five years—whether to use in a teen class, older-movers class or for my own MFA thesis choreography.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Courtesy of Wroth

The effects of COVID-19 on college dancers might have been devastating. Performances were canceled, seniors trying to savor every last moment together were left without a graduation ceremony, students were encouraged to go home, and at each moment, a question has sounded: How can a student learn how to become a better performer when they are not allowed to perform?

Here at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, the ballet department rallied quickly and adapted its programming, choosing to see this hiatus as an opportunity to encourage reflection and self-improvement.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Getty Images

As Broadway goes dark and performances are canceled across the country, the financial repercussions of a global pandemic have gone from hypothetical to very real. This is especially true in the dance community, where many institutions are nonprofits or small businesses operating on thin margins, and performers rely on gigs that are being canceled. It's a scary and uncertain time.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: We always seem to lose the most students after our recitals. How do I prevent post-show fallout?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

With studio closures and shelter-in-place restrictions throughout the country this week due to COVID-19 concerns, dancers are putting creative skills to use in a myriad of new ways with each given day and new scenario. If you are stuck at home, consider a few of these projects that frequently get pushed down our long "to do" lists.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Alicia Graf Mack. Photo by Rachel Papo


American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside is doing his best to adjust to life at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Watch below for his insights, and see who among the ballet world's best is teaching online, including DT's January cover star and director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division, Alicia Graf Mack (minute 1:07).


Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Nyama McCarthy-Brown leads class. Courtesy of McCarthy-Brown

For the past 20 years, Ohio State University professor Nyama McCarthy-Brown has been advocating for dance pedagogy that embraces students' cultural backgrounds. "When you look at a textbook and all you see is Western-based dances or people moving in ways that point back to a Eurocentric culture, how do you value other cultures?" she asks. "How do we value other cultures when we're not seeing them in every place that we're told is important?"

In her 2017 book Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World: Culturally Relevant Teaching in Theory, Research and Practice, McCarthy-Brown details her approach, which hinges on researching the cultural backgrounds of the students in the room and teaching with these in mind. Integrating students' cultural practices into dance curriculum, especially in K–12 schools, enables students to be seen and valued, and to have a more positive learning experience.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Damrow

Kristin Damrow is a beloved teaching artist in the San Francisco Bay Area. On average, she teaches 15 hours a week with adults and teens of different levels, plus directs her company Kristin Damrow & Company. She is also a tech-savvy artist who makes vlogs and maximizes social-media posts through Facebook and Instagram to support her teaching and choreographic work. Her dance work is already well-connected via technology.

This week we asked Kristin a few questions as she posted her first online teaching video, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and the closing of all institutions in which she teaches.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox