Teaching Tips

15 Reasons Why Dance Teachers Should Be Taking Class, Too

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Hey, dance teachers! Take a second to think about the last time you took a dance class. We know you spend the majority of your waking hours in the studio, but how much of that is for your own instruction and learning? Our guess is not much.

Here we share 15 reasons you may want to change that.


1. Stay up-to-date with current choreographic trends

Of course you're constantly watching footage of new works from your favorite choreographers, but taking class yourself is the best way to really understand new choreographic trends.

2. Glean inspiration from different teaching styles

Growth and evolution are important elements of any successful career. Taking class from someone new may be the inspiration you need to help refocus and improve upon your already stellar teaching style.

3. Put yourself in your students' shoes

We spend so much time educating, we can sometimes forget what it's like to be taught. Taking class can give you insight into what your students are going through, and it will help you approach your work with them with understanding and compassion.

4. Learn what NOT to do as an educator

While gleaning inspiration for what TO do is important, gleaning inspiration for what NOT to do may be even more crucial. Pay attention to strategies your teachers use that might not be effective, notice how students respond to different types of correction and note what doesn't work.

5. Counteract burnout

Sometimes the stress of teaching, running a studio and dealing with difficult parents can make you want to pull your hair out. Taking class will remind you of your love for the artform and give you the strength to make it through another day.

6. Maintain physical health

We're preaching to the choir when we say dance is a great form of exercise. This is an excellent way to take care of yourself.

7. Prevent dementia

Studies are finding a connection between dance and dementia prevention. Who are we to argue with the experts. 🤷♀️

8. Improve demonstration skills

When you demonstrate in class, your dancers have a visual representation of what their technique should look like. In order for your demonstration skills to stay pristine, you need to be maintaining and developing them in class.

9. Make important connections

Taking teacher classes at convention is a great way to make important connections for your studio. Many major choreographers will only work with a studio if they have developed a relationship with the studio owners, the teachers or the dancers. These classes are a chance for you to lay the ground work for those connections.

10. Scout out potential teachers for your studio

What better way to see if someone is qualified to teach for you than taking their class? Be careful with this, though. You don't want other studios to think you're poaching their employees. Be sure to only do this if the culture of the studios in your town is to share teachers.

11. Remind yourself how talented you are

It may have been a while since you last graced the stage, but when you step on the floor and start dancing yourself, you'll quickly see that you've still got it!

12. Discover new music

Finding new music for class can feel like an impossible task. Go take class from someone else, and you'll discover a whole new world of tunes to play with your adagio combo.

13. Do something for yourself

Your life revolves around your studio and your students. Taking class is one thing you can do for yourself that's separate from them. It's an excellent form of self-care!

14. Make new friends

The majority of the social interactions in your life come from teaching. Class is a great chance to make connections and friendships with your peers.

15. Inspire your students

Dancers often think that once they enter their professional careers, they don't need to take class anymore. Of course, we understand that if any dancer is to truly thrive professionally, class needs to be a lifelong habit of theirs. What better way to teach than through example. As we tell them about the classes we still take, we inspire them to do the same.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.


The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'Ă©chauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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