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.

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by spinkickpictures.com, courtesy of Mitchell

"Popular music has an overall energy that lends itself to the street-jazz style," says Derek Mitchell. But over the last eight years or so, the choreographer, who also teaches contemporary, jazz funk and musical theater, has noticed a lack of great musicality and interesting lyrics. As a result, Mitchell's music searches often gravitate toward the classic hits from artists like Prince and Janet Jackson. "Rarely do I hear a new song that makes me go, 'Oh, I want to dance to that!'"

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Courtesy Harlequin Floors

Just like your car, your studio needs periodic tune-ups to keep it humming along smoothly. If you take the time to address a few small fixes, your business will stand out. And you don't have to break the bank, either—you might be surprised how low-cost, DIY improvements can make a surprising difference.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Getty Images

When your students graduate and move to the big city to pursue their dreams, they'll almost immediately discover that there's a void left where your studio once was. Not only will they miss your instruction and daily support, but they'll miss having a physical space to work through challenging movement, polish their technique and improv with no one watching. Help them with their adjustment period by telling them about the studio spaces they can rent out when they need some one-on-one time with the mirror and the music.

Here are five for you to share with them—you're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Gabriel Figueredo in a variation from Raymonda. VAM Productions, Courtesy YAGP.

This week, more than 1,000 young hopefuls gathered in New York City for the Youth America Grand Prix finals, giving them the chance to compete for scholarships and contracts to some of the world's top ballet schools and companies. Roughly 85 dancers made it to the final round at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater on Wednesday. Today, the 20th anniversary of YAGP came to a close at the competition's awards ceremony. Read on to find out who won!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: A student of mine recently got a bad sprained ankle, and it's been weak ever since she returned to class. Are there any exercises you suggest to strengthen it?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Kyle Froman

A few years ago, Mary Ann Lamb got a phone call from Ann Reinking, who was choreographing a production of The Visit starring Chita Rivera. Lamb was thrilled when Reinking offered her the role of Young Claire without even asking for an audition. "And then she said, 'In the first act, you're going to play Chita Rivera when she's a 17-year-old virgin,'" Lamb says, "and I'm like, 'What am I gonna do? I'm like 50 years old!' I started panicking. My dream was to be in the room with Ann Reinking and Chita Rivera, but I was scared to death I was going to make a fool of myself."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
YouTube

"WOD" is back for Season 3, and once again, the internet is loving it! How much do they love it, you ask? Well they've watched many of the dances millions of times, so it's safe to say—A WHOLE LOT! We did some research and discovered which dances have been watched the most since Season 3's premiere, and the results may surprise you.

Here are the top-four most viewed "WOD" videos of the season so far! Let us know your favorite over on our Facebook page!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: As a dance teacher, which products do you prefer, Apple or Google?

Keep reading... Show less
Unsplash

When it comes to running a thriving dance studio, Cindy Clough knows what she's talking about. As executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner for more than four decades, she's all too aware of the unique challenges the job presents, from teaching to scheduling to managing employees and clients.

Here, Clough shares her best advice for new studio owners, and the answers to some common questions that come up when you're getting started.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

The one thing that can unite all of us on April 15 is the fact that everyone hates doing their taxes. Though they are necessary, they are exhausting and time-consuming, and just plain no fun for anyone!

To help you cope, we've captured what doing taxes feels like through a series of dancer memes.

YOU'RE WELCOME!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

It's a question that often pops up online in dance teacher forums where studio owners look for creative ways to save money. It may sound tempting to try shower pan lining as vinyl flooring—it's PVC, just like marley, right? Unfortunately, it's not that simple—PVC products are not all created equal.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox