Mary Helen Bowers developed a ballet fitness program when she retired from the stage.

Musicians can learn music from a score, but dance has always been passed down from person to person. Even as technology transforms the field, with performance clips instantly available and dancers boasting huge social-media followings, the true work of dancers remains solidly rooted in the studio. Given the need for in-person feedback, it would seem that there isn't a place for online training in dance.

And yet, a small group of teachers and dancers have started to explore the possibilities, and what they've found is surprising: There is an audience for online dance training, but it's not the tech-savvy, smartphone-toting teens who frequent dance studios. Instead, this audience is older and generally far less experienced and confident—and fascinated with ballet. For the burgeoning market of adult beginning dance students, online training holds a particular appeal: classes on their timetable, at their level, in the comfort and privacy of their own homes.

Suzanne Vennard started streaming classes via YouTube in 2006.

Building Confidence

When Suzanne Vennard launched DanceClass.com, a website that streams online dance classes, she focused on adult beginners. “I realized many adults seemed to want to dance, but few were signing up for classes," she says. “Meanwhile, my dance teacher friends were bemoaning the fact that when they offered adult beginner classes, they were poorly attended." She realized many adults feared they'd make fools of themselves in a dance class, and she decided to record classes for them to try at home, where there was little risk of embarrassment. “Once they'd had that chance to 'attend' a class, it gave them sufficient confidence to sign up to their local classes," she says. “Great for the pupil and for the teacher."

Vennard started streaming her recordings online in 2006 and says the number of YouTube views alone (more than 25 million) demonstrates the market for good online dance teaching. She had anticipated that salsa would be her most popular program. “I was completely wrong," she says. “The ballet class outsells all of my other programs put together."

Finis Jhung streams video compilations on his website.

A Sizable Market

Finis Jhung has been creating instructional videos for decades, but it was the adult beginner classes he started teaching at The Ailey Extension that led him to understand the market for online ballet classes. “My adult students are so passionate about ballet," he says. “And they are becoming the biggest market of consumers. There's a whole new consciousness of exercise, nutrition and fitness, and it has everything to do with aging and the baby boomers."

In addition to selling instructional DVDs, Jhung started streaming on his website and created video compilations specifically for adult beginners. In just two years, streaming has grown to 20 percent of his business, with adult beginner classes the biggest seller.

“For a lot of adults, even the beginning classes are too advanced," he explains. “Because I've been teaching at Ailey, I can develop the classes with an awareness of what I need to give them so they can learn ballet."

And online classes have significantly extended his reach. “I can see from my sales that there are adults who want to learn to dance, but many of them don't have access to a studio," he says. “One customer from Australia lives way out in the countryside—she loves that she can stream."

Kathryn Morgan offers live-streaming classes and records them for later viewing.

Technical Tools

Kathryn Morgan also has online students from all over the globe. “It's so funny to be ready for class in New York when students log in and say, 'Greetings from Germany!'" she says. Morgan started teaching ballet online several years ago while dealing with a debilitating illness that had caused her to leave New York City Ballet, where she'd been a soloist. Stuck at home, she watched YouTube videos and was surprised how few ballet dancers had uploaded content. Morgan started posting instructional videos, teaching herself how to film, edit and post material.

When a friend mentioned she could actually be paid for teaching online, Morgan set up online group classes on the website powhow.com, a platform for live webcam classes. She experimented with both an interactive format, where she could see each student, and a live-streaming format, where they could only see her. She settled on the latter for her adult beginner classes (her most well-attended classes). “It's a completely judgment-free zone for them," she says. “I didn't want them to feel self-conscious or like they had to be perfect before even starting."

Morgan both live-streams ballet classes (there's a chat box where students can ask questions, which she answers on screen) and saves classes to the website so that students in different time zones can watch later. Earlier this year, she started offering online interactive private lessons through savvy.com. “It's basically like teaching through Skype, but they handle all the monetary transactions," she says. In addition to private ballet classes, she offers 30-minute private chat sessions (for a fee), during which students can ask her advice.

Online teaching now makes up about half of Morgan's current teaching load, and she welcomes the ability to create her own schedule each week. “It's a nice income," she says frankly. “It's not a full-blown dancer salary, but it's a decent amount of money. When I started, I thought an extra couple of hundred dollars a month would be great, but it's a lot more than that."

Ballet for Fitness

Like Morgan, Mary Helen Bowers started her career with New York City Ballet and has now turned to online teaching. While dancing, Bowers developed a workout program to keep herself at peak fitness, and when she retired from the stage, she realized that her program worked for nondancers, too. Thus was born Ballet Beautiful. One of Bowers' first clients was actor Natalie Portman, whom she trained for the ballet film Black Swan with a combination of ballet technique classes, a customized version of her Ballet Beautiful exercises and lap swimming. Because her work with Portman required a great deal of travel, she used the internet to maintain her then-fledgling business in New York City.

As Ballet Beautiful expanded and Bowers started teaching group classes online, she realized that the software she wanted to use didn't exist. With web developers, she built her own proprietary software that she can use to watch and interact with up to 10 students as she teaches a class. Her clients are typically adults who have taken some ballet as children. “We've been able to encourage a lot of people, especially adults who have returned to ballet, to pick up their ballet slippers again and have the confidence to go back to an introductory class," she says.

Although technology can at times be frustrating, with poor or delayed internet connections affecting classes, these four teachers are convinced that online training is a viable option for adult learning. “When it's working well, it's so exciting because it's connecting you with a global audience," says Bowers. All four are adamant that ambitious young students need to be in the studio with a teacher. But for adults, an online class can be just the impetus they need. “Once they have the ballet bug, they come back," says Jhung with a smile. “Streaming is the wave of the future!" DT

Based in San Francisco, Caitlin Sims is a frequent Dance Teacher contributor.

Photo courtesy of Ballet Beautiful; courtesy of DanceClass.com; Hugh Brownstone, courtesy of Finis Jhung; by Nathan Sayers for Pointe magazine

Don't miss a single issue of Dance Teacher.

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox