Kristine Anderson has been teaching dance for 25 years in a variety of settings, from studios to public schools. But it was only five years ago, when she joined the faculty at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, that she found what she’d long been missing: benefits.
“I finally have a job that provides healthcare. I can actually have compensated sick days and perhaps a pension,” Anderson says. “Dance instructors are in a category of their own when it comes to not being compensated properly for their efforts. I am very glad to be where I am.”
The benefits of teaching at a community college come in many other forms as well. It can be a great addition to your resumé, as well as an opportunity to expand your knowledge base and develop new teaching skills. For those interested in eventually teaching at a four-year university, this is an ideal stepping-stone, allowing you test the waters of academia while building related experience.
Studio teachers hoping to reach out into the community and boost name recognition can also profit. By teaching a course or two, you can introduce yourself to a new group of students, and perhaps attract prospective students to your school in the future.
Read on to find out what kinds of opportunities are out there and how to get started.
Options & Qualifications
The types of teaching positions available at a community college will depend on the breadth of its dance offerings. Those with dance departments often have both full-time and adjunct (part-time) faculty positions. These schools usually offer a two-year degree in dance and may also have a performing company.
Other community colleges offer dance classes but do not have a degree program or dance department. Sometimes these courses are taught through the physical education department or are simply given for elective credit. Still others offer continuing education classes, which are non-credit courses geared toward the enrichment and enjoyment of participants.
Teaching requirements for community colleges can differ widely, depending on the school and the program. For example, some schools hire based on teaching experience, while others require a degree in dance. Typically, the requirements for teaching a non-credit course in the continuing education department will be less rigorous than those for an adjunct faculty slot at a school that offers a dance degree.
Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon, which offers an associate degree in dance, requires part-time faculty members to have at least a BA in dance. Full-time teachers need an MFA with related experience in somatics, creative process and history/theory. When asked what qualities she looks for in potential instructors, lead faculty member Bonnie Simoa says that, aside from a mastery of the form, she wants to see an understanding of the learning process and an approach that allows students to thrive mentally, physically and creatively.
What To Expect
Teaching at a community college comes with its own set of challenges. In a degree program some classes will require the presentation of history, theory and other academic material, as well as grading and paperwork. Continuing education courses will tend to run more like studio classes.
The demands of full-time and adjunct work differ as well. “The main advantage of adjunct work is the freedom it gives me as a dance artist,” says Carley Conder, artistic director of Arizona-based company CONDER/dance, and an adjunct at Scottsdale Community College in Arizona. “I can walk in, teach my class and walk out. The full-time faculty is in charge of the administrative end of things, which allows the adjuncts to concentrate on teaching.”
Anderson says that the greatest challenge has been managing students of widely varying abilities and meeting the needs of each one. Lauri Roesch, who taught at a public high school for seven years before joining Scottsdale Community College as an adjunct faculty member, agrees: “Know the environment you are going to be teaching in,” she advises. “What is the population taking your class? That is going to affect everything from movement vocabulary to music choice. Be flexible. For example, you may be prepared to teach turns and leaps but you may have several students who can't do them due to age or injury.”
Scottsdale Dance Director Angea Rosenkrans adds: “The instructor must understand the demographic of non-traditional students without lowering the expectations and standards of the course. Many times, this means more work in terms of advising, counseling and time, but the results are very gratifying.” DT
Catherine L. Tully is a writer, photographer and educator with more than 35 years of experience in the dance field.