Confessions From a Dance Teacher: Find the Key to Unlock Your Students' Potential

Thinkstock

When I was a little girl, there was a custodian, Willard, at my elementary school who had a large key ring attached to his belt. It looked like it had hundreds of shiny keys dangling around the hoop, and we could always tell when he was coming down the hall because of the jangling fanfare that preceded him.


One day, I asked him how he knew which key fit every door or box in the school. His answer? "I try 'em all 'til one of them works!"

Dance teachers are custodians of hundreds of children every week. Our job is particularly difficult—no one is there because of a law to learn to dance. Everyone is there because they want to learn the artform, or their parents want their child to find a creative outlet, or, at the very least, to fix their posture.

To be a member of the class is a conscious choice. That means dance teachers are held accountable if the student is unhappy, not progressing, injured or not fulfilling their dreams. It may or may not be warranted, but that's the way it is. Many dance classes follow a particular syllabus to the letter. Other schools use a mixture of different methods. Others, still, fly by the seat of their pants. But no matter what style the school subscribes to, every single teacher must have a metaphorical key ring to unlock each student's heart and instill some inspiration.

Like Willard told me, sometimes, we have to "try 'em all." Sometimes, the same key will fit several different locks. Whether it's an analogy, creative imagery, logic, anatomical explanations or even a few jokes, the teacher is the custodian of every student in the class.

We have taken on the challenge of their artistic "upkeep," so we must maintain the integrity of their technique. But most importantly, we must jangle that key ring and try 'em all until we unlock the dancers' inspiration.

Dance on.

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.