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


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.

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.

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