Teaching Tips

Dana Wilson Answers Your Biggest Zoom Questions

Dana Wilson teaching from her studio. Photo courtesy of Wilson

A lot goes into crafting a successful Zoom class. You can't simply download the app and launch into your usual syllabus. Is your teaching space set up properly? Are you wearing an outfit that will pop on-screen? These and other factors can make or break your students' experience.

Commercial performer, choreographer and master teacher Dana Wilson recently produced a video aimed at helping dance teachers effectively use Zoom. Wilson herself was a Zoom early-adopter, using the app for nondance meetings, and was quick to transition to it as an educator, hosting invite-only classes for studios she'd worked with in the past. (Wilson has also been teaching for New York City Dance Alliance's Virtual Dance Experience during the pandemic.) Within weeks of her first Zoom sessions, she says, "I started getting asks from studio owners to teach their teachers." Wilson's 21-minute video is chock-full of words of wisdom for educators making the jump to online training. Here are a few takeaways.


Set Up Smart

Position your camera somewhere that allows for a full-body view as you show combinations. Also, make sure the camera is mounted or placed on a stable surface—something that won't jiggle as you jump around. Connect all of your devices to outlets before class to avoid battery snafus. And don't forget to clean up any household clutter that's in the frame.

Dress for Success

In a Zoom class, your body is only as big as your students' screens. Make the most of your limited pixels by wearing formfitting, solid-color clothing that contrasts with your background and your natural skin tone. "Your outline needs to be visible. It will be doing the primary communication," Wilson explains.

Practice Your Angles

Are you lucky enough to have a mirror in your home dance space? You may want to teach facing it, with the camera behind you. Without a physical mirror, you might prefer to face the camera and mirror your pupils. Zoom also offers a setting where you can flip your video. Try each option to see what feels most natural to you and what gets through to your dancers.

Put Students in the Spotlight

Zoom's "spotlight" feature allows hosts to display a participant's video on everyone else's screens. This is useful when you require a demonstrator—or, Wilson says, when you want to keep dancers on their toes. "When I spotlight a student, all they can see is themselves," she says. "This means they can't rely on their neighboring squares for cues. This is a great test and great training for real-world dance."

Nail Your Audio

"Audio is the most challenging Zoom issue for me," Wilson says. "I test audio every time I teach, and I always get feedback that guides me to make tiny changes." While she does offer a list of preferred audio equipment in her video, she also has general advice. For instance, keep your microphone and speaker volume set at 90 percent and use Zoom's "share computer audio" feature rather than playing music through an external device.

Find a New Language

Establish clear gestures so students (whose devices should be on mute) can communicate with you. For example, a thumbs-up to the camera can mean they have the combo, while arms crossed in an X can mean they don't. Specific questions can be typed into Zoom's chat box, or you can have students wave a hand and unmute when called upon. Check in frequently, both out loud and by peeking at the grid to see if anyone is trying to get your attention.

Wilson's video has many more tips, and she's happy to consult with teachers who have follow-up questions. "I love sharing information!" she says. It's not just about getting through the current crisis. "I absolutely see this type of technology sticking around (but not replacing in-person events) post-COVID," Wilson says. "If dance is a universal language, Zoom is a universal ballroom."

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