As a dance teacher, chances are you strive daily to be a great role model for your students—cheerful, enthusiastic and motivating, offering plenty of positive reinforcement as well as a sense of clear control over your classroom. But what happens when your personal life gets in the way of those good intentions?


By nature, dance teachers—and dancers in general—are a hardy and resilient group, with stamina that helps them through a physically grueling schedule, not to mention the discipline and dedication that dance requires. That devotion likely spills over into everything they do, meaning that when the going gets tough, many teachers buckle down and keep going, however stressful that may be.

Maintain mind over matter.

For many teachers, the strategy is to first and foremost commit to leaving those personal issues at the door when teaching class. “We all have problems outside of the studio. Who wants to take class from someone who has their problems hanging out all over the place, or who has a negative attitude? No one," says Maria Triano, owner of the PA Dance Network in Pennsylvania. “So with that in mind, I focus only on what my job is while I'm at the studio." Sometimes, she admits, it comes down to good old-fashioned mind tricks. “When other thoughts come into my mind, I allow them to pass by without getting attached to them or the emotions they create. It's not easy, but I have no choice," says Triano, who names divorce, family issues, self-doubt, problematic home renovation and monthly hormonal changes as things that have affected her mood while teaching class.

Triano cites yoga and spending quiet time reading as ways she maintains her mental health in her busy life. “I do a guided meditation at home before leaving for the studio, even if it's a three-minute one. It allows me to relax my whole body and it takes my mind elsewhere, giving me space to be more present when I walk through the door of my studio. And I make sure to get outside every day," she says. “It's like filling up your gas tank and using up all of the gas. If you don't have ways of refueling yourself, you are empty."

Try reflective thinking.

For times when emotion gets the best of you and you feel overwhelmed, take a minute to reflect on the situation before acting out emotionally, recommends Dr. Harlene Goldschmidt, a psychologist who also serves as director of arts education and wellness at the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble. “Strong emotions push out logical thinking," she says. “When you feel yourself getting worked up over a situation with a student, take the time to be reflective and ask yourself: Is there an underlying reason why I'm getting upset? Is this situation representing something else?" For instance, maybe a disobedient student is reminding you of the way your children have been acting at home, or it's triggering a memory of your childhood when a classmate was mean to you. “Try to figure out what larger issues are at play, and you'll feel that much more in control and equipped to deal with the situation," she says.

Talk it out—but be professional.

Goldschmidt also advises keeping a sense of humor, because it can relieve tension. When you're feeling upset, make a joke or say something lighthearted that will make you and your students laugh for a few minutes, while still being respectful and class-appropriate. And she says it's imperative that every teacher put a support system in place. “A teacher should have someone she can talk to—not necessarily a professional, but a colleague, a friend, a spouse. She needs a place to vent, to put it out there." Talking to someone who is understanding and not judgmental, who will listen and take the time to help you sort out your problems can be one of the best ways to help keep the problem out of the studio, she says.

But Goldschmidt says think twice before blurting out at the studio or during class the frustration or problems you are having. “This varies from teacher to teacher on what their comfort level is on sharing with students what may be going on in their lives. Just be sure you aren't mentioning your problems to solicit sympathy or help from your students. Maintain clear boundaries between yourself as an adult and your students. You could just say, 'I'm going through a stressful time in my life,' if you don't want to get into details." Above all, she says, “Always respect the boundaries between teacher and student. Keep it strictly professional, and be consistent."

Sending Out An SOS

What happens when it's the students' life issues that threaten to spill over into class? One teacher, Dalana Moore of Encore Performance Company in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, found a unique—yet perfectly fitting—way of helping her students: She encouraged them to express their emotions through dance.

“As teachers, we know immediately when children are simply not themselves. While it is unprofessional to get too involved with the personal lives of your students, because we do care, it is nearly impossible to ask them to just leave their issues at the door," she says. “As educators and mentors, we need to let the children know that their feelings are natural and normal. I wanted the students to be able to face their emotions in a positive way."

So to help a group of her students deal with jealous bullying at school, Moore created a dance project with them. “We designed a piece that represented the vicious circle of jealousy and how kids will often follow the bad just to fit in," she says. “I chose an upbeat '80s song that could carry many of the emotions associated with typical pre-teen and teenage school drama. Each week, we dealt through dance and discussion with the different feelings and scenarios associated with this teenage tragedy. There was a positive message in the story, too, which is always a plus. And the choreography primarily consisted of strong movements, which we all know helps to release frustration. In the end, it proved to be a very healthy project."

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton, courtesy of Forance

While Teddy Forance admits that performing with commercial artists like Lady Gaga and Madonna, and in front of 30,000 people, is exhilarating, he is personally drawn to more abstract music when he choreographs. It's a preference that sometimes confounds his contemporaries. "Some of my friends will ask, 'How do you choreograph to music that sounds like silverware fighting?'" he says. "I just tell them one sound at a time," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dance Teacher Web
Courtesy Dance Teacher Web

Dance students aren't the only ones who get to spend their summers learning new skills and refining their dance practice. Studio owners and administrators can also use the summer months to scope out new curriculum ideas, learn the latest business strategies and even earn a certification or two.

At Dance Teacher Web's Conference and Expo, attendees will spend July 29–August 1 in Las Vegas, Nevada learning everything from new teaching methods to studio management software. And as if the dance and business seminars weren't enough, participants can also choose from three certifications to earn during the conference to help expand their expertise, generate new revenue and set their studios apart:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Via YouTube

The celebration of tap dance legend Bill "Bojangles" Robinson's birthday comes each year May 25, and the dance world goes wild for it! Since 1989 the day has been celebrated by tap lovers everywhere through music, movement and festivals.

Interested in joining the party this year? Here's one special way to celebrate NTDD in 2019.

Keep reading... Show less
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students

Dance Teacher 2014 K–12 public-school education award recipient, Joan Sheary, is starring in a new documentary, Toe the Line: Arts Education for Life. The film, which is currently wrapping 10 years of filming, follows a group of high school students as they participate in a public arts magnet middle school program in Worcester, Massachusetts, under the direction of dance teacher and former Rockette, Sheary.

Through the eyes of the students, the audience has the opportunity to see the value of arts education in action. The film shows students as they navigate daily practice, grueling workouts, competition, bullying, peer pressure and complex home dynamics, all culminating in the school's year-end performances.

"We have filmed for a total of 450 hours over a 10-year period," director Barbara Copithorne says. "The result is Toe the Line: Arts Education for Life—a 76-minute documentary about Joan Sheary, the origin and breadth of the program she created, the students' lives she's touched and a city that supports the arts."

As the film creeps toward festival submissions, the creators are reaching out to the dance community to raise funds for its release. You can contribute here.

Sheary's success as a teacher was celebrated at our yearly Dance Teacher Award presentation in 2014. To participate in this year's DT Awards, join us at The Dance Teacher Summit in Long Beach, California. Follow the link to get more information on registration, class schedules and events.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Julianna D. Photography, courtesy of Abreu

Although Rudy Abreu is currently JLo's backup dancer and an award-winning choreographer—his piece "Pray" tied for second runner-up at the 2018 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and a variation of the piece made it to the finals on NBC's "World of Dance"—he still finds time to teach. Especially about how he hears music.

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: Our dancers' parents want to observe class, but students won't focus if I let them in the room. I've tried having them observe the last 10 minutes of class, but even that can be disruptive and bring the dancers' progress to a halt. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Running your own studio often comes with a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality. After all, you're the one who teaches class, creates choreography, collects tuition, plans a recital, calls parents, answers e-mails, orders costumes—plus a host of other tasks, some of which you probably don't even think about. But what if you had someone to help you, someone who could take certain routine or clerical tasks off your hands, freeing you up to focus on what you love?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Derek and Julianne Hough via @juleshough on Instagram

Here at Dance Teacher, we LOVE a talented dance family. Something about parents and siblings passing their passion for dance down to those who come after them just warms our hearts.

While there are many sets of talented siblings across all genres of dance, ballroom seems to be particularly booming with them.

Don't believe us? Check out these four sets of ballrooms siblings we can't take our eyes off of. Their parents have raised them right!

This is far from a comprehensive list, so feel free to share your favorite sets of dance siblings over in our comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox