Seven steps to hiring your ideal dance teacher

Hiring the right teacher can help your studio blossom.Dance teachers are the nuts and bolts of your business; one loose screw can wreak havoc on your studio morale, reputation and enrollment. So hiring a new teacher can be anxiety-inducing: There’s pressure to find the right fit the first time, because replacing any employee is time-consuming and can cost your business money. Yet time is just what you need to ensure successful hiring. Execute an organized and thorough hiring process—one that begins long before a candidate walks through your door—and you’re well on your way to building an even stronger studio.

1. Look at your business plan. Each spring Kevin Bender evaluates his current schedule and enrollment and makes note of any changes for fall. “Touch base with your current staff,” says the co-owner of Bender Performing Arts in Phoenix, Arizona. “See what their availability is, and as you’re doing yearly faculty reviews, go over what’s working or what’s not.”

Don’t forget: Hiring a teacher is not always about replacing someone. Look for gaps in your schedule and curriculum, and if you have the studio space and room in your budget, it’s a smart investment to hire a new teacher to bring new life to your business. When was the last time you expanded your client base with a new adult fitness class or a mommy and me program, for example?

2. Define your ideal hire. Look at one of your most successful teachers, advises Amy Schwenck of The Adler Group, a consulting firm that helps corporate managers finesse their hiring. “You won’t find the same person, but think about what that person does differently and create a performance profile,” she says. Bender and Schwenck agree that years of experience aren’t enough to make a great teacher. Instead, a performance profile might include a track record of successful students, a willingness to work with other faculty or the ability to manage a group of unruly teens.

Remember: Be specific. It’s easy to dream of a new hire who can instruct everything from ballet to hip hop, but know which classes you need and stick to looking for those teachers. Write a job description so expectations are clear on both sides. “Maybe you’ll get lucky and find someone to cross disciplines—but I wouldn’t go out looking for that in the beginning,” says Bender.

3. Network to find candidates. “Online postings might reach someone who has had a bad day at the studio and goes online to look for another job,” says Schwenck. Instead, ask your staff for recommendations, or put word out through local university programs or dance retailers—anyone who can network with teachers out of your reach.

Bender, who, with his wife Meri, employs roughly 30 teachers and 5 office staff members, often networks with fellow studio owners (who aren’t direct competitors) to find instructors who might want to teach in both locations. Alumni also make up more than half of Bender’s staff, including his most recent hire, who relocated to Arizona after receiving a dance degree and pursuing a professional career. “Alumni know your culture and how you run things,” he says. “They’ve been through it and need a shorter adjustment time.”

Keep in mind: Recent alumni may not be quite ready. Tiffany Carpenter, artistic director of The Pointe Performing Arts Academy in Utah, says that while she’s not against hiring alumni, it’s not always best to hire someone right out of high school. She’s created an assistant teacher program to develop budding teachers’ classroom management and pedagogy skills. “Allow them to work into the job gradually,” she says.

4. Always conduct a phone interview to make eliminations (or early selections) without bias. “It really helps put the focus on performance, not presentation,” says Schwenck. Think of NBC’s singing competition, “The Voice.” Find out about the candidate’s accomplishments and go through their background step-by-step. Ask about instances when they worked with other faculty at performances, for example, or discuss any teacher-training programs they’ve attended. What motivates them most during a challenging situation? How do they coach a range of students, from the recreational to the pre-professional?

Remember: Over the phone it’s easier to home in on a person’s resumé and previous achievements without being distracted by any physical traits. “Once you say, ‘Yes, this person is a solid fit,’ you can bring them in,” Schwenck says.

5. Spend at least 45 minutes face-to-face, regardless of your first gut feeling. “Take time to either validate your gut feelings or prove yourself wrong,” says Schwenck. Take special note if you immediately like someone. “Typically, you start to relax and ask softball questions. Stick to your guns. You may prove yourself right, or you may find the person rings shallow in the end.”

Don’t forget: Stick to probing questions about the candidate’s resumé, and never ask questions that could be deemed as discriminatory, based on marital status, pregnancy, age, religion or even ancestry, for example. Check with your legal adviser if you’re unsure of legal guidelines for interviews. “If it’s not job-related, don’t ask it,” says Schwenck.

6. Check references and ask to contact past employers. “People tend to list references that guarantee a glowing report,” says Bender. “But, if in your interview, you learn that the candidate once worked at Starbucks, say, ask if you can call HR there.”

Bender plans to implement background checks with his next hire. You’ll need to get a candidate’s written permission to conduct a background check, but keep in mind that your studio can be sued for negligence if an employee’s actions hurt someone. (To find a reputable company to handle background checks: www.napbs.com.)

Don’t forget: Look at candidates’ social media presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. Does the resumé they gave you match their profile? “I appreciate when someone adds a demo reel,” says Carpenter. “If they show themselves dancing, I can see their training. It’s not a requirement, but it helps a lot. Especially if you need a choreographer, you can see their work.” You can also check YouTube or Dancemedia.com for examples of their previous work.

7. Observe them in action. Bender and Carpenter arrange a trial class for a potential hire to lead. “I watch her confidence in the classroom, and if she’s walking around, giving corrections physically as well as verbally,” says Carpenter.

Bender also values feedback from students. “I audition the teacher in a class with longtime clients,” he says. “After that, I often put them on the studio’s sub list and I can get more feedback. That usually leads to a teaching position.”

Carpenter takes a more direct approach. If she feels good about a teacher after one or two trial classes, she puts them on her payroll right away. As Schwenck points out, “An extended trial could cause you to lose out on people.”

Keep in mind: If you choose not to hire someone, stay in touch, especially if he or she was a close runner-up to your pick. “Keep those relationships strong,” says Schwenck. “It’s about building your bench for when you’re hiring again.” DT

Photo ©iStockphoto.com

To Share With Students
Performing with Honji Wang at Jacob's Pillow; photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow

Celebrated New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns has recently been exploring collaborative possibilities with dance artists outside ballet. Just this year she was guest artist with Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Company, and performed on Broadway in her husband Joshua Bergasse's choreography for I Married an Angel. This summer she appeared in a highly anticipated series of cross-genre collaborations at Jacob's Pillow, titled Beyond Ballet, with Honji Wang of the French hip-hop duo Company Wang Ramirez, postmodern dance artist Jodi Melnick, choreographer Christopher Williams and more. Here she speaks with DT about the effects of her explorations.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Paige Cunningham Caldarella. Photo by Philip Dembinski

It's the last class of the spring semester, and Paige Cunningham Caldarella isn't letting any of her advanced contemporary students off the hook. After leading them through a familiar Merce Cunningham–style warm-up, full of bounces, twists and curves, she's thrown a tricky five-count across-the-floor phrase and a surprisingly floor-heavy adagio at the dancers. Now, near the end of class, she is reviewing a lengthy center combination set to a Nelly Furtado song. The phrase has all the hallmarks of Cunningham—torso twists atop extended legs, unexpected timing, direction changes—which means it's a challenge to execute well.

After watching the dancers go through the phrase a couple of times, Caldarella takes a moment to troubleshoot a few sticky spots and give a quick pep talk before having them do it again. "I know it's fast," she tells them. "I know it's a lot of moves. And you're hanging in there! But stick with the task of articulating everything—try to hyper-explore that."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What tips do you have for creating end-of-year performances that teachers, students, parents and administrators will all be happy with?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Savion Glover instructs students in rehearsal for NJPAC's revival of The Tap Dance Kid; photo by Yasmeen Fahmy, courtesy of NJPAC

Tony Award–winning tapper Savion Glover is giving back to his hometown community in Newark, New Jersey, by directing and choreographing New Jersey Performing Arts Center's revival of the Broadway hit that launched his career, The Tap Dance Kid.

September 13–15, you can see the group of young dancers Glover handpicked from throughout the New Jersey and New York areas, as they bring the 1983 story to life in a new and modern way. Here, Glover shares a bit about creating movement inspired by the show's original Tony Award–winning choreography by Danny Daniels, as well as what it's like to revisit the show that changed his life.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Via YouTube

For all the time we spend talking about feet, we think it's time we did a deep dive into toes. Those little piggies bear a lot of weight, endure painful blisters and help your students soar across the classroom day after day.

So, to show our toes the love they deserve, here are five exercises that are all the self-care you need this week.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
JP Tenuta with Monika Knickrehm in a Level 6 class at The Academy of Movement and Music. Photo by Mike Dutka, courtesy of The AMM

The culture of your dance studio should be a major consideration when it comes to hiring new instructors. After all, teaching experience isn't the only thing that matters! You'll also want to make sure an interviewee fits with your overall philosophy when it comes to interacting with students (and parents!) and teaching dance. Here are some great tips that can help you find the right match.

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

A bow can mean a lot of different things in the dance world. Bowing after class as a group is a sign of respect, an individual bow or curtsy to your teacher before leaving is a sign of gratitude, a bow at the end of a performance is a way to honor the audience for their time that evening, and an encore bow—well, that might be about giving ourselves a pat on the back for a job well-done. No matter what your dancers are trying to convey through them, bows are an important part of dance etiquette that they will need to master.

Check out these three tips for teaching bows that will have your dancers and their manners looking fab!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox