When most people think of dance students, they imagine lithe children and teenagers waltzing around classrooms with their legs lifted to their ears. It doesn't often cross our minds that dance training can involve an older woman trying to build strength in her body to ward off balance issues, or a middle-aged man who didn't have the confidence to take a dance class as a boy for fear of bullying.

Anybody can begin to learn dance at any age. But it takes a particular type of teacher to share our art form with dancers who have few prospects beyond fun and fitness a few nights a week.


When I first started teaching, I assumed that an educator with my performing credentials—Pacific Northwest Ballet, Houston Ballet, BalletX—would be swept up by a prestigious ballet program and that I would begin developing the stars of tomorrow. Like many expectations in my life, this one didn't immediately happen the way I had envisioned.

adult ballet classes

Kerollis giving his niece a private lesson


Throughout my performance career, I had gained some experience teaching kids in a master class format. But I had never taught any regularly scheduled classes. When I was presented with the opportunity to teach weekly open ballet classes for adults at Koresh Dance Company's school nearly six years ago, you can imagine my lack of excitement when I agreed to work with dancers who were very unlikely to become professionals.

Before I stepped to the front of the classroom, I did some research as a student in other adult beginner classes. I found that the focus was often on fun and charm. This meant that information was generalized, corrections were rarely specialized or hands-on, and classroom etiquette was infrequently enforced.

But I remembered how necessary it was to have instructors physically adjust me when I was training. I thought to myself, "How can these dancers ever understand technique if they aren't shown how it feels to dance?" I also found myself incredibly frustrated by the students' lack of awareness of certain etiquettes, like how to share a barre, when to ask questions and proper spacing in center.

Being a young teacher at the age of 28, I questioned whether adults (most of them my senior) would be open to me enforcing strict rules, or if they would adapt to me putting my hands on their bodies to convey placement or movement.

In the end, I decided to use the same approach with all of my students, from young pre-professionals to middle-aged recreational dancers and beyond. It is my opinion that whether a dancer plans to have a performance career or not, they all need to be taught to be ready to step onstage.

Once I finally started teaching, I was surprised to find how eager adult students are. While it took time for some to get used to my style of teaching, many would come to me after class to share how excited they were to be taught how to dance without being patronized because of their age.

I quickly learned that most adult dancers weren't just in class for fun. Many were there because they were impassioned dance fans who wanted to know what they were watching onstage. This group of dancers inspired me to start my classes with trivia questions to teach them about the inner workings of our world. Topics I have discussed include the differences in methodologies of ballet training, how rankings work within professional companies, facts about historic and modern day repertoire, and much more.

I've also found that many of these dancers are high-level professionals in non-dance careers seeking an escape from their stressful jobs. Other students attend classes on a doctor's recommendation to ward off the hazards of an aging body. Some didn't receive the support they sought to pursue a dance career as a child. And, yes, there are actors, singers, traditional and non-traditional dancers who have taken my classes to enhance their other artistic practices or to prepare for dance auditions.

Kerollis and students in another 8-week Absolute Beginner Workshop at Broadway Dance Center

I have grown to love my adult students. While some kids I've taught take dance classes because their parents forced them to, each and every one in this group is lined up at the barre because they want to be there. Not only are they eager to learn, but they have a realistic outlook on their goals and know how to laugh at themselves. They are aware that they are unlikely to become professionals, but they still work just as hard as my kids with career prospects. And I have found that they are also the greatest supporters of my work as a choreographer and the biggest fans of my podcast and blog.

While my initial reaction to teaching adult dance students may not have been humble, I feel so lucky that they have shown me the value in teaching dance to all ages.

Show Comments ()
Editor's List: The Goods

Longer ballet skirts are having a major moment. We've seen them popping up in the Instagram studio clips of dance fashionistas around the world—from American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston to The Royal Ballet's Beatriz Stix-Brunell to Berlin State Ballet's Iana Salenko. And with cooler weather on the way, we have a feeling we'll be seeing even more calf-length skirts.

Beyond being trendy, long ballet skirts give any studio ensemble a sophisticated prima ballerina vibe (hi, Natalia Makarova). Try out one of these long skirt options.

Keep reading... Show less

The fun doesn't stop after Showstopper's competition season ends. Join Showstopper this fall and winter for their 2018-19 Dance Conventions. Bring the whole studio or dance solo, but register soon so you do not miss out!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

"If I hear another dancer say, 'I don't like to plié,'" says Broadway Dance Center contemporary teacher Tracie Stanfield, "I am going to scream!" This frustration was the inspiration behind Stanfield's progression video, which focuses on level changes. The combination, demonstrated by dancers Gaby Blaney and Lexie Childers, starts with an over-crossed passé and builds into floorwork and landing on the tops of the feet. The series challenges dancers to build strength while staying grounded. "They learn to let the body soften on contact with the floor before throwing themselves from the air to the ground," she says.

Keep reading... Show less

Sequins and sparkles… sure they dazzle on stage, but for some dancers, certain dance costumes can be uncomfortable and invoke feelings of insecurity. We believe dancers should always feel comfortable so they can focus on the joy of dance. We also believe dance studio owners and teachers should have peace of mind when selecting costumes for their dancers, especially those with sensory sensitivities.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun

In our not-so-humble opinion, correcting pirouettes can be one of the most challenging parts of a dance teacher's job.

It's the moment in the day you start questioning every decision you've ever made 🤷.

Don't agree? Hear us out!

Here are five reasons correcting pirouettes is a....special challenge.

Keep reading... Show less

In an industry exploding with options where bigger is often billed as better, BravO! National Dance & Talent Competition fills a unique void by putting the focus on what matters most - the performers.

Based in Omaha, Nebraska, BravO! combines a participant, studio, and family-friendly schedule with leading edge competition elements and a staff that is dedicated, accommodating, and friendly. They take the competition experience to new heights for dancers, teachers, and spectators alike.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Check out these dance seminars from experts in the classical, tap and commercial dance fields. They are EVERYTHING you need to inspire your next dance class.

YOU'RE WELCOME, PEOPLE!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Photo by Samspel Preston Photography, courtesy of Scheitler

Jessica Scheitler is that rare breed who fully understands both creative and business-minded people. She grew up at Central Dance Academy, a competition studio in Le Mars, Iowa, and studied dance at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. She worked as an independent choreographer after college and learned how to effectively make money through dance. With arts in her DNA and finances at the forefront of her mind, she minored in arts administration and mathematics and ultimately became an enrolled agent (a federally licensed tax practitioner). Now she owns her own business, Financial Groove, which offers accounting help for performers and studio owners all over the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health

Jasmine Challis consults for Dance UK to compile an information sheet on food and nutrition for dancers. "This recipe, which loosely resembles risotto, doesn't have specific quantities, and you can adapt it to your liking," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Pat Birch on the set of Grease, choreographing the legendary Hand Jive scene, with Olivia Newton John and John Travolta. Photo courtesy Birch

Forty years ago, the movie musical Grease introduced audiences around the world to Grease lightning and an iconic hand jive. Would anyone guess now that all those unforgettable rock-n'-roll style dances were choreographed by a former Martha Graham Dance Company soloist? (Was John Travolta actually in a contraction?)

Choreographer Patricia Birch, better known as Pat, says "I was always attracted to Broadway, even when I was dancing with Martha."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dancing can do great things for your body. But science is increasingly exploring the many ways it's also good for your brain. A recent study showed that dancers' brains react to music even faster than trained musicians or other people. The author of the dissertation, Hanna Poikonen, observed brain activity in all three groups while they watched dances and found that expert dancers were the quickest to respond to rhythmic changes. She believes creating movement to sound could affect how your brain hears music.

Even among dancers, however, there is wide variation in musicality. Some of your students might be naturally musical, while others might struggle a bit more. But whether or not a dance student possesses this mysterious quality, musicality is an essential skill that can help any dancer perform their best and move forward in their training and career.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored