Whether you’ve been teaching dance for two years or 20, you know what it feels like to be stagnant and out of new ideas. So how do you continue to grow and keep your classes fresh? And, most of all, how do you stay inspired? Try these nine ideas to keep yourself in tip-top teaching form.  

#1 Start a monthly lunch date.
If the daily teaching grind prevents you from communicating regularly with colleagues at your studio or school, you’re missing out on valuable input from people who understand issues specific to your school and students. Organize a monthly lunch or potluck dinner, alternating host homes. Talk about your frustrations or challenges—everything from time management to dealing with behavior issues. You can share what works and what doesn’t. These dates should serve as a support group, allowing everyone to tackle difficulties while building each other up.  

#2 Broaden your contacts.  
One of the best ways to network and further your education is by meeting other teachers. At competitions and conventions, attend teacher-specific classes. Engage the director of your archrival studio for advice. Travel to teacher workshops, professional training seminars and child and adolescent health clinics. Check your local college for any relevant continuing education courses. Afterward, you’ll be inspired with fresh ideas from experts and your peers. (For a selection of teacher workshops, check out our Summer Study Guide on page 128.) If you studied dance education as an undergrad or graduate student, becoming active in the local chapter of your alumni association is a great way to keep on top of the current trends and research, and establish connections with the greater dance world.  

#3 Be patient with yourself.  
A guaranteed source of frustration is the student who doesn’t improve, no matter what approach you try. Oftentimes, dancers pick up on your frustration and may think your irritation is their fault. In these situations, it’s essential to stay positive. Turn to a trusted colleague for advice, and look for every opportunity to compliment students. Keep a journal or diary, so you can refer back to your success stories when you’re feeling down.  

#4 Hit the books.
From the research at top university dance programs to autobiographies to time-tested lesson plans, there is a wealth of literature on pedagogy, curriculum building, child development and other topics relevant to your work. Read as much as you can, and your expertise will blossom. If you drive, find books on CD or from services such as iTunes, or carpool with another teacher and read to each other. If you use public transit, keep a book in your bag and carry a notepad for jotting down inspiring quotes, anecdotes or lessons to share with your students.  

#5 Take a vacation.  

Finding time to play may seem impossible, but it’s absolutely essential. Consider it part of being a responsible educator. Studies show that a little R & R goes a long way toward keeping workers focused and productive on the job. A true vacation means a complete break: Turn off your cell phone, don’t check your e-mail and definitely leave those cast lists at home.  

#6 Find a mentor, be a mentor.  

Relatively new teachers will greatly benefit from a mentorship with a veteran who has a track record of turning out healthy, happy and savvy dancers. Both can benefit from observing each other’s classes and sharing feedback on giving combinations, interacting with students and answering the key questions: What works best? Why is it successful? What doesn’t work at all? Mentorship involves constructive criticism, emotional support and tips on how to better engage and educate. If you’re a veteran educator, pass on what you’ve learned to a new teacher. Helping others can revitalize your own teaching—and you may learn something new!   

#7 Shake up your routine.  
Kids know when your class is getting stale. They might lose interest, chit chat and get sloppy going across the floor in the same old combos to the same old music. Keep it fresh by using new music regularly and throwing different challenges at them. Have them do a combination in a circle instead of in lines. Want them to travel more? Chase them! Worried about their acting skills? Play charades. Keep a music suggestion box where students can recommend songs they love, and then choose one for next week’s combination. You can also have “surprise” days periodically (but not so often that you lose continuity in their technical development). Choose from the following ideas:

  • Back to Basics Day: Everyone needs an occasional brush-up on basic steps. Spend a class doing simple combinations that emphasize precision. For instance, have students do piqué arabesque into plié arabesque across the floor, working on stepping onto a straight leg, keeping both legs turned out, not letting the back leg drop, maintaining proper knee-over-the-toe alignment and pointing the feet.
  • Focus Day: Spend a significant portion of one class on unusual turns or jumps. This allows you to challenge yourself by breaking down different steps. Dancers also will enjoy the challenge.
  • Make Up a Combination Day: In ballet class, for example, have everyone line up at the barre. Assign each dancer one exercise (pliés, tendus, dégagés, etc.). Give them five minutes to make up their own exercises at the beginning of the class to avoid wasting time between combinations. Be in charge of the music and designate the number of 8-counts, so you don’t end up with exercises that are too short or too long.
  • Be Someone Else Day: A great way to keep kids on their toes and to have a little fun is to act out a different persona. For your teen ballet class, for instance, act strict and speak in a Russian accent. In jazz, pretend you’re a tough L.A. choreographer preparing to shoot a music video. You can also portray a specific character from a movie, show or ballet, such as Cooper from Center Stage, Lumière from Beauty and the Beast or Galinda from Wicked. At the end of class, students can guess who you are for a prize. Give them a hint by playing music from the production during class.
  • Variation Month: For four weeks, spend 10 minutes at the end of each class teaching part of a variation appropriate to your class level (modify steps as needed). This is a good barometer for measuring how a group compares to the same class level from the previous year and pinpointing any weak areas in their training.  


#8 Get outside of dance.  
See movies, read novels, go to the theater and check out the latest exhibits at your local museum. Staying culturally informed gives you a healthy dose of perspective during those trying teaching times, and it makes you a better teacher because you’ll have a larger palette to draw from when relating to students. You may find a new analogy to help a child master a step or inspiration for your next recital.  

#9 Always end on a positive note.
After a great class, you can sense your students’ happiness and pride in their accomplishments, which inevitably lifts your spirits. End with something fun that makes the dancers feel good about themselves, whether it’s a sweeping waltz combination to big, beautiful music, an entertaining coordination challenge or a game of call and response. A proud dancer means a proud teacher!


Kristin Lewis is a writer in New York City.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Mitchell Button, courtesy of the artist

Dusty Button prefers music with a range. "There needs to be a beginning, a climax and a strong ending. Like a movie," she says. The award-winning dancer, who joined American Ballet Theatre's second company, ABT II, at 18, has always been drawn to lyric-free tracks filled with dynamic phrasing, rhythms and composition. "Whether it's the violin, piano or cello, instrumental music gives me more inspiration. I want the dancers and the audience to feel something new," she adds.

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
Site Network

When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

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
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

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 Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox