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 Kyle Froman

Darla Hoover was at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet's studios running a rehearsal in 2014 with director Marcia Dale Weary. Hoover had just returned the day before from staging a ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. Jet-lagged, she mixed up her words when giving a correction.

Weary took Hoover's hand and gently said, "Honey, you work too hard."

Hoover, and the students, had a good laugh.

"Are you kidding me?" Hoover replied. "You're the one who made this monster. There is no off switch!"

Weary founded CPYB in 1955, and it quickly became an internationally known school that has produced countless principal dancers. Famous for her high standards and tough work ethic, Weary instilled those qualities in Hoover, who served as associate artistic director at CPYB under Weary, as artistic director at Ballet Academy East's pre-professional division in New York City and as a répétiteur for the Balanchine Trust.

Hoover took over as artistic director at CPYB in the spring this year after Weary died suddenly, and while she's committed to continuing Weary's legacy, students have begun to see some of Hoover's vision as well.

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

Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix, has been called the Queen of Fundraising by colleagues. A studio owner and high school dance coach with over four decades of experience, Clough is known for her smart and successful fundraising ideas.

Now, Just For Kix has created a new online tool to help everyone tackle their fundraising goals, whether you're raising money for uniforms, extra classes, or to cover the cost of travel for your dance team's next convention.

Clough shared a few of her best fundraising tips, including everything you need to know about the new tool:

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

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2019? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo courtesy of Z Artists Group

New York City–based pre-professional training troupe Z Artists Group, along with dancers from eight professional companies in the city, are joining together to combat gun violence with, "DANCERS DEMAND ACTION," a performance aligning art with activism at The Joyce Theater, this Monday, November 11, at 7:30 pm.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Infinite Flow

Last week, 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and her partner Piotr Iwanicki brought their boundary-breaking work to the "Good Morning America" stage in a segment highlighting her inclusive dance company Infinite Flow.

Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles–based wheelchair ballroom dance company (the first of its kind in the U.S.) that incorporates an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, as well as a range of styles like hip hop, contemporary and other partner dances.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network

Savion Glover is one of the biggest names in the dance world, and perhaps the biggest in the tap world. The trailblazing hoofer's hard-hitting, rhythmically intricate style has fundamentally altered the tap landscape.

Glover is also a master teacher. But during his many years on the scene, he's never appeared regularly at a major dance convention. That is, until this season: Glover is now teaching at JUMP Dance Convention, scheduled to appear at approximately 15 more cities on its 2019–2020 tour.

We talked with JUMP director Mike Minery, himself a gifted hoofer, about working with a living legend—and how Glover is already changing the convention class game.

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

Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: My 5-year-old daughter is pigeon-toed. Do you have any suggestions to help her correct this?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brennan Booker

While leading a rehearsal of Balanchine's Serenade, Stacey Calvert can't help but join in, marking at the front of the studio with a grin on her face. It's a Friday morning at the University of South Carolina—where Calvert taught and staged works for 17 years—and the dancers are preparing for the annual spring performance, Ballet Stars of New York, during which the students are joined by several New York City Ballet dancers who perform soloist and principal roles each year. Calvert had helped organize the event since 2005, bringing to Columbia, South Carolina, such dancers as Lauren Lovette, Jared Angle and Sara Mearns, who grew up in the area and trained at Calvert's mom's studio. As a George Balanchine Trust répétiteur, Calvert clearly is a master at the choreography, and as a former NYCB soloist herself—she retired in 2000 after a 17-year career—the steps are firmly embedded in her muscle memory.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox