Private Lessons: Guidelines for Working One-on-One

Anna Reznik, director of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, conducting a private lesson. Photo by Herbert Migdoll, courtesy of the Joffrey Academy of Dance

A student at Ellison Ballet in New York City couldn't keep up with the rest of his classmates. Although he had talent and drive, he was frequently distracted and unable to concentrate. But once he started taking private lessons—and had no choice but to give his undivided attention—he made rapid progress. “The information he absorbed during our privates was miraculous," says his teacher, Edward Ellison. “His level of focus changed dramatically."

Working one-on-one with students can help them address their individual needs. Maybe they have trouble with pirouettes, or they're slow to pick up concepts in class. More accelerated dancers may need more personalized attention to stay challenged. If you plan to teach a private lesson, it should depend on the student's age, level and personal goals. Below are simple guidelines to help make these sessions rewarding for both you and the dancer.


Getting Started

Suggest that the student come once a week, for at least three weeks. “One private is not enough," says Anna Reznik, director of the Joffrey Academy of Dance in Chicago. “And if students wait two or three weeks between lessons, they might remember the corrections mentally, but not physically." For children ages 9–11, Reznik suggests one-hour sessions focusing on barre exercises and alignment. Older students would benefit from 1 1/2 hours, if possible, to work on individual weaknesses or to learn choreography. Thirty-minute lessons are typically not long enough to approach an issue in depth.

Start by having a conversation about what the student wants to achieve. “I always ask what they hope to gain from private lessons," says Ellison. “It differs from one student to the next." Knowing a dancer's goals gives you an idea of how to structure the lesson. For those who just want general instruction, give a simple class to assess their level and specific needs.

Back to Basics

For students working on specific issues, like footwork or placement, it helps to start with floor or barre exercises. Becky Erhart Moore, artistic coordinator at Marin Ballet in San Rafael, California, focuses on basic alignment, often spending an entire hour on pliés and tendus. “It's in-depth work and a lot of repetition, so we don't jam a whole class into the tutorial," she says. “I get down on the floor and manipulate their bodies so they can feel how it should work."

Reznik warns against saying too much in the first session. “Focus on just a couple of corrections," she says. “In the next lesson, continue the work but give something new. Work very slowly and specify more each time, but too many corrections in one class can be very stressful for the student." She recommends that students bring a notebook to write down what they learn, so they can review their corrections before the next class.

Giving homework enhances students' private lessons and keeps them focused between sessions. Cheryl Madeux-Abbott, ballet director at the Franklin School for the Performing Arts in Hudson, Massachusetts, gives exercises that students can practice on their own. If a dancer is working on flexibility, Madeux-Abbott will assign specific stretches. If the dancer has a foot issue, Madeux-Abbott will teach TheraBand exercises to work on strength and muscle memory. “I never have them do anything that I feel needs to be supervised," she says. “It's always something that they can commit to on their own, outside of our lesson."

Marin Ballet's Becky Erhart Moore (left) with student Polina Myers. Photo by Olivia Wecxsteen, courtesy of Marin Ballet


Pushing Ahead

Private lessons can also give accelerated students more personalized attention. A challenging technique class, a men's class or intensive pointe work will push them beyond the level of their group training. You can also use this one-on-one time to coach variations or pas de deux. After teaching the choreography, Ellison gives extra attention to sections that need the most work. “We'll dissect each phrase, talk about how to do the steps and explore how things work musically," he says. “It all begins with the bare fundamentals of the choreography."

Ellison then directs his students to specific videos or sends links via e-mail, so they can observe how professional dancers interpret the roles. “You can see so much today with YouTube," he says, “but you have to know what to watch. Some things they're better off not watching." He tells his boys to watch Mikhail Baryshnikov, for example, to study the way he partners—not just his dynamic tricks. If coaching a variation from a story ballet, Ellison encourages students to research the full-length production.

Many dancers want help with variations or pas de deux for competitions, college auditions or school performances. But it's important to recognize what they're ready for, and if they have the physical strength and necessary technique to tackle certain choreography. “A lot of teachers give privates because it is attractive to make a few bucks," says Ellison. “But I would caution giving coaching to a student who is unprepared and not developed enough to do it. One can get seriously injured." Instead, suggest that dancers work on basic technique first. If they gain enough strength, offer private coaching on a variation as their reward.


The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I have a very flexible spine and torso. My teachers tell me to use this flexibility during cambrés and port de bras, but when I do, I feel pain—mostly in my lower back. What should I change so I don't end up with back problems?

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

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're a studio owner, the thought of raising your rates most likely makes you cringe. Despite ever-increasing overhead expenses you can't avoid—rent, salaries, insurance—you're probably wary of alienating your customers, losing students or inviting confrontation if you increase the price of your tuition or registration and recital fees. DT spoke with three veteran studio owners who suggest it's time to get past that. Here's how to give your business the revenue boost it needs and the value justification it (and you) deserve.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
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
Dance Teachers Trending
Margie Gillis (left); photo by Kyle Froman

Margie Gillis dances the human experience. Undulating naked in a field of billowing grass in Lessons from Nature 4, or whirling in a sweep of lilac fabric in her signature work Slipstream, her movement is free of flashy technique and tricks, but driven and defined by emotion. "There's a central philosophy in my work about what the experience of being human is," says Gillis, whose movement style is an alchemy of Isadora Duncan's uninhibited self-expression and Paul Taylor's musicality, blended with elements of dance theater into something utterly unique and immediately accessible. "I want an authenticity," she says. "I want to touch my audiences profoundly and deeply."

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

Teaching arabesque can be a challenge for educators and students alike. Differences in body types, flexibility and strength can leave dancers feeling dejected about the possibility of improving this essential position.

To help each of us in our quest for establishing beautiful arabesques in our students without bringing them to tears, we caught up with University of Utah ballet teacher Jennie Creer-King. After her professional career dancing with Ballet West and Oregon Ballet Theater and her years of teaching at the studio and college levels, she's become a bit of an arabesque expert.

Here she shares five important tips for increasing the height of your students' arabesques.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via Instagram

Happy Father's Day to all of the dance dads in the world! Whether you're professional dancers, dance teachers, dance directors or simply just dance supporters, you are a key ingredient to what makes the dance world such a happy, thriving place, and we love you!

To celebrate, here are our four favorite Instagram dance dads. Prepare to say "Awwwwwwwweeeeeee!!!!!!"

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jennifer Kleinman, courtesy of Danell Hathaway

It's high school dance concert season, which means a lot of you K–12 teachers are likely feeling a bit overwhelmed. The long nights of editing music, rounding up costumes and printing programs are upon you, and we salute you. You do great work, and if you just hang on a little while longer, you'll be able to bathe in the applause that comes after the final Saturday night curtain.

To give you a bit of inspiration for your upcoming performances, we talked with Olympus High School dance teacher Danell Hathaway, who just wrapped her school's latest dance company concert. The Salt Lake City–based K–12 teacher shares her six pieces of advice for knocking your show out of the park.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox