Teaching Tips

Motivate Every Student to Reach Their Full Potential (Even the Kids Hiding In the Back)

Anthony Jones likes to showcase dancers for their strengths, like musicality or a good memory for choreography.

Anthony Jones knows what it feels like to be anonymous in class. “For two years, my teacher didn't know my name," he says. Now, as the school director at Oregon Ballet Theatre, Jones makes it a point to know all his students, even if it means they have to wear name tags for weeks. “It's important to me that I see everyone," he says.

Some teachers naturally gravitate toward two or three of the strongest students in class and, unintentionally, overlook dancers who don't put themselves front row, center. But you have a responsibility to motivate these students and help them reach their full potential. By maintaining an inclusive attitude and employing some simple logistics, you'll keep the entire class in focus.

Anthony Jones likes to showcase dancers for their strengths, like musicality or a good memory for choreography.

Move Around

To see all students in class, it helps to move around when you teach. “I walk around the barres and along the perimeter," says Jones. “I'm always working with different dancers, fixing hands and feet." You can move students into new positions, too. Avis Sauls, director of Essence Dance Company in Dallas, Texas, refuses to let dancers hide in the back. “I put them right in front of me," she says. “Then I can really see the places they're struggling and take some time to break things down."

Students might need to move to another class if they aren't in the appropriate level. “It can be very demotivating for dancers if they can't keep up, or if they're always feeling overlooked," says Wendy Miner, director of Magnify Dance Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It's also hard to teach to the top of the class when you feel like you're leaving them behind." Miner is restructuring her classes to accommodate a growing number of teen students who don't fit into the most advanced level. “They are very engaged and want to be there multiple days a week, so we're going to create a new level for them," she says.

Avis Sauls doesn't let shy dancers hide in the back.

Give Everyone a Chance to Shine

All students can be acknowledged for something they do well. “I try to zone in on their strengths," says Jones. “If it's their memory, I'll ask them to remember a combination for the next class. It gives that kid a certain ownership." If a student demonstrates good musicality or is the only one to apply a general correction, those are opportunities to showcase that dancer. And, Jones adds, “other students in the class can then appreciate that everyone has something to offer."

When doing new choreography, include dancers of all levels by designing sections specifically for them. “Still make it challenging, but let them feel beautiful," says Sauls. “It's our opportunity as teachers to remember that they're not just bodies, but people." She congratulates these students when they make even a small amount of progress, knowing that for them, it might be a big leap forward.

Miner highlights a different student each week, taking a picture of her in a tiara and posting it on social media. “Maybe that person is a great friend, has great attendance or is helpful to the teacher. It's not about who can do the most pirouettes or who has the best extension. It's based on their personal qualities," she explains. It's also been a good marketing strategy, since parents get excited and share the news with friends.

Teachers Trending
Marcus Ingram, courtesy Ingram

"Water breaks are not Instagram breaks."

That's a cardinal rule at Central Virginia Dance Academy, and it applies even to the studio's much beloved social media stars.

For more than a decade, CVDA has been the home studio of Kennedy George and Ava Holloway, the 14-year-old dancers who became Instagram sensations after posing on the pedestal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee Monument. Clad in black leotards and tutus, they raise their fists aloft to depict a global push for racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Teacher Voices
Photo courtesy Rhee Gold Company

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, there has been a shift in our community that is so impressive that the impact could last long into our future. Although required school closures have hit the dance education field hard, what if, when looking back on this time, we see that it's been an incredible renaissance for dance educators, studio owners and the young dancers in our charge?

How could that be, you ask?

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.