An assistant is a teacher's secret weapon. They're an extension of the instructor's teaching style, a positive role model for students, and a key to maintaining class structure and order.
But the role requires much more than just being a great dancer. An effective assistant must be highly responsible and creative, possess organizational and leadership qualities, and be able to take disciplinary action if necessary.
"The assistant needs to be someone who's not selfish," says Denise Wall, co-owner of Denise Wall's Dance Energy in Virginia Beach, Virginia. "They need to be someone who pays attention and enjoys helping people."
Create a Selection Process<p>A thoughtful search has been a successful approach for Kelly Sullins, assistant director at Gotta Dance Studio and Company in Bend, Oregon. Sullins developed the Dance Teacher Assistant Program, which the studio's director, Brandi Nichols, helped finalize, to attract the best-suited students for the job.</p><p>To be considered, students must be at least 13 years old and enrolled at the studio for at least a year. They must fill out an application that includes references, availability, a commitment signature and whether or not they're seeking a volunteer assistant position or a regular assistant position. (Assistants are compensated with discounted tuition, and once they are qualified to sub, an hourly rate.) "Starting with an application process weeds out the students who might not be as serious," says Sullins.</p><p>If instilling a rigorous vetting process isn't right for your studio, seek out students who inspire and help others. A positive attitude and a solid attendance record are also good indicators, says Sullins. But not all assistants need to be overachievers or even the strongest dancers. Lisa Rumbauskas, director of ballet at the West End Academy of Dance in Richmond, Virginia, has asked dancers who need extra encouragement to assist her.</p><p>"If we observe a student might be feeling left out socially or someone who's working really hard and is committed, this responsibility gives them a positive boost," says Rumbauskas. In fact, Wall says, students for whom things haven't always come naturally often make better assistants, and eventually better teachers.</p>
Photo courtesy Rumbauskas
Clarify Expectations Up Front<p>Depending on the setting—whether it's a studio or a convention tour, preschoolers or advanced teens—you'll need different things from an assistant.</p><p>Rumbauskas, for example, uses her assistant to demonstrate the ballet lines she can longer hit. Wall has assistants demonstrate combinations at conventions, which allows Wall to step back and observe the whole room. Then, between convention classes, Wall might linger to answer teachers' questions or take pictures. The assistant knows to disconnect Wall's computer, grab her bag and get her stuff ready to go to the next room.</p><p>Whatever it is you're asking assistants to do—perhaps even helping little ones with bathroom breaks—set clear expectations from the beginning. Making the role clear from day one and giving a heads-up when new responsibilities arise will help smooth over any surprises.</p>
Photo courtesy NUVO