Dance Teacher Tips

You Know That Student Who Cries Every Week? Here's How to Manage Sensitivity in the Studio

Photo by Jenny Nelson, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Utah Dance Artists owner Brooke Maxwell remembers a mom calling to talk about the discomfort her 14-year-old daughter felt each time her ballroom teacher asked her to demonstrate. The mother pleaded with Maxwell to keep her daughter's name confidential when speaking with the teacher, because she didn't want to cause her child more unwanted attention. What was most surprising is that the dancer had been singled out in a positive way—because she paid attention and worked hard. Sensitivity, Maxwell realized, can come in unexpected forms. "When it comes to students being sensitive in class, the only way we can help is to have an open conversation," she says.

These types of situations can be tough to navigate, especially when students are nervous to express how they're feeling. Maybe they have anxiety when they're singled out or cry because they feel frustrated in class—or they're scared to leave their caregiver at the door to the studio. Paramount to easing sensitivity issues is to first correctly identify the source of the problem. Then, teachers can work with dancers in a way that is both gentle and effective, helping them overcome sensitivities and enjoy a positive experience in the studio.


Calm the Jitters

Young students might be afraid to go into class the first time. To make them feel welcome, try greeting them in the lobby first. "Get down on your knees so you're at eye level and speak directly to the child," says Becky Moore, artistic coordinator at Marin Ballet in California. "Try to establish a relationship so they feel comfortable following you into the studio. Teachers naturally want to talk to the parent, but they should talk to the student first."

Linda Hamilton, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a clinical psychologist who works with performing artists, suggests giving parents of toddlers just starting dance a letter describing who you are, what you'll be working on throughout the year and a list of books you might use in class. "It helps the parent prepare the child," she says. But if a student still cries at the start of class, she's probably not ready and should try again the following week. Shy dancers might sit on the floor to watch—use your gaze and smile to make them feel included. Keep props like scarves or small maracas handy, too, for an easy way to involve timid onlookers. "You can hand out scarves to everyone," says Hamilton. "Then they're sitting, watching and experiencing it."

Keep It Positive

Most dancers crave attention from their teachers, but not everyone takes correction well. Some students are so plagued with self-doubt and frustration that they tear up easily. "My instinct is to try to make them feel better and get them to understand that the corrections are meant to help," says Moore. "But sometimes they need to just step out of the room, use whatever coping mechanisms they have and then reenter." Moore will also remind dancers, particularly students in this age group, that even the older dancers sometimes cry. "I want them to know that it's not weird. Even if they don't know why they're upset, that's OK, too!"

Try to offer positive feedback and limit critiques. "I would love for teachers to focus more on the effort than the outcome, especially as a dancer is getting older," Hamilton says. "People can become afraid of making mistakes." If something doesn't work, help the dancer see that it has nothing to do with a measure of talent. It's a problem to be solved.

Navigating Body Issues

Sometimes dancers get frustrated due to anatomical issues, such as hypermobility or growth spurts. "Their tendons and ligaments are like loose rubber bands holding their joints in place," says Hamilton. "For example, they might be able to do a pirouette combination one day and not the next. It can be very demoralizing for the dancer." To help students overcome this challenge, Hamilton recommends working with a physical therapist or Pilates instructor to bring consistency to their technique. "Always make sure it is a positive and empowering experience," she says. "Dance should be joyful!"

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
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Dance teachers have a lot of strengths (communicating corrections, choreographing gorgeous movement, planning excellent recitals, cleaning technique—just to name a few) but when it comes to interior design—talent isn't exactly a given. So when studio owners remodel or build, worrying about the decor can feel a little overwhelming (you've got just a few too many other things to worry about, don't you?).

No need to fear! In 2019 we have Pinterest, which shows us all the latest trends we should know about. To help you make the best design decisions for your studio, we've compiled a list of public Pinterest pins we think you'll love.

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
Dance Teacher Tips
Vanessa Zahorian. Photo by Erik Larson, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy

At the LINES Ballet Dance Center in San Francisco, faculty member Erik Wagner leads his class through an adagio combination in center. He encourages dancers to root their standing legs, using imagery of a seed germinating, so that they feel more grounded. "Our studios are on the fifth floor, so I'll often tell them to push down to Market Street," says Wagner. "They know that they should push their energy down to the street level." By using this oppositional force, he says, dancers can lengthen their bodies to create any desired shape.

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
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

After years of throwing summer parties at your studio, you're likely fatigued by coming up with themes and event details. You want your students to have a good time, but you're also up to your eyeballs in choreography and costume decisions.

Never fear! We've come up with party themes and activities to do during the event. Delegate tasks to your teachers and office managers, and voilà! You have a stress-free party ready to go.

Have a blast, people!

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
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Q: I recently returned to a modern dance class after a long absence. While I didn't feel any acute pain at the end of class, the next morning I could barely walk from the soreness in both my Achilles. What can I do to fix this?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Q: I'm trying to think of ways to maximize studio space and revenue during the summer. What has worked for you?

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

In 2019, dance parents are more eager than ever to observe their child's progress, and stay up-to-date with the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom. That means yearly recitals aren't always enough to keep them satisfied—especially if you have rules against visitors observing class from week to week. The solution? Visitor observation weeks. Trust us, the guardians and loved ones of your students will love you for it!

We caught up with Suzanne Blake Gerety, vice president of Kathy Blake Dance Studios and regular contributor to Dance Teacher's "Ask The Experts" column, to hear her tips on how to have a successful visitor observation week.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox