Dance Teacher Tips

Your Studio Culture—Hiring New Teachers

JP Tenuta with Monika Knickrehm in a Level 6 class at The Academy of Movement and Music. Photo by Mike Dutka, courtesy of The AMM

The culture of your dance studio should be a major consideration when it comes to hiring new instructors. After all, teaching experience isn't the only thing that matters! You'll also want to make sure an interviewee fits with your overall philosophy when it comes to interacting with students (and parents!) and teaching dance. Here are some great tips that can help you find the right match.


Define your studio culture—It pays to spend a little time nailing down your studio culture specifically, if you haven't already. Each place has its own focus and atmosphere. Being able to articulate your unique mission helps when it comes to hiring. Natalie Molter is the owner at Noble Dance, a ballet-focused studio in Kalispell, Montana, and she has spelled out her vision for how things should run very simply and clearly. "Our culture is hard work and sweat will pay off, so stick with it no matter what you are doing! Life lessons," she says, adding, "There is little drama or politics within our space."

From a casual, recreational, community-based feel to pre-professional track programs, it's smart to know exactly what you are trying to cultivate so that you can hire people who mesh with your ideas and ideals. Take a little time to write it all out so you have a solid grasp of what you're looking for in a teacher's philosophy when you interview them.

Develop interview questions—based on whatever you decide your studio atmosphere should be, formulate a set of questions that will help you target your culture, and see if the teacher you are interviewing is a good fit. Molter tests the waters by asking questions that help her see if a potential teacher has done their homework on the studio, and has an understanding of what sets them apart. For example, she asked the last instructor she hired, "Why do you want to work here and not at the other studios in the area?" Other questions that may be useful include asking the person about why they want to teach dance, or how they view your studio.

Listen/observe carefully—this includes watching for behavior that matches your philosophy—as well as keeping an ear out for warning signs that it might not be a great match. "I like to watch how the prospective teachers engage with families in our crowded waiting room," says Molter. As she watches from afar, she can observe how the person interacts and see if it matches her belief that instructors should serve as a role model for students. "You can tell a good bit about a person as they engage with our group," she explains.

Consider hiring from within—Stephanie Clemens is the founder, studio owner and director of The Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, Illinois, and she has had success with hiring teachers who have previous training at her school. "My 'good fits' have been with the Academy for years/decades," she says. This makes for an easy relationship, since those who have attended the school are already steeped in her studio's culture and instinctively understand the overall training/teaching philosophy.

Training your own instructors allows you to supervise and direct the process, as well as help new teachers develop. Clemens explains, "We have a program of teacher training, using advanced students as demonstrators and assistants." She adds, "Those with a real interest in teaching are mentored and supervised as they teach parts of class."

Utilize a trial period—even with a careful interview, a trial period can be a good way to see if you and the instructor work well together in practice. Clemens often uses possible new instructors as substitutes first, asking other teachers or accompanists for feedback on how they did rather than watching the class herself. She will also ask older students how they liked a substitute, to get a feel for their ability to engage in the classroom. "Sometimes a person who subs ends up with a contract, and sometimes they really just don't seem to be a fit," she says.

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...
Site Network
The eight 2020 Prix de Lausanne prize winners. Photo by Rodrigo Buas, courtesy of PdL

The 2020 Prix de Lausanne has officially come to a close after a thrilling week of classes, coaching sessions, competition performances and networking forums. The annual competition, which was live streamed around the world and watched over 1.1 million times, gave 77 dancers an opportunity to perform and take class in front of an international panel of judges. In addition to a classical variation, candidates had to master a contemporary solo by Mauro Bigonzetti, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Heinz Spoerli or Richard Wherlock.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox