Teaching 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.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.