I’ve been thinking lately about all of our dance teachers around the country, where they came from, and how they started out.
Like most of us, they probably started dancing from a young age, discovering the joy dance can bring, getting obsessed with the feeling of being onstage, and understanding the discipline required to become a great dancer.
Some teachers realized quite early that their passion lies in passing on this joy, this love of technique, and giving others the opportunity to perform. They stepped out of dancing for themselves, and into teaching because they discovered that that was where their passion lies.
Others go on to become dancers, sometimes even great dancers, but it’s a career that has a used-by date. And whether we like it or not. There are only so many years that your body can take the Jump! Kick! Roll! Turn! pressure that you put on your body when you’re younger. Because of injury, or simply getting older, dancers often turn to teaching to allow them to stay involved in the industry.
And then there’s the freelance dancers. Those who are still performing dance, but because of the nature of the freelance lifestyle (constantly in and out of projects, and irregular work calendars) teaching often becomes a crucial part of filling in the gaps in your diary.
All three of these kinds of dance teachers have come to pass on their knowledge of technique and performance. They’ve all come to teaching for different reasons, but all are completely valid, important, and all of them have something to teach young dancers.
So, with teaching such an important part of our industry – and on so many different scales, one thing is certain: You need to be able to teach a dance class.
I’ve said before that a good dancer doesn’t necessarily make a good choreographer; I’d like to also add that a good dancer doesn’t necessarily make a good teacher. They require different skills, and while some people are blessed with natural public speaking ability, it is totally possible to become more confident in front of a dance class, and be able to deliver clear information in a way that will stay with the dancers.
Being able to communicate ideas and concepts in dance is an important skill. You need to find different ways to say the same note. Often you’ll see teachers trying to explain the same thing, but come at it from a different angle. This is because our brains are not alike and people learn differently. As a student, when you get given a note or a correction, you may understand it, but the dancer next to you may not. As a dance teacher, is crucial to be able to describe a movement, or a sensation in a different way, to allow the ‘penny to drop’ for all dancers.
Ask any professional freelance dancer, and they’ll probably tell you that they’ve done some guest teaching in their time. Being a guest teacher can be particularly difficult, because you don’t have the luxury of time to get to know your students. You need to be able to walk into the room, get them moving, and hopefully leave some little gems in the students minds that will change the way they dance forever. A difficult task! But with practice, I believe any dancer can become a great teacher.
So, how can you develop your teaching skills? The simple answer is start teaching! The most common way for young dancers (usually from the age of about 14/15) is to talk to your dance school principal, and ask for the opportunity to lead a class, or part of a class. Sometimes, this will be assisting the dance teacher with the tiny ballerinas (with a room full of 4-6 year olds, they’ll need all the help they can get keeping those little ones focused!) Assisting a teacher is fantastic, because you can observe how they work with the dancers, and how they communicate.
If you’re a little older and a bit more experienced, you may even get the chance to become a ‘student teacher’, where you’re still a student in your own age-group dance classes, but will then go and teach a younger age-group all by yourself. This is the perfect way to build up your teaching style and be able to speak loudly, clearly, and to get your thoughts into the heads of the dancers in front of you.
Whether you’ll be a dancer, choreographer, or principal of a dance school, whether in ballet, contemporary, tap or jazz, we all need to know how to be confident in front of a dance studio. So start developing this skill for yourself. Discover your own personal teaching style, and become comfortable with running a classroom. If you’re going to be in any part of the dance industry, you’re likely to need it.