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What Does a Dance Teacher Do?

Ballroom dance requires specific training, which is different than ballet and other types of dance.
Dance teachers must have a background in the type of dance they teach.
Ballet instruction usually begins at an early age.
Dance instructors may teach modern dance.
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  • Written By: K. Kinsella
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2014
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A dance teacher leads dance classes for groups of people or individuals that are designed to teach participants different dancing techniques. Due to the physically demanding nature of dancing, many professional dances retire in their late 20s or early 30s but put their skills to use by finding employment as a dance teacher. Schools, universities, and production companies often hire full time dance teachers, but many dance teachers are self-employed.

Most dancers begin dance classes at a very young age and, over the course of many years, learn a variety of different dancing styles. Performing Arts schools and some colleges offer degree programs in dance. Some employers prefer to hire dance teachers with a dance degree, but generally someone with an extensive background in dance can work as a dance teacher with or without a degree.

Dance classes are often physically demanding, so a typical dance teacher needs to have a basic knowledge of fitness training in order to lead class participants through warm up exercises. Some dance teachers primarily work with children, in which case a background in school teaching or childcare often proves useful. Classes designed for adults can attract participants of all ages, so a dance teacher has to have the ability to adapt the program to accommodate both skilled dancers and people with limited mobility. Self-employed teachers usually charge a per participant fee, whereas teachers who work for schools and colleges are either contracted or salaried employees who are paid regardless of class attendance levels.

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Many teachers focus their classes on a particular style of dancing such as ballet, tap, or ballroom. In order to effectively teach students new dances and moves, teachers often to have to demonstrate dances before the class. Younger and more agile people tend to teach classes involving more physically challenging types of dance, whilst older teachers often focus more on slower and less physical dancing styles. Self-employed teachers who work with clients one-on-one are expected to have a diverse knowledge of dance techniques so that they can suitably prepare students for auditions for dance roles requiring a variety of different skills.

Choreographers are dance teachers who develop new dance routines and train dancers to perform in stage shows and recitals. Directors of stage plays work closely with choreographers to develop dance moves that suit the themes of a particular play or musical. Major ballet companies employ several dance teachers, some of whom train individual dancers whilst others work as choreographers and help to coordinate dance performances.

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Prosemo
Post 11

I have included not only information about what constitutes a legitimate dance teacher and what a choreographer is, but also information about what a dance teacher is not, and the predators in in dance instruction who do a world of harm to the profession and art of dance.

It is true that dance teachers often are ex-professional dancers, and require teacher’s training and pedagogy, so they can take that experience into a studio and translate it through a curriculum to train beginners through advanced students, possibly to professional. This is what is expected of any teacher of any skillset. Indeed, this is why academic school teachers must be certified to teach in their fields before being released to a classroom of students.

However, first, most schools have a recreational bent, and are not focused upon creating professionals. Thus, they do not train, coach and rehearse the students the 35 or so hours per week it takes to build a finished entry level professional dancer. This is fine, as professional schools usually require audition and examinations for entry that refines their enrollment to those with professional desires, talent and ability.

But, even in recreational schools, the teachers must still have the experience and training to work with all kinds of students. Fact: Because there is no legal certification for teachers, or an accurate test of ability, 90 percent of the teachers in the US do not come close to the required experience or education it takes to teach anyone! (if you have seen the TV show "DanceMoms" you see this incompetence in action in every episode.)

So, when it comes to looking for a dance school, caveat emptor! The first factor a parent can use to rule out a school is one that specializes in taking their children to amateur talent "conventions" and pageant/competitions. The vast majority of these very commercial competitions are all about how much money they can glean from the parents and schools, who often in turn raise the cost to take a percentage of the fee, costume fees, teacher fees, choreography fees, etc.

The studios that engage in these unethical practices are usually and rightly referred to as "studios", because they are not really schools, even though they may advertise themselves this way. (Note, that there are many that do not engage in the profit taking, but still participate in competitions; still, 'tis best to wary.)

These are what are known by consumer watchdog groups as "predatory businesses". They are legion in the dance world, and far outnumber legitimate training and recreational institutions. Often, they have names like "StarDance," "Showcase," "Footloose" or the like. Do your research, because these so-called "schools" (studios) spend no time teaching (mostly because they don't know how to teach), and a huge amount of time setting "routines", ("Routine" is an apropos statement about what they actually do. "Boorish" would be an even better term).

Caveats: Make sure the school does not combine dance genres into one class, for example, tap, jazz, acrobatics and ballet in one class. Make sure there are no multiple layers of fees. Make sure they have separate classes for training the dancers, from rehearsals for performances, or these predatory competition pageants. Check the teachers’ and directors’ credentials beyond their website! If they have no real professional experience combined with university degrees or extensive training with mentors, in pedagogy, management and the arts, beware. They should have studies in dance methodologies, dance history, human movement potential, anatomy and kinesiology, theater arts and craft, aesthetics, classroom practicum etc.

If the school concentrates on teaching children to be artists for performance, then it is worth further examination of the teacher's credentials. Many of these are not great schools, as their teachers barely have enough background to justify their career. But at least they are working towards a sense of excellence.

Choreographers are not necessarily dance teachers. Indeed, whilst choreographing or "setting" dances, they are in no way instructors. In the sense that they resemble teachers, when choreographing, they are staging dances. As such, they are not directly "teachers.” Staging is a form of teaching, because they are composing steps, staging and movement patterns for the dancers to memorize, to make a cohesive work of art. But, this is specifically the transmission of "kinetic contextualization" so the dancers learn their parts, similar to an actor learning a part by memorizing their lines, or a singer memorizing a song or aria. This is much different than teaching as instruction, which is what a "dance teacher" does, or should do.

Bertie68
Post 10

When I was a young mother, I used to take a break from mothering duties, and take dance classes of various sorts. I had taken ballet and jazz dancing as a child, so I knew something about these types of dance. After my first few lessons, I was exhausted and understand how much stamina dancing takes.

My teacher was older than I was, but she was in good shape, as she taught classes everyday.She taught us good form and technique, so we wouldn't be injured.

I think dance is good exercise and teaches you to control your body. And putting dance moves with beautiful music gives you a great feeling.

sweetPeas
Post 9

My granddaughters have a great dance teacher. She has had her own dance school for about twenty years. She teaches all levels from pre-schoolers to teen-agers. Even when the kids are acting up and not paying attention, she is patient.

She teaches many classes each day and begins at the start of the classes to choreograph dance routines for each class.

All through the year, she is planning for the recital at the end of the year. Measuring all the dancers for recital costumes and choosing costumes that will work with the theme takes a lot of time.

The recital always comes off so well. Parents,friends and family love to see the kids perform. This teacher always makes sure that the kids have a good time. If mistakes are made, it's okay.

Sinbad
Post 8

I have two roles a dance teacher might have that I just learned about that I think are incredible. One role is dance teacher to a specific population - children or adults with special needs.

We have a dance teacher who comes to our school and works with this population and the dance teacher loved it so much that she is trying to create a nonprofit organization that does just that - organizes dances classes for this very special population.

The second role I learned about while watching one of my favorite talk shows. During one of the shows they were having a concert in front of twenty thousand people and I could not believe eyes when I saw the entire crowd dancing...and doing the same dance moves at the same time!

Turns out that this was called a flash mob, and that everyone had learned the dance moves via various outlets but that at the heart of it dance teachers had taught this dance to small groups of people (so second role – flash dance mob dance teacher), which then passed the dance on to more people.

It was truly incredible to watch. I think that these stories show how giving dance teachers can be!

Mae82
Post 7

@animegal - If you want to try teaching hip hop dance classes without any professional certification you may want to volunteer at a community center. Sometimes community centers ask for people with different skills to teach local kids what they know.

After you complete some volunteer work as a teacher you will have enough experience to give some private lessons, and perhaps even teach your own classes. I think what is most important if you don't have the schooling is to find a dance teacher wanted sign and come with an impressive resume filled with experience and referrals. Nothing is better than word of mouth if you want to teach locally.

animegal
Post 6

Does anyone know how to become a dance teacher if you don't have any professional dance teacher training?

I am quite a skilled hip hop dancer and feel that my style of dance is just as much about technique as is it about creativity and being inventive. I would really like to teach kids how to enjoy the music they hear and channel that into some really fun dance moves.

I don't really have the cash to get any kind of dance teacher certification, but do you think there is a way to go about teaching if I just really enjoy it?

Crispety
Post 5

@SurfNTurf -You know I am also seeing an increase in dance classes that combine fitness elements like Zumba. I think that classes like this are great because it can get people moving and a dance teacher can diversify her training by getting certified in this type of dance.

People like dancing because it is not so structured and they get to enjoy themselves while they burn fat. I think that this is the one type of exercise that people can do for hours because people don’t realize how long they have been dancing because they are having so much fun.

The only time I don’t like going to a dance class is if the steps are too choreographed and then I get lost and can’t keep up, but usually that doesn’t happen too often.

surfNturf
Post 4

@Ysmina -I think that it would be really fun to have a dance teacher job, but I think that most dance teachers can earn more if they own their own studio and run their own business.

I was researching average dance teacher salary and it was in the $35,000 to $ 45,000 range. I am sure you could easily double that if you had your own studio. I think that popular shows like “Dancing with the Stars” have really brought back an interest in different styles of dance which has caused a need for much more dance teachers than ever before.

I know that I am currently interested in taking salsa classes. I am embarrassed to say that I am Cuban but don’t know how to dance salsa.

ysmina
Post 3

My dream is to be a dance teacher. I would like to teach dance classes, but maybe later when I'm older. My real goal is to become a dance teacher for musicals and theater or dance troupes. I want to do my own choreography and teach it to actors and dancers for shows.

I think this would be great and very exciting. Not only will I get to do what I love, but I'll also see the final result of all my hard work when a show happens and it's a success. And if one of my favorite actors dances to a choreography that I've made, it will be a dream come true.

SteamLouis
Post 2

I definitely agree that a dance teacher has to have some basic knowledge and experience with fitness and exercise to teach well.

I also love dance courses and have taken lots of different ones from salsa, to ballroom dancing, to hip hop. One thing I've noticed with all of my teachers in these classes, is that they were very knowledgeable about how to correctly use the body and the muscles.

If a student made a wrong kind of move, the teacher always warned against it because in dance, it's really easy to hurt yourself if you don't know what your doing. I don't think that a dance teacher has to have taken anatomy courses or anything, but he or she should have enough experience to know which kinds of moves are risky and need extra care.

bear78
Post 1

I take bollywood dance classes once a week. Bollywood dancing is a lot of fun, it's the type of dance that is portrayed in Indian films and as the film sector grew, the dancing also developed into it's own style. I love Indian films and when I heard about bollywood dance classes nearby, I knew I had to sign up.

My dance teacher is also really cool. She is actually not a professional dancer. She is Indian but was working in a completely separate field. She loved dancing and decided to turn it into a full time job. So she and her best friend started a dance school where they teach different Indian style dancing to different age groups.

We meet once a week for one hour and the dance teacher comes prepared with a whole new choreography for a Bollywood song every week. She first shows us the steps and then we do it with the music. We finish up every class with a short cool down where we stretch and relax our muscles.

It's so much fun and it's a great way to keep fit. I look forward to it every week.

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