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I’ve mentioned before that I am frequently asked if I want to be a dance teacher, and generally speaking, my answer to that question is “No.” But that isn’t because teaching dance isn’t challenging or incredibly important – in fact, it’s probably one of the most difficult careers in the professional dance world. Today, I’d like to take a moment to explain a few things about dance teachers, and about why teaching dance isn’t as easy as the general public seems to think it is.

Paul Dennis teaching class at White Mountain Summer Dance Festival in 2008

1. Dance teachers work with students of all ages, shapes and sizes. 

Students come into dance classes with different physical limitations purely based on the ways that their bodies are formed. It is a dance teacher’s job to teach students to move beyond their physical limitations so they can perform the same fundamental movements in a safe way. This brings me to my next point…

2. Dance teachers must constantly guard against injury.

A good dance class is designed in such a way that all warm-up exercises prepare the body for the movement that comes later in the class, but preventing injury is not always quite so simple.

With more advanced or acrobatic moves, injury can result if the body is unfamiliar with its trajectory of motion – this can mean that the dancer attempts the movement with half of the energy necessary, or twice the amount of energy necessary; it is challenging to find the “sweet spot” where a movement happens organically and efficiently in the body. Until then, dance teachers must act as a safety net to catch dancers at all levels of their learning processes.

3. Few dance studios focus purely on technique.

More and more, dance studios are recital-focused. In other words, a dance class that lasts 1 – 1.5 hours and meets once a week must yield a recital number by the end of the year. Inconsistent attendance to classes makes it incredibly difficult for a dance teacher to create a choreographic work, because time must be spent reviewing in every class for those who were absent in previous weeks. In addition, the time crunch often diminishes the time spent on warm-up and overall dance technique, so a student ends up taking a full technique class for only 1/2 or 1/3 of the year. This annual cycle is frustrating both for dance teachers and for dedicated dance students.

4. Teaching dance is physically demanding.

Depending on the atmosphere in which a dance class is held, a single teacher can lead anywhere from 1-6+ dance classes in a single day.  Enough said.

5. Not every dancer is a good dance teacher.

This applies to more than just dance. Teachers of any subject deserve to be recognized for their dual mastery – in addition to mastering the subject that they teach, they have mastered the art of teaching. There is a reason that people get certified as educators, and though there may not be widespread certification for dance teachers (the Dizzy Feet Foundation is one of note), good dance teachers take time to develop. So let’s give credit where credit is due!

I always have more to say, but I’ll open it up to you guys now. What are the other challenges of teaching dance? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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