The Art of Teaching Dance

August 26, 2019

Dance, like all performing arts, includes a mix of theater arts the knowledge of which creates a true artist. Dance instruction goes way beyond teaching movement or choreography. It must include teaching the related theater arts of music, drama, pantomime, stage make-up, costume craft, use of props in addition to the athletics and gymnastics of dance. Here is a list of what a dance instructor must know and teach:

  • The technique of the dance art being learned, at the correct level.This includes knowing how to break down and communicate to beginners as well as advanced professionals.

  • Managing the body’s fitness and athleticism. How far do you go in your demands of students fitness level in a world where obesity is the new "Norm", and so many people are comfortable being overweight?

  • Music and music interpretation. What if the student has no ear for music and cannot count or hear rhythm? How do you teach lyricism and melodic interpretation?

  • Improvisation vs. Choreography - what is the difference and how do you teach these?

  • The history and culture of the dance. Do you know all the styles and stars of the art?

  • Drama and Performance skills. When do you expect a student's personality to kick-in and show up on stage - and what if it never does?!

  • Gymnastics and Props. What do you expect form beginners who are starting dance for the first time as middle or older aged people?

  • Stage Make-up. Very different from street make-up and a must for stage, of course!

  • Costuming. Costly and absolutely necessary for performing.

  • Staging - What is staging and how do you teach it to fledgling dancers?

  • The business of art. Scheduling, finance, marketing, organization, communication - these are all part of running a dance school - like any business. Do you have business training?

 

What a Dance Instructor Must Know

 

Technique: A dancer is first and foremost an athlete and gymnast. Her body is her instrument, as a guitar is a musician’s instrument, a paint brush a painters, a voice a singers. And, like any instrument, a dancer must care for and manage the body to ensure that it can execute the vigorous and challenging demands of the art, AND is attractive and enjoyable for the audience.The dance instructor must instruct the student in technique and the physical demands of using the body for the art.

 

Fitness: Dance is a visual art, the medium being the body. So, at least fifty percent of the pleasure of watching a dancer is enjoying the beauty of the instrument- the body. A body that is too thin or fat will destroy the pleasing line and movement of the art for the audience. Like any athlete, a dancer must get and stay in great shape. The instructor must inform and help the dancer to stay on a path of physical fitness that will serve her throughout her career.

 

Music: A dancer must know music and have a sense of musicality. She must know rhythm, have good timing, lyricism and an understanding of musical composition. She must be the visual counter-part to the music’s audio. In addition, some dancers sing when dancing, so, they must know how to sing. Therefore, a dance instructor must know and be able to teach music, and direct the dancer in how to get training in song, if she chooses this addition.

 

History and Culture: Belly dance is not a homogenized art – there are many styles of belly dance. In the US belly dance it is a multi-cultural fusion of different cultural dances – Egyptian Turkish, Persian and Lebanese. The dancer must know how this impacts her work and the instructor must be able to teach these cultural variations.

 

Drama and Performing Skills: The soul of a dancer is like an actor – they are both expressing emotion and thought in their work. The dancer also interprets the emotion of the music. The dancer must be an extrovert, commanding and expressive when dancing. She must have a full spectrum of human emotion at her beck and call. She must express the emotion of the music as well as the cultural aspects of the dance. The dance instructor must be able to teach drama and culture as it relates to music and dance.

 

Pantomime and Props: She must be skilled in pantomime, as is a skilled circus performer when she dances during theatrical sequences and she must be able to use props skillfully. A dance instructor must teach these tools.

 

Stage Make-Up: Stage make-up is entirely different than day-to-day make-up and there is little comparison to the two. The dancer must learn to apply make-up accordingly and the instructors job is to teach this so she is capable of applying it herself.

 

Costuming: The dancer must have a sense of craft in her costumes. She should know how to care for, repair and design costumes. She must be able to choose costumes that are appealing on her form. The instructor must teach this in her training program.

 

And, in addition to knowing of the aspects of the art, the dancer as instructor should have:

  • Class protocol

  • A syllabus with goals and plans for each level

  • Class plans for each class

  • Music playlists for teaching

  • Know how to create combinations for every class.

  • Know how to correct and encourage students

 

In order to help dance students become professionals she must:

 

Understand how the world of dance works in various venues such as theater, restaurants private parties and festival.

 

She must understand business and legal and financial issues pertaining to dance.  How do you get students and keep your classes filled? What are the legal implications of injuries and dissatisfied students and how do you manage your schedule so that you are fresh and vibrant for every class?

 

There is a great deal of power in the hands of a dance teacher. It must be used wisely and with goodness in one's heart. Teaching dance can be the most satisfying work in the world.

 

Dance is perhaps the most complicated and challenging performing art of all. But, teaching it is even more challenging. There is so much to learn in order to become a skilled dance instructor.  But it is also one of the most satisfying careers.

 

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