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The Art of Teaching Dance

What distinguishes performing arts from plastic arts, crafts or fine arts, is that they depend on the body, mind and soul of the performer. No one part of the person can be excluded in the formula of learning the art of performing, whether it is Reciting Literature, Opera, Drama, Music, Singing, Dance, Mime, Juggling, Circus Arts or Magic.

Dance, like all performing arts, includes a mix of theater arts the knowledge of which creates a true artist. Therefore, 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 of dance.

Here is a list of what a dance instructor must know and teach:

  • The technique of the dance art being learned.

  • Managing the body’s fitness and athleticism.

  • Music and music interpretation.

  • The history and culture of the dance.

  • Drama and Performance skills

  • Gymnastics and Props

  • Stage Make-up

  • Costuming

  • Staging

  • The business of art.

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. That it is flexible, strong and coordinated. 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 of training

  • 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 also understand how the world of dance works in various venues such as theater, restaurants private parties and festival. Lastly, she must understand the business, legal and financial issues pertaining to dance.

Dance is perhaps the most complicated and challenging performing art of all. And teaching dance is just as challenging, if not more. There is so much to learn in order to become an accomplished dancer and dance instructor. But it is also one of the most satisfying careers.

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