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The art of teaching dancing

Being a dance teacher is a noble profession as it requires fine personal qualities and high moral principles.

You might believe that the focus should be on what to teach rather than how to teach. But success is hidden in the way you teach, not only in the knowledge and experience you have.

You can be highly educated, a top competitor or ex-champion with great experience, but it is still not enough to be a good teacher.

A good teacher can step into the dancer's shoes. When you teach, you learn, and when you learn, you teach. Teaching and learning are two very interactive processes.

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Meet your student

Every student is different and deserves an individual approach. By recognizing the dancer's specifics, you learn how to customize and tailor methods, approaches and strategies in a very specific way.

During the whole process the student remains the only focus. As a teacher you learn to put aside your opinions, judgments and impulsive critique and give priority to deep analyses of the dancer's present capacity and needs.

Be a quiet observer and a good listener in the first place and then decide about information and instruction that your student needs. With this approach you will always find the way which is the best for the dancer.

When dancers feel that you’ve heard them, that you understand their intention, needs and visions that are associated with their own ideas, they will trust and respect you.

With this approach you teach your students how to relax and listen to themselves. This is how you put them on the right mental and emotional path.

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Try not to interrupt your student while they are talking. Listen until the student finishes. Teachers very often interrupt the student too early, because they already have the answer and they want to give an immediate solution. Do you sometimes have a feeling after the lesson that you worked harder than your student?

Learn to wait when necessary. Observe your own quality of listening. Do you really listen or do you immediately reflect it to your own experience? Remember, it is not only about you; it is about your student. Give them time and opportunity to learn how to teach themselves, how to listen to their intuitive feeling.

Dancers don’t always need your solution, but rather your support in the process where they will find their own solution, with your guidance. It might not be the best solution, but it will be theirs. Let them discover!

Some dancers are used to their regular teacher or coach telling them what to do at all times. They follow their teacher’s orders, instructions and requirements and they just obey and follow. This approach is going one way only as the teacher makes all decisions and has all responsibility in his/hers hands. It is one of many possible teaching methods, we call it a “command teaching style”. At certain stages of the teaching process this method is needed and useful, but it needs to be combined with other methods. With the application of a variety of teaching methods you will teach your students different ways of learning and show them how they can teach themselves.

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Who makes decisions?

As a guideline, we will be following Muska Mosston and Sara Ashworth ‘Spectrum of teaching styles; from command to discovery’.

The model presents 11 different teaching styles/methods, based on decision making. It starts with No.1 ‘command style’ where the teacher makes all decisions and finishes with No.11 ‘self teaching style’ where the student makes all of the decisions.

Each of the 11 styles offers a new challenge to the student, starting with learning discipline, followed by self-organisation, then active involvement and cooperation with others, self-evaluation, learning about courage and persistence, finding their own solution to a problem, discovering new meanings and knowledge, programming alone to the final stage of self teaching. At the last stage, the student starts contributing consciously to the profession with unique discoveries.

New methods have to be introduced gradually; by conscious observation you will feel when the student is ready for the next step. Every new method requires from the student a higher degree of responsibility until the student is capable of self-teaching.

The beauty of this model is a clear presentation of the growing process, during which the autonomy of decision-making is gradually passed on from the teacher to the student. The student’s independency grows by progressing from one style to another.

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Applying this model into your practice will make you aware of the difference between instructing, training and guiding. It will encourage your sense for cooperation and trust, you will become a better listener and learn how and when to ask the right questions.

Be courageous and try methods that you normally don’t use. One too often stays attached to what feels comfortable and known. New methods open new horizons and can liberate you from stereotypical beliefs. You don’t need to be a dominant authority who knows everything. It is OK to answer the student’s question with: “I don’t know, let's find out."

Take a risk and explore unknown fields together with your students, who can contribute their vision and develop their own skills. New generations of dancers grow up with new technologies, which will add in the future new approaches, styles and strategies to the teaching/learning process.

Putting in or drawing out?

The relationship between "putting in" knowledge and "drawing out" from the student are two opposite principles, which need to be addressed carefully.

Beside understanding the importance of providing all necessary information from various fields and sources that can help the student, you also need to know that the "drawing out" process is the ultimate goal.

We tend to forget about the student's treasures, which are not a part of received, explicit knowledge. The so-called tacit knowledge is rooted in their experience, intuition. Mostly they are not aware of a deeply buried 'know-how' that they have. Pulling out means that the teacher creates an environment, an atmosphere, in which all the dancers’ capacity gets a free access to the world of consciousness, awareness.

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Students absorb information based on meaning

Your students might have preferences in ways of learning, but preferences related to senses don't enhance the learning process and depth of interest, motivation.

Good teaching methods incorporate multiple sensory experiences.

But it is the meaning behind the image, explanation, touch, that is stimulating the learning.

How successfully your students learn dependson many factors. In the first place, students have to have a strong sense of being included in the learning process, they have to like the subject and most of all, they have to feel that it is meaningful. According to their meaning, they will make associations and connections to their own experience and in doing so memorize information.

The most important part of the dancer's daily experience is to discover, to wonder, to be excited, to own their decisions in dancing. This is equally important while practicing or competing. A balanced motivation - when there is a high drive for mastering the skills as well as performing to the maximum in the competitions - brings success.

Good teaching is about bridging the gap between theory and practice. There are many other bridges that students have to pass in their teacher’s company. Showing the way and opening their eyes has to be done with passion and enthusiasm, as a dancer's career is a long journey. Take their hand, but let them walk their walk.

Albert Einstein stated: “Try not to become a teacher of success. Rather become a teacher of value.”

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