Teaching Higher (Dance) Education

Happy NEW Year.  New Year, New experiences!

In that vain, My daughter recently received her acceptance letter from her at first choice college and we are both excited at the prospect that she will be going to a rigorous academic institution with the bonus of having a equally strong dance program that will allow her to either double major or minor or dance. The entire process has brought a lot of anxieties to the surface for our family (cost, distance, cost, best fit, curriculum, cost…..you get the picture).  After the applications had been submitted, my daughter developed yet another anxiety….”If i don’t get into a college with a dance program, I may never get to dance again”.  So needless to say, the entire family breathed collective sigh of relief when that letter arrived.

For the past week the conversation has been about what a minor or double major in dance looks like. What classes meet those requirements and more interesting to me “how are those courses taught?”.  Not having been this involved in dance, I guess I pictured most of those dance classes being in the studio….kind of like clinical rotations. Browsing through the course catalog has given me a whole other view.  Dancers learn about not just dance but the History, Anatomy & Kinesiology…like wow!  So I scoured the internet a little bit for how the textbook courses are integrated with the studio classes and I came upon this great article from the Professor’s point of view. Here is a great contextual view of how three different educators teach Dance History.  Providing Context


Learning to Embrace Corrections

The other night, my daughter came home to tell me she was “off her game” and that she had received a number of corrections in her Pointe class. As a result, she wanted to know if she could take an extra Pointe class later in the week to apply those corrections before her next formal class.  While I gave the usual warning about juggling time and making sure homework would be done, I had a certain affirmation of “look how far we have come”.  I remember when she took her first Modern class, and had come home in tears because she felt her teacher picked on her the entire class.  Oh, we had experienced those moments before: “I think my teacher hates me, she’s always fixing my feet, my arms…..etc.”, but this time there were actual tears and an announcement that she didn’t want to go back.  We had the first of a speech that would be repeated again and again about constructive criticism and learning how to embrace that your teacher is doing her job…..teaching:

1. Your teacher doesn’t hate you. Your teacher doesn’t hate your dancing.  Your teacher wants you to dance your best, so he/she is teaching you how to become your best.

2. You shouldn’t be embarrassed.  Yes, the entire class is now focused on you.  They are learning too! Someone else in the class is making the same error as you, but you teacher caught you first, so by fixing the error with you as the model, the rest of the class is learning as well.

3.  Lot of corrections doesn’t mean you are a bad dancer.  Be grateful that your teacher is taking the extra time to share her expertise with you.  Believe it or not, someone in the class wishes they were in your place!

4. Don’t just leave those corrections in that class.  Apply them, practice them, and show them off in your next class and on stage!

5.  Keep trying. Sometimes the corrections don’t take the first time, or the second time. keep practicing. Set your sites on improving on what you have been taught, make it a goal to reach.  You’ll be proud that you did.

6. Take the lesson of dance corrections outside of the dance studio.  You English teacher just marked up your essay with suggestions for improvement, go at it with the same gusto as your dance corrections and make it an A paper! You boss at work just gave you some corrections on your customer service skills? Try it out on the next customer & see how much they appreciate your help!  Learning to embrace corrections is a great skill to learn in the studio & to practice in real life.

Think of Dance School….As a School


I’ve spent alot of time in the dance school office these past two months.  September was back to class month and the questions were mostly about dress code, and class schedules…the easy stuff.   As October hit, so did all the complaints “we missed a class, do we get credit for it?”; “why didn’t anyone tell us that there would be a substitute teacher today, we wouldn’t have come?” I can’say it was a majority of parents, it was a very small minority to be honest.  I admired the calm way the Director and teachers responded and marveled at the type of questions that were coming in.  I wondered if other schools tempered the same queries. According to this well written article, it seems they do.  Read this article on Why all those rules.

Choosing a Dance Studio

"Love the ones you dance with."

“Love the ones you dance with.”

‘We have so many dance schools in my area, I’m ready to start my child in a school, but how do I choose one over the other?”

While I had a lifelong love affair with dance, I didn’t know if my daughter would, so I hopped at the first opportunity to throw her into a dance program, any program. We started out with the creative dance/ballet program at our local YMCA.  Turns out this was a great move for us, our teacher came highly qualified, the classes were small (7 students, and on some snowy days we were the only ones that showed up so we had a ‘private” class).  Then the inevitable happened, our teacher ventured out and opened her own school too far from home, so the search began. At this point I was somewhat familiar with other schools in the area, I called around, allowed her to do some “try it” classes and ultimately chose a school.  To be fair, she had been spending the last 2 summers participating in this school’s dance camp, but at the end of the search they were chosen based on these criteria:

  1. The studio was clean, and safe. It was a professional setting with standards that I valued (dress code etc.). It not only looked good but it felt good.  I wouldn’t have a problem dropping my daughter off there for a few hours.
  2. The teachers were qualified. By qualified I mean I checked their bios which were easily found on the studio’s website.  They studied dance all their lives; they studied dance in College; they went on to dance with various companies & troupes in other cities. There was experience.
  3. They offered a variety of classes. At this point, my daughter was taking ballet and modern, but I also wanted her to experience jazz. The classes were offered and the schedule was amenable to allow her to take them all. Not all kids want to be ballet dancers, find a school that is equipped to train all dance genres.
  4. I wasn’t looking for a competition team (although if you are, you definitely should ask if there is one) but I wanted opportunities for cross training. There was. It came in the form of a group of select students who were chosen to be part of their Company.  It came in the form of Summer Intensives. It came in the form of opportunities to dance in NYC each summer at selected Master Classes.  Cross training is important if your student wants to be a well-rounded dancer.
  5. They provided a sort of report card each year that gave the dancer a note of their progress and areas of weakness. My daughter eventually promoted to pointe shoes.  It wasn’t done by age, but by readiness.  A fact that frustrated her but made me more confident of our studio choice.  She had friends from other schools who went on pointe as soon as they turned 10, while her teachers worked on readiness, watched her technique and made sure she wouldn’t hurt herself. All of this was important.

Let me hit you with some consistent facts about choosing a dance studio:

  1. Dance is an expensive habit. Tuition fees, dance shoes, costumes, recitals all come at a cost.
  2. Dance is a huge time commitment. I love to hear the travelling soccer moms talk about how much time they spend on the field, I can totally relate. I’ve finished many projects in the dance studio waiting area.
  3. Like any physical sport (yup, I said sport) there can be injuries. My kid started at 4, by age 15 we were seeing a sports medical specialist for the pain she was experiencing due to her turnouts.  Let’s not talk about the back pains, knee pains, and various braces, supports, elastic bandages and protective gear we’ve had to purchase.

Yes, this can be an overwhelming task. But believe me when I tell you when you walk into the right studio, you can feel it.  GO to the OPEN HOUSES, ASK QUESTIONS, Let your student TRY A CLASS, TALK to the teachers (they are the experts) and GOOD LUCK!