New Dance Teachers: Here's How to Plan Effectively for a Successful Year

August 8, 2018

 

With more than 20 years’ experience as a dance educator, I often think back to transitioning from college and pursuing a career as a dancer to when I became a dance teacher of young people.

 

I approached my teaching just like being a performer. I had to prepare (like a dancer does in rehearsal), deliver (as a dancer does on stage), and strive to have my students (the audience) leave with a positive experience.

 

My first teaching job was at the Center for Modern Dance Education (Hackensack, N.J.) – and almost simultaneously I began teaching at Center Stage Dance & Theater School in East Brunswick. Both organizations have outstanding dance programs, so my technical dance knowledge just seemed to align with them.

 

It wasn’t long before “Mr. Know It All” was hit over the head with words like recital, recital staging, costume books, parent observation week, first rehearsal, and – you guessed it – competition.

 

There was a whole other side of the business that I knew nothing about.

 

About a year in, I learned that preparing for recitals, choosing costumes, selecting music and preparing for competition are all at the heart of what makes some studios thrive.

 

Yes the focus is, was and always should be on what the kids are learning. But it took me time to understand all that goes into planning for a successful year – and by Year 3 I had become a real pro!

 

More than 20 years later, I own Man In Motion, a company that provides new and more experienced dance teachers to local studios.

 

So let me share some of my knowledge and experience and offer tips to new dance teachers for planning out your year in the studio. I asked some of my colleagues and clients to help.

 

SIDEBAR:

 

Not all dance studios work from the same calendar. For example, some studios begin competition in January, while others get going in March. Similarly, some studios may have parent observation week in October, while others choose November. Use this timeline as a guide and tweak it to match your studio’s schedule.

 

September – October

 

In the Classroom…

These months are the most exciting – because it means introducing new material to both new and returning dancers. Focus on getting to know the students, assess their skill levels, and spend time explaining your warmup and progressions so they’ll understand.

 

As excited as they are to get dancing and learning the routines, redirect their energy toward learning technique.

 

Use this time to address any “special situations.” Do you have a constant late-comer? Is there a dancer with a physical (or psychological) need to tend to? These issues are best dealt with early on.

 

Think ahead to “parent observation week”. Some studios arrange for this eight weeks into the season. Be sure the class material progresses enough to show what the students have learned in those eight weeks.

 

Don’t start a new combination or series of progressions during parent observation week - because the kids will appear to be fumbling and won’t be at their best.

 

On the Business Side…

As soon as you can, get the studio calendar and block out all the appropriate dates. Address any scheduling issues sooner rather than later. Studio owners prefer dealing with conflicts as early as possible.

 

Mea Pangia, studio director of Dance Xperience in Mt. Laurel, N.J. said, “It is very important that our teachers attend dress rehearsal and recital. We are a team - and without one of our members, we cannot function at our best.”

 

Omar Hekal, studio director of Allegro Arts Academy in Carlstadt, N.J. added, "The students really enjoy seeing their teacher on show day".

 

 

November – December

 

In the Classroom…

Typically, this is a good time to dive into choreography for competition. But many studios are shifting a bit and having their competitive teams learn routines during the summer.

 

Spending less time on choreography means more time on technique, a win-win. Find out how things are done at your studio and plan the classes accordingly.  

 

For recreational (recital-only) classes, you should’ve done a couple of class combinations by now to see what the kids like and groove to best. These should guide you toward choosing recital music and material that you all will enjoy.

 

Chances are that parent observation week is now here – and you should be ready to make a great impression. Remember: it's been eight weeks - so be sure to highlight all that you’ve covered, not just the newer material.

 

Holiday parties are next – and all the kids enjoy them. I remember preparing some of the most elaborate holiday parties for my competition company members. They offer a great opportunity to bond with the dancers.

 

If your team attends competition early (January or February), you may want to take time to assess where you are with the routines. If your numbers need cleaning up or some sections need work, consider scheduling a company rehearsal during the break.

 

On the Business Side…

Does your studio have a theme for recital? Find out now and start thinking of music choices and concepts associated with that theme. Do it early before another teacher chooses the same music or idea.

 

Hurry, the costume books are coming! I still have nightmares of being buried in costume books while trying to choose. Of course by now you should have an idea of the theme and music for your routines, depending on the studio's timeline.

 

Some costume companies can be really slow - and some offer a discount on early orders. Both are reason enough for preparing your order before holiday break.

 

“Dance teachers should understand that the earlier costume orders are placed, the cheaper they are,” said Justin Wingenroth, director of The Dance Conservatory in Cortlandt Manor, N.Y. “A late costume order just seems to create a domino effect in added costs.”

 

Note: As a male dance teacher, the girls never seemed to like the costumes I selected. For this reason, I always ran my choices by female teachers, or sometimes by the students themselves. I lost that battle every time.

 

January – February

 

In the Classroom…

You are returning from break feeling revived, and so are the dancers. Now is a good time to elevate the difficulty in your warmup, stretching and center exercises.

 

It's also a good idea to base the elements of your new warmup and your stretching and center exercises around some of the more difficult things you are planning, or have already added to your choreography.

 

 

March – April

 

In the Classroom…

This might be the most challenging time at the studio because you’re dealing with:

 

 

(1) having rehearsed the same routines over and over and feeling like no one is internalizing your corrections;

 

(2) just about all competitive schools are now attending competitions, which means your free weekends are a thing of the past;

 

(3) your recreational students start to miss class more often, just as you’re trying to finish up your recital routines; and

 

(4) the "first rehearsal" or "first look" is approaching - the moment the studio director has arranged to see all of your progress for recital.

 

Help! Strategize, take a breath, and know that it will all be worth it come May and June.

 

On the Business Side…

Is your music for recital edited and ready to hand in? Is there a copy of your final edit in the hands of the studio owner? Having music ready to go early is a big deal to studio directors. Don't be the teacher that needs to miss a day of class - and the kids have no music to rehearse to.

 

Lisa Simko-Schuman, director at Dance Expression Dance Arts, in Hamburg, NJ, pointed out: “We collect music edits over spring break and make playlists for our shows by early May.”

 

What did your studio director think of your recital routines during the scheduled "first look" or when they peeked in? New teachers will want to get a sense of whether or not the studio owner feels you are on the right track with your recital routines. If possible, arrange a discussion and find out.

 

May – June

 

In the Classroom…

Competition season is over, so you are back to technique classes and trying new things with your competition company kids to get them psyched about nationals. Or in a perfect world, you’re just running through the recital dances from start to finish in your recreational classes.

 

Whether it’s May or June, your recital is here - and because you placed the date(s) on your calendar back in September, you are there with your dancers at the staging rehearsal and for the actual performance.

 

As you watch from the wings and hear the applause, you know the standing ovation is not only for the dancers - but it’s also for your hard work and dedication to getting the job done.

 

On the Business Side…

Assuming you have done a stellar job this season, check in with the studio director to see if they are putting you on the schedule for summer and/or the new season in the fall.

 

When asked what goes into inviting a teacher back, Susan Mendogni, studio director of Fancy Feet in Bronx, N.Y., said, “Positive attitude, excited about what they’re teaching, and connection with the kids are just some of the things I look for.”

 

Summer

 

Find a way to give back to yourself. Take a class, see performances, take a college course, take care of your body, or just enjoy your time off - because it's getting ready to start all over again.

 

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Man In Motion is a network of over 60 dance educators and choreographers serving as a resource to local dance studios and organizations Our services include, providing full-time and part-time dance instructors, master classes/workshops, choreography for competition, in-studio convention, and more!

 

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