Tagged: teaching

The Dance Teacher’s Toolbox

The Dance Teacher's Toolbox: a collection of tools for teaching dance

Today I will cover the arsenal and tools for teaching dance that I use. There are, of course, more techniques out there that you can use to teach dance, but these are the ones that I think are the most important ones. They suffice in most regular classes. Later, I will cover more sophisticated techniques, but I want to dive into the other primary work fields as well, before going so much into the depths of teaching.

Show & Tell

Show & Tell is the basic principle of teaching other people anything related to dance. The technique is self-explanatory, as it is what it sounds like. The visual information of seeing and the added information about where to look for the details and intricacy of the material can be enough for people to understand what you want them to teach. This is your bread and butter. The go-to tool in teaching.

Feedback

Corrections can be done in many ways. You can address general problems or give individual feedback. You should do both like a lot of topics will be relevant for everyone, and some students might need a unique problem addressed. Don’t fall into the habit of not giving feedback. This is one of the essential differences between someone who teaches people and someone who entertains with dance. That would be a viable business approach as well, but this time we talk all about teaching.

Drills

Give your students exercises that make them practice new material in a structured way. Drills are like dance push-ups. They are needed to build muscle memory and elevate movement quality. You might have a lot of drills from your teachers, or you can create your own.

Games

Primarily if you teach a lot of kids, the idea of drilling something might not be the best approach to sell. Package the things your students need to work on in games. B-Boy Catch, Chinese Whispers with Dance Moves and similar ideas work well.

Peer Learning

Let your students teach and correct each other. Trying to explain something to other students leads to a better understanding of the material. This can be done when experienced students teach the new ones or when a group of the same level feedbacks each other.

Progressions

Teaching material in a sequence that makes sense is first and foremost a matter of planning your curriculum, but you can also use it to lead people to more complex moves. Go back to the basics of a movement if the students struggle with it and rebuild it from the foundation. In many cases, they did not yet master the previous motions you taught them.

Handouts and Teaching Material

Sadly, this one is not very widespread in the dance scene world. You can really support the progress of your interested students when you provide material that helps them to dive deeper into the matter. This can be additional background information, self-made video tutorials to remind them about the technique, links to tutorials from others, or documentaries. You can also provide videos of dancers that excel in certain areas that you covered in your classes. Make it easy for them to dig deep and go far with research if they are willing to.

Homework

Give them something to do or think about in between classes. You can’t force them to do it, but those who are willing to learn will do it and therefore progress faster.

Rhythm Exercises

Have some exercises ready that help them understand how music works. These can be taken from music theory, body percussion, or they can be created with simple dance steps.

Notes

Take notes. You, the teacher, not the students. They can do it as well, of course. Write down what you did in class, so you know what repeat next time. Write down if some students had issues with a specific topic and get back to it to help them out. Notes help to stay on track with everything, keep an overview of what you did in which in class and give you an excellent tool to evaluate the progress of the course.

The following point was not on my initial list, because I did not consider them as tools but Focus from the B-Boy Dojo made me reconsider, so I add them here now. Thx man.

History & Stories

The history of the dance you teach as well as stories and anecdotes from your own dance life or people you know are outstanding tools to keep your students motivated. When told in an inspiring way that the listener can relate to, it will make them wanna jump back to practice immediately.

The history of the dance is, of course, something you should teach as well and not only use it as a tool for teaching dance. But as it comes in with that double function, it works as the swiss-army-knife in your toolbox.

These are my most used tools for teaching dance, and of course, there are many more of them. Let me know which ones you use and if there are any basic ones that I missed.

If you want to see some of those in action, I teach a breaking class at Streetdance Center Salzburg, together with my colleague Gü.

How much to charge for your Dance Classes

A speech bubble asking how much you can charge for dance classes

Defining your prices is simple, but not easy. Today I will tell you how to answer, “What can I ask for when teaching at a studio?” or “How should I price my classes.” There are some things to take into consideration, but when you know them, the math becomes easy. Everything below is my way of deciding prices, and there are a lot of other opinions out there. I explain at the bottom why I choose the prices like that.

Prices when you teach at a studio

Most studios want to pay their teachers an hourly fee or fee per class. That is common practice in a lot of countries and not per se a problem. It becomes a problem when the payment is low, and you pay your taxes from them.

In the area where I teach a lot of studios want to pay 30 per hour. That sounds okayish at first, but when you consider the social insurance for freelancers and tax in Austria, which starts at around 36%, you net slightly below 20 per hour. That might be fine for someone who starts to teach, but it is a dumping price for anyone skilled and experienced with teaching.

The rule of thumb that I recommend using is that when you earn less than double per hour of a regular office job, don’t even consider taking it. Feel free to ignore that advice if you really want to teach or build your references. I tell you this intending to do sustainable business and teaching 20 hours a week to earn a living will burn you out sooner or later. Aim for a price that is around four times what you would make in a day job. That is between 40 and 100 per hour, depending on your qualification and experience. That leaves you with 25 to 64 per hour after tax (Best case, when your income rises, your taxes do too. Talk to an accountant to check the regulations in your country).

These are the things to have in mind when going for a price:

  • Are you building the class from scratch, or are you getting a full classroom? If there are 20 people in the class, there is no reason to do it for a minimum.
  • The prices the students pay to the studio.
  • Are you responsible for advertising, are they or do you share that task?
  • What do you need? Calculate your expenses, the time you have to earn your buck and check if it works.

But there is a better option:

Try to get a base fee and a percentage of every student over a certain threshold. This gives you a secure foundation and ramps up when you are doing a good job, and everyone wants to join your class.

Prices when you organize your own classes

A lot of people are doing their own courses. This approach has the potential to pay much higher than the other method, but you shoulder all the risk. You pay the rent for the studio, you do the advertisement, and you lose money if there are not enough students in a class. On the other hand, you keep all the money that is rolling in.

First, calculate your expenses for the class. Take the rent of the studio, add music costs (due to your local collecting societies – the AKM in Austria), add money for the fuel or public transport you need to get to the room and everything else that costs you, which is related to doing the class. Now you know how much money you need per class not to lose money. Considering the rule from above, you want at least 40 per class, after paying all the costs. How much do you need to make that 40? And more importantly, how many students do you need to make it.

For your first calculation, take the average price of the studios around you. Just to get a feeling for the situation. Then, decide if you want to be cheaper or more expensive. If your price is more affordable, you will get all the students that care about the price-tag only. That are potentially a lot of them. But you will also get all the kids, who are sent to the class by their parents – without really wanting to. If you are a better teacher than the guys at the other studies, consider being more expensive. While you will have fewer students, you will get those who really care and that makes the classes so much more enjoyable.

As a rule of thumb: don’t go far below the prices and don’t top them by more than 50%. Ignore this if you have a reputation that reaches until far beyond the place where you teach.

All clear? Reach out in the comments, per mail or on social media if not.

My reasons for these price-tags

This passage was not part of the original post. I received some questions on social media, so I want to add the reasons below.

I use the measure of “what you earn at a day job” because most people need to work another job besides teaching in the beginning. And by using this as an anchor point, we try to avoid making our financial situation worse.

I don’t want you to consider jobs that pay less than double your hourly wage because it will not be a financial upgrade of your situation. You need to get there, which costs you time and money. That is usually not refunded from the studio. You also have additional hidden costs through teaching if you, for example, buy a snack when you would eat at home otherwise.

I recommend four times your wage as a reasonable price because it means if you teach two hours a day, it pays as much like a regular day of work. So every day you can teach for two hours, you don’t need to work a 9-5. This helps you to transition to a full-time dancer slowly or keep the job and earn double.

How to create your own dance drills that make sense

In your role as a dance teacher, you always want to have the right tools ready to help your students to the next level. When you see them struggle with certain elements or whenever you introduce a new move, it helps to have a drill ready that tackles the problem at hand precisely. On top of that, you can create exercises for your own practice as well.

The general idea is to create a short set that includes the solution to the problem you have. Put the thing you want to practice in between other moves that already have the quality of what you want to reach.

If the goal is just to practice a particular move, create a short routine where you place the new step in between 2 moves that your students already can do well. In many cases, you can only do an old move and then the new one, when you immediately repeat the combination to the other side. This keeps the combo short and enables you to do more repetitions in the same amount of time.

When you want to develop a specific flow – let’s say you are teaching pretzels – you want to put them in between sweeps as they share the concept of swinging your legs around in a circular motion.

When they need to practice precision in rhythm, frame the new thing with an already known move, that shares that rhythm.

For freezes and acrobatics that require more strength and balance, create a drill that makes you do the movement on both sides but without a stop in between. There is an exception to this: when you practice a powermove that relies on keeping the circular momentum going, then practice both ways separated. But practice both. (Yes, I know – it’s not funny).

Activity Synergies for Dance Teachers

showing a sketch of synergies between dance students and readers

A while ago, I wrote about different possibilities that you can build your dance career around. During the last weeks, we explored teaching as a primary activity in your business. Check out the overview, curriculum and responsibility posts if you didn’t read them already.

To build our work as stable and secure as possible, I recommend adding in additional work fields. Below is a list of the ones that I consider exceptionally viable choices if teaching is your primary source of income. That does not mean, they are the only ones, but they synergise with teaching very well.

  1. Performing. Naturally, your students will love to watch you dance. If you have a performance within a reasonable travel distance, they will go and watch it.
  2. Producing Stage Pieces. Same reasons as above.
  3. Organising Events. Same same. If your students like your work, they will be at the events.
  4. Videography can help you in different forms.
    • You produce clips that are up for sale. Your students will most likely take a look.
    • You create videos from class choreographies. There are a lot of students out there who look forward to being in that clips and will be motivated by that.
    • If you are big online, it will work as an advertisement for your classes.
  5. Producing Music. Use your music in class. If it’s good, people will ask where to get it. Boom. Direct Selling at its finest. Double-check if your teaching and the story you tell in classes, align with your Artist Identity as a musician.
  6. Writing. As soon as you have sellable products that complement your classes, you will be able to sell them. A blog can help you build your reputation and act as your primary means of advertising online.

You experience point #6 – writing in action, right now.

There is nothing wrong with the other possibilities. Just take a look if one of those comes easy for you, as these synergies are powerful.

The Responsibility of Dance Teachers

A joke with a quote from spider man

As I am travelling, today’s post will be short. We need to talk about responsibility when we teach. For most dance students, their teacher is the primary role model when it comes to dance (and sometimes life in general). Sadly, a lot of people take this too lightly.

You shape your students understanding of technique, the social aspects, the history and their approach to dance.

If we teach a flawed technique, we will hinder the progress of your students for years to come. So get the stuff you teach right. An excellent example are b-boys who teach a lousy form of six-step. This leads to bad shape in the complete footwork of the students. Same if students don’t get the groove for the style they learn from the teachers. It’s our responsibility to have a good understanding and the right tools to teach dance.

If we don’t teach them about the social aspects of dance, they have no chance to enjoy afterparties and social life with other dancers. Then we have more “dancers” who only live to compete.

If we don’t teach them about cyphering (which can be considered part of the social aspects), we get more people who practise at jams, instead of jamming.

If we don’t explain the history, students can not understand the context of the culture and why it is essential to preserve some aspects of the dance in its original way but stupid to copy others from a different background.

If we don’t treat our dance with the respect it deserves, how should our students know how to do it.

Dance teachers need to lead by example. Let’s do this right, and we will have a remarkable next generation of dancers.

Patrick pointed out that it is also important to be certain and confident about yourself. Having this understanding of who you are, what you do and why you do it. I fully agree. However, I think that is a state everyone should reach eventually and it is in fact more important than what you teach.

What to put into your street dance curriculum?

Overview about the content of a street dance class

Today’s post will be more of a list than a real article. I will cover everything that I think one should teach in a regular dance class. So this is your “how to structure your dance lessons”, but it could also serve as “how to structure your own practise” (when you remove the theory stuff of course). If you missed last week’s “How to be a good dance teacher“, go and check it out now.

Without further ado, this is what I think you should teach in regular classes (this means in a recurring setup, not a one-time workshop):

  • The history and cultural context of the dance style.
    • Where and when did it come from?
    • Who are the guys that made it happen?
      You want your students to take classes from these guys when they have the chance to do so.
    • Where there specific circumstances that sparked the birth of the scene and the style?
    • Point your students to the documentaries about your style if there are any.
  • The moves, aka the vocabulary of the dance.
    • The techniques themselves.
    • The origin of the steps.
    • Drills.
    • How to create your own drills.
    • Methods on how to work with these moves and create variations.
  • The groove(s). I love to call it the grammar of the style but I know that some people disagree.
  • The basics of music and counting.
  • The connection of the dance to the music.
  • The concepts and ideas behind freestyling.
  • You should also teach your choreographies as people should learn to pick up choreography.
  • How social dance works.
    This helps to understand where our styles come from.
  • How cyphers work and cypher etiquette.
  • How battles work, tactics and battle etiquette.
  • Preparing the body.
    More important for breaking than other styles, but definitely recommended for all the styles.
    • Strength exercises.
    • Stamina training.
    • Balance.
    • Coordination.
    • Stretching.

Do you cover everything in your classes? If not, can you expand your curriculum to cover everything?

Did I miss anything? Let me know.

How to be a good dance teacher – an overview

An illustration of the topic

Starting now, we will take a closer look at our primary work fields of dance. I begin with teaching as it is one that applies to most of us, and I consider it to be the most reliable one.

A good teacher should bring the following:

The Curriculum

Your curriculum is the content of your classes. You decide what to teach and in which order. A lot of people copy the curriculum of their teachers without changing or questioning it. That is a bad practice. Your teacher, most likely, has another pool of knowledge and experiences as you have. Creating your curriculum and writing it down makes you think about how you want to approach teaching others. It streamlines the whole process and helps you to refine it. Having your curriculum in writing also helps you to keep track of what you did and what you will do, you can use it to promote your classes or hand it out to the students as a reminder.

For example, when teaching breaking, I do not show the six-step in the first lesson. Some of my colleagues think this is a sacrilege, as the step is considered the base of footwork. I agree that it is a crucial step, but I believe that someone who has never moved on the floor before, is not ready to do this in a way that makes sense immediately. So I teach them basic positioning on the floor, the Russian, CCs, Scrambles and Back-Shuffles before moving on to the six-step. These more manageable steps help the people to develop a feeling for floorwork and approach the six-step differently as when I would jump directly into it.

You don’t have to take this idea into your curriculum. But as I have my thoughts behind doing so, you will have your intentions why you would do things a certain way. Let these thoughts influence how you teach.

Don’t limit your curriculum to moves. Add space for explaining music, history, concepts and everything else you consider valuable when approaching dance. Show the ways dance is done – in cyphers, battles or on stage with fixed choreography. Give them the whole package.

But on the other hand: Be real! Don’t put stuff in your curriculum that you don’t understand. If your students ask for it, be honest about it and give them what you know, but point out that it’s wise to ask someone else as well for the topic.

The Toolbox

I stole the idea of the toolbox from Steven King. He writes about it in the book “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”. Your toolbox is your set of methods that you can use to teach what you know. The important word is “can”. You don’t have to use all the tools all the time, but you want to have them with you when you need them.

A plumber might only need one tool when coming to a clients house to fix an issue. But he does not know which device he will need. So he brings all his tools and chooses on-site.

It’s the same with teaching. On the top of your toolbox you have “show and tell”. It means you show what you want the students to learn and explain. It’s your everyday tool. If the students get what you want, you don’t need anything else. Job done. But otherwise, you will reach back into your toolbox and use some progressions to get the harder moves by learning prerequisites first and then drill them to make the guys fluent. You might throw in some practise games, include peer learning – where the students teach and correct each other – or call and response exercises. I will present all the tools that I know over time. For now, I want you to think about what methods you know and add them to your curriculum, so you don’t forget them. There might be some gems that you rarely use.

Understanding the Needs of your Students

Talking to and understanding your students is not directly teaching, but it is crucial to understand who they are and what they need. I recommend you dedicate a few minutes at the beginning of each class to talking and listening. Ask how they have been, how practice went and from time to time if there are particular topics they want to explore. When you ask how training went, you also imply that they work on the stuff outside. When some of them do, it should motivate others to do so as well.

Don’t make this all about small talk. Ask and listen to understand, not with the intention to reply. Use what you learn to improve your teaching.

On the other side: if you understand what the students need, but they don’t – tell them. It is your job to make them dance and grow. When they ask for things they don’t need, bring them back on track. Otherwise, you are in danger to become a dancing animator or a best-friend replacement. Ignore this piece of advice if that is your niche – it’s a viable one if you want to fill that role.