Dr Duncan James > ticket2dance > How to Teach a Dance Class

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"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."

William Arthur Ward

"Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach."

unknown (often attributed to Aristotle but I have seen no evidence for this)

How to Teach a Dance Class

This article is a "work in progress". I will keep adding to this for a while until I am happy with it!

Here are some good questions to ask your students at the end of a class. You could get people to do "secret voting" but all facing forward and doing a thumbs-up or thumbs-down in front of their chests. I try to ask a few of these approximately once every four weeks so I can keep trying to improve:-

At start of class ask followers to give feedback to the leaders and obviously encourage leaders to do the same for followers. I may nominate a particular day to be "follower feedback day" or "leader feedback day" to help with group learning but I will not do this if I feel the class are in very different situations in their personal learning. I will often model an interaction between a leader and a follower to show how these discussions can be positive experiences. Example ways that followers might describe the lead include:- too early, too late, timing good, too weak, too strong, strength good, not clear because hands moving even when there is not a lead, etc.

I try to never say something is wrong. I believe that dancing is a fun activity where it does not matter what we look like but just that we are enjoying ourselves without disturbing others. So, suppose someone is learning waltz then if a particular movement that someone is doing is not harming anyone else but is not typical to waltz then I will generally say something like: "great dancing, I like the way you are trying different ways of moving but to make it more like waltz you could...". And in general conversation during the class I will try to say: "Is this waltz?" This is instead of: "Is this correct?". The emphasis in my teaching is to see all dancing as good and simply see the class as a way of creating new choices and authentic styling.

I have found that an impossible balancing act in a group class is addressing everyone's individual needs and also giving the group as a whole a good shared experience. Sometimes I have taught a class and worked really hard at giving everyone individual feedback and when I do this I find the lack of shared learning aims can make it difficult for shared progress and practice after the class. And if I just focus on group goals I find individual issues get in the way. I try to find a "least worst" balance between these two teaching approaches for every class.

How many partners to move on each time? If a class is working constructively together I will generally just move everyone on one at a time. If a class has some issues such as some learning-style clashes I will try to keep saying a different number: this makes it less obvious when I pick a particular number to keep people apart. I have seen some teachers always move on people 2 every time: be aware that if you have an even number of couples in the class this means any given student will only have danced with half the other people so in this case I recommend sometimes calling an odd number such as 1 or 3 to give everyone a chance to dance with everyone.

During the regular practice time in the class I try to play music for at least 3-5 minutes without me interrupting. I have found this is (on average) a popular time to give students time to work on the learning on their own. If the gaps are shorter than this I get complaints that I am interfering too much. If the gaps are longer I find people want more input.

I try to share a clear "learning intention" at the start of every class. This means explaining what improvements or learning I am planning for during the lesson. The reason I find this important is that some people have a learning style where they seem to benefit from knowing where the class is going. Definitely some people don't care and consider it wasted time. So, I try to be brief and maybe just spend 20 seconds explaining.

As a dance teacher I often exaggerate my stepping to make it clearer for my students to see. This generally means my styling is not typical for the dance. For this reason I try to remind my students every 15 minutes or so that this is an issue and demonstrate briefly without the exaggeration.

A great lesson I learnt once was to stand in different positions during the lesson. The reason I do this is partly to keep things more dynamic and help the students maintain good concentration. I also think it is a way of dealing with things like line-of-sight when students watch me demonstrating, for example it prevents one student having a pillar in the way for the entire class and not saying anything.

If I teach a sequence I make sure that I mention that the sequence is just an example. This is because some students have a preconception, perhaps from other learning, that the order a teacher demonstrates a skill in is the one it has to be done in. I encourage my students to be flexible and either experiment with different orders of doing moves/movements or simply let go and improvise in an unplanned way while dancing outside the class.

If a student is finding something difficult I will usually first demonstrate and/or explain it at least one more time and give them space to ask questions or practice if they want to. Then, if the student is still finding it difficult I usually try to think of a simpler exercise that just practises one element of the problem move/skill. This is a univeral approach I now use as a challenge to myself to take pressure off the student and help them with understanding or experiencing something they are obviously struggling with.

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