As I wrote this blog I started with about four different introductory paragraphs before landing on this one. I want to tell you the importance of a good dance teacher, I want you to know how to identify them, and I want to share with you what comes of good versus bad training. I can get really long winded and at times seem like I'm ranting or venting on this topic, so I've tried to start with the most basic and essential step. Why does any of it matter?
When people tell me about their studio of choice and say: "Well she's been in business a long time," or "she didn't realize that stretching her like that would cause a long term injury," or "he's a good dancer, so he must be a good teacher" it drives me crazy.
George Lucas (a filmmaker) has said "apart from my parents, my teachers have done the most to shape my life." Who do you want shaping the life of your child, or shaping your future as a dancer? Some of my own life values, teaching styles, and goals have been inspired by my dance teachers whether they taught me at age 6, 16, or 26.
I've had teachers who made me feel like less of a person, who've made me want to quit dance, who taught me poor technique, who held me back from my goals and my dreams, and who wanted me to bring them success-but wanted no success for me. These are part of the people who inspired me to want to open a dance studio so that I could be the opposite of them, but they do not deserve even that much credit.
My teachers who encouraged me to push myself, who promoted me, who gave me opportunity, who ran a wonderful dance program, who made me feel like a star, who could give me a correction and make me feel like they were giving me praise, who inspired me to be a strong woman, who reminded me you're never too old, who supported me in class and in life, those are the teachers I hold in the utmost esteem.
Van Rossum (a staff member at the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences at Vrije University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands and frequent contributor to the Journal for the Education of the Gifted) reported that the role of a dance teacher is of utmost importance and cannot be underestimated. In the world of field sports, "parents are about as important in the career of a talented athlete as is the coach," he said. In the world of dance, the role of the dance teacher is of much more importance when compared to that of the dancer's parents." To help illustrate what he was saying he pointed to research that showed that significant numbers of field sports athletes referred to their family as a "sports family," but only a small minority of dance students (ages 12-17 in this study) considered their family a "dance family" and considered their home to be supportive of dance. Think about you or your parent, if a member of their family decided to pick up running cross country vs. modern dance.which one will have you immediately offering help or feeling comfortable with how to support them when they want assistance practicing?
I have a mom who helped me in unbelievable ways as a child with my dance (I didn't appreciate it enough then, but as a teacher who wishes more students had parents like her I do now!) Most parents do not know about dance, do not know the terms, the ins and outs of technique, the guidelines for preventing injury, and youtubing how to dribble won't lead to permanent damage like youtubing how to do a tilt or a back handspring can. (PS I don't hate youtube either) The main idea here is that teaching dance can have a significant impact and tends to be more of a singular act rather than a combined effort, so when choosing that sole leader.it should be done extremely carefully.
The Royal Academy of Dance has warned that unqualified teachers can cause children "untold physical damage." Dance teacher educational programs around the world agree that untrained teachers can cause lasting injury. If young children are in the hands of unqualified people then physical damage can be done simply because the teacher does not know about anatomy and the development of bones.
I personally have seen students with bone growth deformity and with significant injuries from doing techniques that a "dance teacher" taught them. I also have students at the studio now who were having significant issues performing certain skills or who say "my last teacher told me I wouldn't be able to do that because my legs are weird." Meanwhile, with proper tactics and training and instruction in basic elements and a little support, these dancers are doing things they never thought they could or who are saying "that's amazing that you helped me fix that." I would take the credit, call myself a magician or a miracle worker, but I can't. It's due to the fact that I have been trained to teach dance and that I constantly continue my education.
Another common issue I have seen in my years as a dance teacher is that good dancers don't always make for good teachers. Have you ever known how to do something really well, but then someone asked you to show them how, and you struggled? Often, the understanding isn't there of how to break things down and build things up to achieve a well-rounded dancer. Some people can cook a meal from memory and taste and others need a recipe to guide them. This is the same for dance, no two dancers have the same background, basic skills, or natural talent and someone who is not trained in all the basics of dance instruction is less likely to be able to help their students succeed. I knew a great hip hop dancer who did fantastic solos and had training in all styles of dance, but when it came to teaching and choreography, she struggled. She had students who were like her - who kept up and caught on quickly, but not all of them felt successful. Students were quitting left and right because they thought they weren't good dancers or it was too hard for them, or they must not like hip hop. Put them in a class with someone who is not as good at performing hip hop (still good, but not to the level of the first teacher), but who has dance teacher training and experience and the same students who "suck at hip hop" were ready sign up for America's Best Dance Crew.
So your dancer seems to be doing "just fine", no injuries and they can do all kinds of tricks. Are they doing them properly? Are they cranking their shoulder to get that triple pirouette? Do they know what pirouette means? Are they lifting their hips off center to get that leg high? Are they using the correct muscles to turn so that as they advance they have the ground work to do so? I see the Instagram and Facebook posts of studios who have authoritative rulers who use fear or who have teachers take "cheats" to get their students to look impressive, but at what cost?
What happens when your child is overcome with anxiety, when they blame themselves for the poor instruction and lack of basic essentials, when they have anorexia, when they don't have the skills to take their dance career where they want, or when they cut corners or intimidate others to make a gain? It sounds dramatic, but I've seen these things first hand. I've been that dancer in a class with students who had more basic technique and vocabulary than I did, even though I had more years of experience as a dancer than them. I've built up a beat-down dancer's self-esteem as a teacher to students new to me and as a teammate. I've helped with eating disorder counseling and seeking help, I've tried to clean up the heartbreak after a student was not adequately prepared for an audition or performance, I've seen dancers who were promoted to more advanced classes only to see them fail because they didn't have the actual foundation they needed, only a façade to make their previous teacher look good.
I have written way too much at this point and it sounds depressing. I didn't mean to go there, it just bothers me so much that anyone can hang a sign on the door and say they are a dance teacher and they can do so much damage or good. In the next blog, I will talk about how to make sure your teacher is the best for you. Maybe then I'll be able to tell you about the achievements and victories of dancers I've seen who knew how to get the best from their dance teacher, even if they just wanted to take dance for fun.