1. Really Loves Dance
Seems obvious doesn’t it? Sometimes teachers get burned out, they get bored, they became a dance teacher for the wrong reasons, or maybe after years of being a business owner the other stresses overpowered the reasons they liked dance and opened a studio to begin with. There are way more that don’t have that problem than do though. A good start is making sure you’ve found the ones that have the love. If he or she can’t hear a song without imagining a dance to it, if he or she could watch dances for hours, can’t get enough of it - you’ve got a good one.
2. Loves and Honors Teaching
You can love dance and still not be a fan of teaching, so make sure you’ve got one with both! The best teachers are caring, knowledgeable, patient, and willing to work with each student. There are dance teachers everywhere who say “I only want to work with the students who already know what they’re doing”…yeah that’s typically easier, but most teachers like to say that they are also the ones who helped the student get to the “knowing it” stage. There are also the teachers who prefer certain ages, “I hate babies,” or maybe flip that and “I do best with the younger crowd.” Not every person in the world likes every single other person in the world, but teachers treat all students with respect and encouragement. When your dance teacher has a passion for teaching, they are excited to see everyone learn. These same teachers also know the perfect balance of fun, discipline, and self-expression and they create the best learning environment for you. If you and your classmates are enjoying class, smiling, learning, feeling like individual dancers (and not someone else, or a robot), if you’re respecting your teacher and the other dancers around you, and everyone making improvements in some way - that’s the good stuff.
3. Has a seal of approval/ is affiliated with a trusted dance teacher certification program
The industry of dance education is not regulated by licensure, but you know your dance studio is a good one when they are associated with one or more professional dance teacher programs. One of the most well-known and respected programs is Dance Masters of America (DMA). DMA is a non-profit organization that tests each member in subjects of music theory, dance history; practice, dancing theory, and application to include terminology, proper technique, and hands on spotting for dance genres. Participants are trained and tested in ballet (including pointe and lyrical), jazz (including musical theatre, African, and hip hop), tap, modern (and contemporary), teaching children, and Acro - among others. Other similar organizations exist, some of the more popular are Dance Educators of America, Royal Academy of Dance, American Ballet Theatre (ballet only), Cecchetti USA (ballet only), and National Dance Educators Organization. The National Clogging Leaders Organization trains clogging teachers through its Certified Clogging Instructor Program. If your teacher comes with approval through one of these groups or your studio mentions their association with these esteemed groups, you can be pretty sure they know their stuff!
4. Has a reputation
A good one of course! Dance teachers who help their students the most are those with previous experience, a history, related training. Say your dance teacher is, or was, also a school teacher, a physical education teacher, a nurse, or they have a degree in health, fitness, or dance; that is excellent news for you. It’s likely that you want the best chances of being the best dancer you can, this means you’ve made sure that your studio offers a staff that is good at teaching as well as performing. You probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable taking dance from someone who hasn’t performed on stage much, who is afraid of speaking on a microphone, or who does not perform well. Great teachers have a diverse background and viable experiences. Did your dance teacher start out as a dance student, then a dance teacher’s assistant, up to a dance teacher or studio owner? Those who have been in your shoes can relate better and those who have studied under others are better prepared to perform that same job independently. Teachers who have been working with children a while, who have their own children, or even those who were babysitters also tend to do better when it comes to teaching. Whatever you want from your dance class/studio and the teacher you choose, make sure they have experience with that. Finding a teacher with a lot of experiences in many different formats is the best. If your teacher has a good background - they’re bound to be a good teacher!
5. Is "Hi-tech"
Studios working mostly on technique, or who incorporate it throughout the year have more talented and skilled dancers than studios that focus only on certain routines for months and months. Most studios have at least one performance annually and many also go to competitions and offer more opportunities to showcase their dancers. While that is awesome, it’s even more awesome when teachers emphasize dancing and the individual growth of each dancer. You don’t want to spend six months to a year in a class and only come out knowing about 2 minutes of specific steps and tricks, or on the other end to get to the big showcase and not be able to show off some of the great stuff you’ve learned. If your teacher creates great routines and works on them leading up to an event to be sure you know them, but remembers to balance that with technique, to keep working on making you a well-rounded dancer, and that dance foundations will also improve the routine…he or she’s a keeper!
6. Knows that good things come in small packages
No one likes to be crowded or restricted in their movement and while many dancers tend to want to be in a class that is large (if everyone else is doing it), they tend to discover it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Your teacher knows what he or she’s doing if he or she keeps classes smaller so that he or she can focus on the growth and development of each individual student. He or she also knows that a smaller class size means more space for dancing, more room for you to see the teacher, more chances for you to be seen when you perform (no one wants to learn a dance and when you perform no one can even tell you’re on stage anyway), and most importantly, smaller classes mean more space and time for the teacher to see you (individual attention!) If your dance teacher keeps the number of students in each class low (even if that means having more than one offering of that class), he or she deserves high praise.
7. Is Diverse
This kind of goes with a good reputation, but your teacher may be the best ballet mistress out there and that’s cool but is she also a pretty good tapper, and awesome at jazz, and does she know modern? If yes, you’ve found gold! Dance studios that have you covered no matter what your mood or age are what you want. Maybe you only want to take ballet right now, or maybe you only plan on taking a few lessons…you never know what you’ll want in the future. If you choose correctly now, it will pay off later. Keep that teacher that has preschool and adult classes and offers many different styles!
8. Has been a student and remains a student
Does your teacher stay current on dance news, costume trends, and choreography ideas? The best teachers are the best students. They've been a dance student in your shoes before and they can relate. They know from experience what it's like to be in a recital, to remember multiple dances to perform, to go to a competition. They can help you make it through like they did, they can also see how their students handle things so they can tell their future students. Learning from their students, going to classes, doing research, keeping up to date on certifications, these teachers know that you never stop learning. Do you have a teacher that keeps trying to improve herself? That's the one that's going to help you improve the most.
If you've found a teacher that can be described these ways, hold on for dear life! If you haven't found a teacher like this, keep looking - they're out there and they're amazing.