How to Make Dance Class Count this Year

Dance is a more popular pursuit than ever. For the teacher or dance studio owner, this means a more competitive market for attracting the dancing dollar. For parents and pupils, it means you are looking to get maximum bang for your buck.

Gone are the old days of ‘and 5, 6, 7,8!’ with the teacher standing out front, shouting instructions and then a melodramatic no, no NO! Start again!, leaving the participants scratching their head in wonderment at how they can get perhaps just an ounce of the eccentric creative juices the teacher is exuding, whilst also wondering what exactly is meant by ‘no, no NO!‘ as they fruitlessly rehearse over and over, never to get the moves right.

I’m the dance teacher – you should be able to read my mind!

These days, dance class must not be merely memorising what the teacher does, dancing like the teacher dances and doing what the teacher says. If it is this, then what does the dancer learn other than how to mimic and follow? What value are they getting out of the class and how do they develop as a dancer?

Like everybody else, dance teachers must continually learn in order to stand out from the pack, and survive.

Here are 6 ways you can re-invent your dance teaching this year:

ensure-they-are-dancing-with-purposeSix Ways to Make Your Dance Class Count

Here they are in detail:

  1. Use Play Practice Concepts

‘Play practice’is a term coined by Alan Launder , to describe the fundamental movements, sequences or concepts underlying the ultimate aims of play or movement. In simple terms, this can be breaking down movements to learn the whole, and in more complex terms, it can be analysing movement and sequences to determine the underlying concepts that need to be learned to achieve mastery.

These can be translated into dance to assist in learning more complex movement, to ensure that the basics have been learned before more complex movements occur, and more broadly, to analyse the physical, emotional and psychological requirements for performance.

The brilliance of Play Practice concepts really come into ‘play'(pardon the pun), when they can be used in a game format that is fun, engaging, and result in purposeful learning rather than learning by chance, or worse still, plain-old-boring repetition. Much like the Play with Purpose concepts researched and published by Flinders University’s Dr Shane Pill, this can be termed”Dancing with Purpose’.

2. Use Game-based Learning 


Game-based learning does not merely mean playing games that encourage learning, it means designing fit-for-purpose mini games that ultimately aid in the learning of a particular skill. For example, if you were teaching a pirouette, it would be very boring to merely break down the movement, and then subject your pupils to repeating the whole movement over and over again. Additionally, learning a pirouette is beyond the younger dancer’s physical abilities. Why not create a game out of the underlying skills required to be successful at a pirouette? This could involve playing musical statues and balancing on relevé when the music stops, or practising spotting by using a ‘pin the tail on the donkey’concept. These games provide an opportunity to practise balancing and spotting in highly relevant and much more interesting ways than repetition alone, and begins the pirouette learning journey long before you ever thought possible.

3. Ensure Fundamental Motor Skills

One of the most important things to master in the younger years of dance (up to age 7) are the Fundamental Motor Skills (FMS) for movement. Children do not necessarily acquire the ability to run, jump, hop, skill and roll naturally, especially those who are not given opportunities to engage in unstructured, child-led play. It is the responsibility of a good dance teacher to check that children have developed these skills prior to asking them to dance. Dance teachers are creative, so think about games you used to play as a child, and modify the rules to provide opportunities to use FMS. For example, duck -duck-goose is useless. Fun, but useless. All it does is teach children to run around a group of children as fast as they can and sit down again. What if the rules were changed to hopping around the circle, or balancing on one leg whilst waiting for the duck to select the goose?

Play practice and game-based learning breaks down the seemingly insurmountable challenge into achieveable pieces. Photo credit: Bloch #BLOCH

4. Make your feedback effective

The main mistakes of giving feedback are giving too much, being too general or giving it too late. Why wait until after the fact when you can tell your dancers what you will be looking for when you observe their movement?

Three pointers is plenty. Although you might like to give them 5, or even 20 things to improve upon, it will not be possible to either remember or do all of them at once. Pick three achievable things to work on and tell the dancers what they are before you ask them to do it.

Be specific. ‘No that’s not right, do it again‘, is a pointless piece of feedback. What specifically was not right? How will the dancers know to do it ‘right’the next time? Something like this is more effective:

“Remember, our three things to focus on were being grounded, staying in unison and facial expression. I saw a lot of unison, I saw you trying to be grounded, but I did not see enough facial expression. Let’s try it again to get all three at once.”

To better this, go into greater detail than you have before about the facial expression – perhaps they did not understand, perhaps they need more specific pointers about facial expression.

Chances are you’ve given too many instructions – like feedback, it needs to be short and sweet.

5. Break out into pair work

Too often we spend the dance class with the pupils in a row, facing the front, performing for the teacher. It can save the teacher a lot of energy and be effective to have the dancers break out into pairs and work with each other.

One of the most engaging ways to do this is ‘student as the teacher’. Get the dancers to take in turns observing and providing feedback to their partner. Guide them as to how to give constructive feedback – asking them to tell their partner one thing that is going well and one specific thing needing improvement works well.

Anyone who has worked with 8-year-olds knows how much they will love to be in a position of power and put their judging caps on! Just don’t tell them they will possibly learn more from giving feedback than getting it!


6. Use Open Questioning

I’ve saved the best ’til last. This is my favourite and THE most effective dance teaching tool you need in your kit bag. Open Questioning means asking questions in a way that forces the dancers to think of the answer. Sounds obvious, but take a moment to think how many times you have told dancers what they need to do better or more correctly, or which move comes next on which leg, and then ask yourself how you can re-frame the way you speak. It can be as simple as saying ánd after the ran de jambe on the left comes the _____?’  You can either wait for the answer or ask a specific member of your class to answer (a good way to check if Annabelle is listening!).

Another way is to get the dancers to tell you the correct way to perform a movement. For example, ‘what am I looking for when you perform a jeté? If they have been working on their jetés with you, they should be able to say  things like, chassé, bend through the knees to prepare for elevation, straight legs, land through all the joints of the leg one at a time, no sound on landing, etc.

Or find a dance teacher that uses Open Questioning.

In essence, making them reflect and think will result in longer lasting learning than telling them everything all the time. The next time an instruction is about to come out of your mouth, pause and think about whether it’s an opportunity for Open Questioning.

Now it’s time to ask yourself some open questions – what will I do to change up the way I teach dance this year? What do I do that works well? (Notice I didn’t ask ‘do I do it well? – that’s not an open question!) What can I do to improve? Where are my weaknesses in my teaching?

Including the dance teacher. GULP.


For feedback or more information, contact me using the below fields.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s