In recent years, the term “Master Teacher” has taken on an identity of itself. This self-dubbed label by many dance teachers has surfaced in a way where it seems everyone is a master of their craft; some without the goods to back it up. I have taken and observed countless classes in all kinds of settings; pre-professional & professional studios, university, conventions, conferences, company classes, etc. and what I have seen makes me pause as to whether we truly get the meaning of “giving class” vs. “teaching class.” There is a noticeable difference. The scope of a dance teacher’s range in the way they impart knowledge is key in determining how much of themselves they will give to their students, the experience they create for them and what that dancer retains and takes away.

There is a key element to the difference in both approaches. Simply put, one is about the teacher and one is about the student. “Giving class” reflects a teaching method that is often very one dimensional, i.e. “here is the information….do it.” There is limited explanation, demonstration, focus and care to ensure dancers understand the, who’s, why’s, what’s, and how’s. There is limited correction and feedback. The movement and choreography is a very “do and follow” approach with little emphasis left for questions and response. Dance teachers that follow this teaching model solely often are teaching to the masses and individualized attention is limited. Giving class is often esoteric and there seems to be a divide in the way dancers connect to the material and the teacher.

"Teaching class" is a different model. Teachers want to make sure dancers don’t just get the steps but also comprehend how and why they are doing what they are doing. There is deliberate care and attention to using multiple teaching tools to ensure every type of dancer in the room has the same chance to acquire the necessary knowledge and progress.  Teaching class involves multiple demonstrations, deconstruction, following the pace of the learners at hand, answering questions, correcting and explaining the history, anatomy and mechanics behind the lesson. Dancers sweat and work hard in the same way but they come away with a little more of an edge over the student whose teacher just gives class because they are being primed to be thinking dancers.

Now, are there teachers who have a following, generation after generation that "give" class more often than they "teach" class? Absolutely. But if you really think about it, most  success in those scenarios are usually at a professional level where a dancer might choose to want to just go in and take a dance class for the pure physicality of it and get in there and move. And that's valid.  I certainly teach that way at one time or another too; everyone has. Or, you have a convention class of over 300 dancers and only have an hour, of course you might veer more towards the “giving class” model so the dancers get a chance to move and learn choreography with you.  The difference is, the exceptional teacher will keep it in the back of their mind to insert those other hidden lessons in where they can. In certain circumstances you may not be able to impart all of the knowledge you want, but there is always a chance to break the habit of being rote and taking the, “hey just follow me” approach. 

As a masterful teacher, it is important to remember who you are teaching. Young dancers who are training and learning are in a position where they need to be taught.  Offering solely lessons which engage only the lower order thinking skills every week will not make them progress by watching a teacher regurgitate information and choreography they’ve taught a thousand times. Think deeper. Think of all the knowledge you wished you would have learned and taken away in your dance classes and the teachers that made the most impact on you; the ones that inspired you most. How did they teach? What made them so memorable? How can you shape your teaching model to activate your dancers’ minds and bodies? How can that knowledge transcend even what they imagined they can do and how can they infinitely retain that knowledge? That is the recipe for a masterful student and a master teacher.

Good luck!

See you in the dance studio,

Jessie

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