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Dance Teachers

The title of this post is a twist on the wonderful saying by the great Zig Ziglar “It’s not your aptitude that determines your altitude, it’s your attitude!” (I share this saying with my students all the time!) We all have taught a class that left us frustrated, but to turn those students around, you will first have to turn around your way of thinking.

Every time you enter your classroom you need to have energy and an uplifting aura about you. It amazes me when I see teachers walk into a room in an obvious bad mood and with their head down and then wonder why students that day were not receptive to being taught.  If your class is not behaving well, I recommend that the first place you have to look is at yourself. You may say 'Yes, but my other classes are great! It’s just this one class that is driving me crazy!' That may be true, but I would answer that you are probably doing a better job in those classes. I would bet that you are bringing a more positive attitude and feeling to those students. I know because I have been there myself. And after further self-review, I found that I needed to do a better job in the not-so-wonderful class.

Now, it is human nature to have some classes you like more, students you like more and parents you like more. It is not easy being a dance teacher. But it doesn’t have to be hard either. Look at it this way: If you are committed to teach a class on a certain day for 9 months, isn’t it better to make it enjoyable? You have control over how you feel, and you have control over your approach to the classes you are going to teach. Look at the classes that are troublesome as more of a challenge than a problem. Find ways to make those classes more fun. How? Find out what makes those students tick., what will peak their interest and get them more into what you are doing. Every class is different. Every student is different. If you are not into your class, it will show up somewhere in the class. You may think you are covering up your feelings, but you may only be fooling yourself. Students have a way of knowing that you are not into their class. So it is your responsibility to make each class a joyful experience for the sake of the students, studio owner and the teacher (THAT'S YOU!).

Steps To Get You Going!

Don’t go into class in a bad mood. This is the cardinal rule and can never, ever be broken. If you are having some personal problems, train your mind to leave them behind when you enter the classroom. Tell yourself a joke or find something that makes you smile and think of it to help you snap out of your funk. I know this is easier said than done, but if you train yourself you can use your mind to focus on all the good you are doing when you enter the studio. If you teach in a bad mood your class will be a drag…for everyone.

Make your class laugh! Isn’t it wonderful when you say something in class that just gets everyone laughing! This is one of the best ways to win over a class or problem student. Careful not to make anyone, other than yourself, the object of the laughter. To loosen a class up I will announce that "OK today we will practice falling on the floor so no one ever feels bad about doing so when they are dancing." I will put on the music and let them freestyle, then when the music stops they fall to the floor. Once down there I ask them to introduce themselves to the floor so if they ever visit again they will be friends! A little levity will go a long way. It will also put you in a better frame of mind. I challenge you not to smile when a group of 9 to 12 year olds are laughing hysterically. Even if you are the serious type, find a way that you are comfortable with to get them laughing. If you do, you will be smiling, too!

Be prepared! If you are not into a certain class, it is even more essential to plan this class out until you win them over and change your thinking about this group of students. If you have a well thought out game plan you will also see how the time in the class flies by. You will be eager to get in all of everything that you took the time to prepare and you will be a teaching machine! You may decide to change up the whole class and just do movement. Smile in the beginning to warm them up, then proceed to more challenging steps. Just make a plan and go into the class with ideas a blazing.

Give yourself a jolt! I am not advocating that you get yourself all fired up with caffeine, but some people need that afternoon cup of tea, coffee or soda to give them a little boost. Be careful not to overload on caffeine or the crash will be sudden and your disposition may take a dive. Even more important is that you keep yourself fully hydrated, especially if you are teaching several classes in a row. Grad a bottle of wtaer and sip on it throughtout the day or night. Proper hydration will give you more energy and keep you in good working order. Also don’t teach hungry. If you are hungry, you will probably get grumpy. So find a way to eat something nourishing before you teach, like a banana and a handful of nuts or a yogurt with fresh berries.

One More Thing to Consider: 

It isn’t our position but our disposition that makes us happy. A positive attitude always creates positive results. Attitude is a little thing that makes a BIG difference. Think about your students. How does their attitude affect their learning? How does it affect you wanting to teach them? How is your attitude affecting them receiving the material you are teaching them? A recent study found that depression, gloom, pessimism, despair and discouragement stop more people than all illnesses combined. You know when you are around someone who is enthusiastic. The energy is palatable. And I bet you enjoyed being around them too!

Get enthusiastic and watch your students soar!

Yes I know there are days that you would like to scream your head off because their effort and attitude is driving you crazy. But don’t let them get to you! Your energy and enthusiasm will eventually run them over! Students have a tendency to follow their teacher. Yes there will be days that will test you but don’t let anyone ever steal your joy! If they don’t follow your lead then just push ahead and remind them that if they don’t get on board they will be left behind. You are the ruler of your class. You set the tone and the pace.

Expect enthusiasm and you will receive!

This year I teach a beginner jazz class for 8 and 9 year olds. This is my first class of the week on Monday and the class is packed with 25 kids. I must say it is the most fun I have had teaching a class in some time. They are so energetic, enthusiastic about learning the most rudimentary things. I love this class because it sets me up for not only the day but for the week! Why is it so much fun? Because they are so darn enthusiastic about everything. Teaching this class has reinforced to me just how important that energy is for students to keep in learning mode. Now I know it can be a bit more challenging to create this environment with teens who are more advanced and may be a bit jaded but this is where you need to take the bull by the horns. Expect that energy, demand that energy and be that energy!

Remember, you are a great teacher and don’t ever forget that! Let’s face it, your enthusiasm will be infectious. From your employer, to your students and their parents they will notice your drive, energy and positivity. Shine your light and you will soar!  

So there you have it... 

I recommend that you use the tips above even with the classes that are going well. The key is to change it up from time to time to stave off that jaded, ho hum environment. The dance season can become a bit of a grind for the students and teacher. Experiment with improv, freeze dance (where you play music then stop it at random times and the dancers hold their position) and make up your own turn (where the students can create their own position when they are turning or try different ways to go in or out of a turn) I have seen some very interesting things when they do this even with more beginner students. I think you will be surprised at how making these little simple adjustments in your own approach has a ripple effect on the students in that 'problem' class and soon find that it is 'problem solved!'

Plan Purposefully, Prepare Plentifully, Proceed Positively, Pursue Persistently!

Here's to Your Success!

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Steve Sirico

Steve Sirico

Originally from Norwalk, Ct, Steve excelled in track and football. He attended the University of Tennessee at Martin on a sports scholarship. Deciding to switch and make his career in the world of dance, he studied initially with Mikki Williams and then in New York with Charles Kelley and Frank Hatchett. He has appeared in a number of theatre productions such as Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and Mame in New York and around the country and in industrials and television shows. He was contracted to appear as the lead dancer in the Valerie Peters Special a television show filmed in Tampa, Florida. After meeting Angela DValda during the filming they formed the Adagio act of DValda & Sirico appearing in theatres, clubs and on television shows such as David Letterman, Star Search and the Jerry Lewis Telethon. In 1982 they were contracted to Europe and appeared in a variety of shows in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Italy before going to London, England where they appeared as Guest Artists for Wayne Sleep (formerly of the Royal Ballet) in his show Dash at the Dominium Theatre. Steve is Co-Director of the very successful D'Valda and Sirico Dance and Music Center in Fairfield, CT for the past thirty years. His students have gone on to very successful careers in dance, music and theater. Author of his Jazz Dance syllabus and co-author of a Partner syllabus both of which are used for teacher training by Dance Educators of America, He has also co-authored two books one for dance teachers and one for studio owners in the "It's Your Turn" Book series. Steve is co-founder of Dance Teacher Web the number one online resource for dance teachers and studio owners worldwide. He is available for master classes, private business consulting and teacher training development

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