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Tips on Working with the Difficult Students for the Dance Educator


Teacher article


Dance Teachers

See if this has ever happened to you. While teaching a class that is going well the teacher notices that one student is off. This student can be like that from time to time and they can be a real class energy zapper when they become disruptive in a negative way. Then the teacher gives a correction to this student and that correction is met with a rolling of the eyes, a smirk to another student and some comment under the student’s breath. Then the teacher is asking the student what their problem is and tells them that they should accept the correction as a gift and the student becomes even more disruptive and things quickly go sideways. And all this teacher really wanted to do was go in to the studio and have a great class.

I think most teachers understand that the difficult student will always be a challenge in class and can absorb all of the teacher’s and other students’ energy and time if they are not careful.

The problem is that as teachers we all have irritants that set us off.

Is it inconsistency or lack of commitment?

Inability for the student to apply corrections?

Questioning new ideas or methods?

A bad attitude?

Or all of the above!

Over the years, I have found that the students with some of the worst behaviors are usually screaming out for attention and want to be noticed. Show me a student who see themselves in a negative light and I will show you a student who sees others in a negative way, especially people of authority and that includes you, their dance teacher. I have said this many times to our teaching staff and I have even needed to remind myself, do not let this student steal your joy or get under your skin. NOT easy to do, trust me I totally understand. To make things even more challenging is that in today’s environment even the smallest thing can set someone off. Feelings are hurt and students take offense quickly nowadays.

Children with learning disorders

After teaching for over 30 years there are many students that have some form of learning issues. The problems occur when the parents either don’t know or don’t tell you that there is an issue until after there is a problem with the student. A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) is real and seems to be even more prevalent over the last 10 years or so. Sometimes students just have difficulty following instructions and focusing in on what they are learning. There are many treatments for learning disorders but keep in mind that every student learns differently. Some are auditory learners; some are visual and some are kinesthetic learns. If a student is really struggling with retention or is being disruptive, you may want to have a face to face with the parents to gently pry to see how they are doing in school and you may want to suggest a private one on one class to help the student catch up.

So, what else can we do about it?

First and foremost, try to take as much emotion out of the equation as possible. Set the standard of behavior that you will be expecting in class and review that standard often. Students will test your boundaries and they need to know when they have gone too far.

What we do at our studio is have all of our faculty approach unruly students the same way. If a student is disrespectful or has crossed the line the teacher will excuse them from class and have them go to the front desk and let them know they have been dismissed from class early. The front desk knows what that means and will make a note for us so we can all review afterward. After the class the teacher can have a very quick face to face with the student back in the classroom once everyone has left explaining that bad behavior is unacceptable and that it needs to stop immediately. We will then set up a meeting with the parents, the student and the teacher. All of us together trying to figure out what is going on and how can we all work to rectify the problem.

Once the issue is over, LET IT GO! This again can be very hard. One thing I have found that has been helpful is to give this problem child some kind of job during your class. A class helper of sorts that can do things like turn the music off or move the portable barres or wipe down the barres after class. Sometimes all the problem student wants to know is that they are noticed and someone cares about them. I know, it’s a very funny way of showing it but if you know this you can proceed with that knowledge in mind and understand why they are acting a certain way.

Over the many years of teaching, I can assure you that most student issues have nothing to do with you. It is just baggage being brought into the studio from school, their peers or at home life. I like to tell my students that the studio is a sacred sanctuary for creative learning. Leave your bad energy and attitudes at the door. I tell them the studio is a special place and the best thing of all is that no matter what is going on in the outside world in here, they are safe and free from conflict.  We are barricaded off by the studio walls. So, we tell our students do not bring any conflict in because it will disturb and pollute the environment and will have a negative effect on everyone. Ok, maybe a bit heavy but it works!

Sometimes a student just needs to leave your studio because they are just too far off the tracks. Usually this comes from the parents planting seeds in their child’s mind about what they don’t like about the teacher, studio director, the placement in the class or some other nonsense. Then it is best to have the parent come in and find a nice way to say goodbye. It really is not worth the aggravation.

In closing, most of the time the best way to handle the difficult ones is to find out what is bugging them. Then the teacher and the student can get back to doing what we all love to do.

Here’s to your success!



Steve Sirico

Steve Sirico

Steve is co-founder of Dance Teacher Web the number one online resource for dance teachers and studio owners worldwide.He is Co-Director of the very successful D'Valda and Sirico Dance and Music Center in Fairfield, CT for the past thirty plus years. His students have gone on to very successful careers in dance, music and theater. 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. 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. He is available for master classes, private business consulting and teacher training development

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