Excerpt from Notebook to Dance Teachers II

by Dean Speer

So you want to be a dance teacher? That’s great! Welcome to the joys and tribulations of the profession!  Feel free to contact me and visit CriticalDance.com’s The Studio section at your leisure. I hope you enjoy this on-line extract from my teaching guidebook and have many years of happy dancing and teaching.

The motivating force for me to talk about this subject is the love of dancing and of teaching – and the desire to share this by helping to elucidate the teaching of ballet. I feel very passionately about what teachers do and of its importance.

I first wrote about teaching ballet nearly 20 years ago. And I am just as ever, if not more so, enthusiastically committed to teaching. It really is true that learning never stops and the more I know and experience, the more determined I am to share and pass along this knowledge and to enrich current and future students and dancers.

My approach has been to present the material in an original way. Clearly, there are many fine books, videos, CD-ROMS, and Web sites. These are invaluable. What I set out to do was to build a superstructure on which technique can be built and accomplished. I also desired to address little-discussed subjects in teaching to help decrease some of the “trial-and-error” all of us seem to have gone through. Hence, the sections in my teaching guidebook of starting a school and developing a syllabus and curriculum.

In some cases, I’ve merely stated what many take for granted or that seem obvious to the more experienced teacher but may be elusive to the novice; things like classroom management such as ensuring students divide into lines and groups for center practice. In others, such as “Theory of Ballet Technique,” I wanted to articulate observations and findings that are the crux of “how to do it” and that I hope will assist everyone pursuing the path of teaching taken by many others before.

Most people would be truly surprised and amazed if they really knew how much time, effort, money, and just plain WORK goes into running a successful ballet school. And, after investigating a little further, they might even begin to wonder as to our sanity!

For teachers, running a school has some common rewards as well as some very special ones that many of us would not trade for anything. When pressed further as to exactly WHAT we do, here is a fun little list that all of us might enjoy:

Bridge or link to dance world
Community supporter
Development officer
Grant writer
Music director
News & copy writer
Public relations officer
Resource for information
Theatre technician
Web wizard

Duties: see box at right
Qualifications: dance & demonstrate like a ballet super-star (pick one); cheerful at all times and under all circumstances; be willing to be “on” 24 hours a day/7 days a week; “read” minds; know all answers to all questions; be happy to hear about “my dog Fluffy” for the Nth time; be willing to demonstrate the same step a zillion times; smile when “that” mom interrupts your class with the question that won’t wait; know everything there is to know about teaching ballet and training dancers; have heard of the latest pop stars and kids books; have infinite patience with those very talented students that are always late, forget stuff, and leave the dressing room looking like a war zone, and who can never seem to have their hair up and groomed for class but are magically transformed to beauty queens for school dances; know how to and firmly say “no!” and “yes!” and figure out what time and under which circumstances are totally appropriate for each, making sure not to make any mistakes; attend your students’ “other” recitals and program such as the school play; tie shoes for students; have your students looking like the corps of ABT by recital time, even if they only came to a few of the classes during the year and can’t remember their dance from week to week; cheer loudly when “they” finally get “it!”

Pay: DOE and willingness to work for way under what you are really worth!





Seriously, I think most of us have done most, if not all, of the above at some time or other!

A career in the arts means not being afraid of getting our hands dirty with whatever job we might be called upon to do at that moment. Experience and age do have their privileges. It is hard to imagine Margot Fonteyn sweeping out the studios of the Royal Ballet and Martha Graham scrubbing her own studio floors (although she has done so!). But I think the point has been made, and that is that when something needs to be done, artists tend to do it and not wait for “the moving of the waters.”

Willam Christensen has said that the way to succeed is by turning oneself (or organization) into an institution. I think this is one of the secrets to success. And, it may be accomplished simply by being and doing. I have found that most dancers and teachers have a drive and energy that not is readily found in other individuals. The high energy and devotion to a cause and ideal is one of the things that makes being around dancers and dance teachers so exciting and makes it a special thing to be able to see them work and work with and for them

When asked further just how a teacher got started in the business of teaching, the replies might be: To earn a living; it gives them something to do; they like teaching; they enjoy working with children; it helps maintain their dance “connection;” or maybe it is an expression of self or an opportunity to be creative.


Starting can take place in many forms. Some begin teaching out of their own homes, others for someone else and so forth. When beginning one’s own school, some of the legal steps it may take to start are helpful to keep in mind. Contacting local and state agencies is a good place to begin. The matter of filing, applications, articles of incorporation (if one decides to do so), how to become a non-profit corporation can be answered well at the state level (contact the Secretary of State’s Office for more information). And no matter what form the school takes, there are always mounds of fun and exciting paper work!

The locale one chooses to teach in is also of prime importance. Proximity to schools, parking, and size and condition of facility are factors that should be carefully weighed before deciding on a location and signing a lease. Needed equipment is sometimes overlooked when thinking about opening up a school. This might include records, CDs, audio electronics, barres, mirrors, a piano, office supplies, music, and YES!, washroom paper supplies all have to be prioritized and purchased. It is, of course, possible to start out with just you and the students, as many of us have done and add to later.

The aims, purposes and goals of you and your school should be thought about and defined. Put your ideas on paper and see if they make sense and are realistic. Year-to-year plans, as well as long-range goals are helpful. Factors to be considered are: Numbers of students (both anticipated and minimums and maximums for each class and level); volume and kinds of classes offered (curriculum); performances; income expectations (budgeting); and where you would like to see to all be in, say, five years.

In the matter of scheduling classes it is good to keep in mind the need of the clientele, school times – when they start and end, vacations, etc., number of classes per level and your ability and stamina to teach X number of classes per week. Here’s a helpful chart that essentially outlines the expected standard in the ballet world that may be a good guide for modeling classes.

Creative Dance- age 4 40-45 minute classes 1/week
Creative Dance- age 5 50 minute classes 1/week
Creative Dance- age 6 60 minute classes 1/week
Pre-Ballet - age 7 60 minutes classes 1/week
Ballet I - age 8 60 - 70 minute classes 1/week
Ballet II 60 minute classes 2/week
Ballet III 60 minutes classes 3/week
Ballet IV 60 - 75 minute classes (1.25 hours) 4/week
Ballet V and up 90 minute classes 5/week
Pointe depends on level/age 1 or more

Teaching can be truly wonderful, as it is the passing on of a gift and of the rich legacy of ballet and dance. It is fun, rewarding, exciting and challenging. And as you work to unfold and develop the talents and potentials of students, you will feel pleased that you have choosen this best profession.You have many colleagues and friends “out there” rooting and cheering you on!

Please join the discussion in our forum.


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