BLOG: Just for dance teachers

My blog just for dance teachers contains mutterings, rants, musings, helpful tips, sage observations and lots of typos.

But do have a rummage about.

Because, after conducting nearly 20 years of research into the subject of what makes a successful adult beginner's dance class, I've got some truly unique information to pass along.

So if you want to boost your class retention, are thinking about offering adult beginner classes for the first time, or just want to make your adult pupils fall deeper in love with your lessons, you'll find all manner of useful guidance here.


How the order of your classes holds the key to success

So, you’re a dance teacher putting together your timetable for a new semester of classes.  You teach beginners, intermediate and advanced classes.  You timetable them like this:-

6pm – beginners
7pm – intermediate
8pm – advanced

Make sense?  Yeah, makes total sense.

Actually, it doesn’t.  You’re missing a trick.

Although what you’ve done seems totally logical, it could be costing you business.  It’s one of those ‘hidden’ reasons that can add to pupil dissatisfaction and result in them not returning to your classes.  Why?  Because this kind of timetable can turn your classes into performances.  Here’s what happens…

Your beginners dance their way through their first class.  As they are beginners, they are a little nervous and worried about feeling embarrassed.  It’s your job not just to teach them how to dance, but to make them feel safe and cherished – that yours in a friendly and caring class.

About 20 minutes before the end of their class, just when they are doing the more adventurous stuff and are also probably feeling quite tired, a bit pink in the face and a bit sweaty, the intermediate-level pupils start to arrive.  At first they busy themselves with getting changed.  But once they are, they will likely hang around just outside your studio, peering in at the beginners.

Don’t ever underestimate how embarrassing this is for your beginners.  They are nowhere near being performance-ready, but the class suddenly has an audience of people that the beginners know are more experienced than them.  How humiliating.

The beginners don’t gain anything from this.  It just makes them feel self-conscious.  The intermediate pupils don’t gain much either, only an opportunity to feel superior.  But when they have danced to the end of their own class, they find that the advanced dancers have turned up and are now watching them…
It’s just not good for anyone, and it’s not good for your business either.

And the remedy is so quick, so easy, and so effective, you won’t believe it.

In a second or two, you can not only prevent all this discomfort, but can actively inspire your pupils to become better dancers.  Win-win. 

The trick? 

Reverse the order of your classes. 

6pm – advanced
7pm – intermediate
8pm – beginners

That’s it.  That’s all you need do.

What happens when you schedule more advanced dancers before the less experienced ones is this:
As the advanced class is coming to a close, the people watching are only at intermediate level.  Seeing better dancers than themselves inspires them to keep going; "Look at the routine we could be doing this time next year!"  And it’s a nice sensation for the advanced dancers too, to show off their skills to a less experienced audience – they know they are being watched with admiration and appreciation.

And when the intermediate class is finishing, it’s the beginners looking in, seeing where their dancing could take them.  And the intermediates get a nice boost of confidence being watched by beginners.

And finally, the beginners get to dance their whole class in private with no audience, no prying eyes to judge them.  Which is what they need and deserve. 

All dancers at all levels will so appreciate your care, protection and thoughtfulness, you’ll quickly build classes of very loyal, appreciative pupils.

For such a simple, tiny bit of administration at the beginning of each term, all this could be yours.


One for your website

It's time to update your site and make sure it’s working hard for you.

One mistake I see a lot of dance teachers make on their websites and company literature is using the old trick of saying 'we' about your company if there is only one of you. 

Many lone business people refer to themselves as 'we' in order to make their company seem larger and therefore more influential or successful - and as a marketing tactic that's OK. 

But for a dance school trying to draw the shy and nervous to it, 'I' 'me' 'my' work much, much better.

There's beauty in just being on your own

DanceClass.com has always been a 'we' - it's been a team effort from the very beginning. 

But I must admit that writing this Dancer’s Diary as just me is completely liberating – I don’t have to represent anyone else nor feel a weight of responsibility to include any views other than my own.  It’s very freeing and I recommend you try it – your prospective pupils really do want to get to know you personally.  So any opportunity you get to seem personable and approachable, take it. 

I’ve also seen websites of lone dance teachers who use 'we' and 'I' interchangeably.  This just causes confusion.  A prospective pupil, will be thinking "Hmm… I like her, but what’s this 'we' business?  Does this mean she uses other teachers too?  Does that mean if I turn up at her class, there might be another teacher taking the class instead?  And what if I don’t like them?"

The bond between teacher and pupil is a powerful one.  And if your website and or social media does a good job of selling the idea of you personally to the prospective pupil, adding 'we' into the mix is only going to confuse things, and, worst case scenario, may cause her to either go somewhere else where she is clear about who will be teaching her, or (tragically) not go to dance class at all.  So just be you – if for no other reason than it’s the better business plan.

By the way, I'll be providing lots more information on how best to manage your marketing and promotions, particularly how to tackle your online presence.

For some inspiration, an interview with me appears alongside 100 successful online entrepreneurs featured in the Internet Business Insights book - read all about it here.


Gifts for students

A lovely letter from Australia hit my desk this month.  A teacher wrote saying that she’d like to give each of her students a small end of term gift to reward them for their hard work during the year.  She had a budget of around $10 per pupil and what could we suggest?

The idea we came up with was charms.

I've mentioned dance-themed charm bracelets before, at Christmas.  But thinking it through, the idea could work on a smaller, individual scale for all the pupils in a class or school.  A small silver charm (with a dance theme), can be put on a charm bracelet, of course.  But it can also easily be used as a pendent on a chain, hooked onto the end of a hair clip or onto the zipper of a dance bag or hooded top.  This means that everyone can use theirs in a way that they choose – and you can’t always say that about class presents.
Here are a few examples of simple, effective and modestly priced charms that be perfect for an end of term gift to the deserving student.

The charms above can all be bought individually - just click on an image to go to the Amazon listing for more information.  Most are sterling silver and these ones start from as little $7.  Of course there are much cheaper options if you're not fussy about the quality.  But just be aware than silver plate or the cheaper alloys do tarnish very quickly - particularly when they come in contact with sweat, which they certainly will if someone wears their necklace or bracelet while dancing.  So me, personally, I'd stretch to sterling silver and give a little gift that's sweet, thoughtful and will last.

But if your budget doesn't run to one of these let alone one for every pupil, a handwritten note can be just as effective.  Maybe you can take the time to think about a classic dance sequence from the movies that would suit each individual pupil - let them know how you see them and give them something more unusual and exciting to aim for than great exam results.  Just a thought.  I never got any 'thank you' from my dance teachers - it was us pupils who were expected to thank the teacher!  So I think it's just lovely to do something nice for them.


Stay safe

Teachers I have just a little note for you on this, and ugh, I hate to bring it up.

It's vile and depressing.  Sorry.

But it can plague dance studios – I know of one that closed because of it.

If you give this just five minutes of thought each semester, you can avoid all manner of headaches in the future.

The subject is peeping Toms.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain…
It’s the term we Brits use to describe a person (almost always a man) who surreptitiously spies on a person or people who are usually in a state of undress.  In other words, the local pervert who gets a cheap thrill from peering through a spy hole into changing rooms or showers.  Whatever name you folk have for these reptiles, to me here in England, they are peeping Toms.  Now we’re all on the same page…

The problem is that dance studios attract these creeps more than most places do.  And it’s not just through spy holes and keyholes that they get their kicks (that’s mostly in the movies), but through windows and vents.

I know this is a horrible thing to think about, so just clench your teeth and get it over with.  You need to view your studio from the outside, from the places where it’s visible to the public and then be honest about how and where a dirty knicker-sniffer might spot a viewing opportunity.

Changing room windows are often blocked by frosted glass or blinds, but given that they can get very hot and steamy, once those windows are opened for ventilation, can anybody see in?  And not just from standing directly outside, but from some distance away using a phone or camera?

Obviously every studio layout is different and not all have this problem.  But if there’s any chance at all (however small – they are crafty buggers) that your pupils could be the subject of unwanted scrutiny, make sure you’ve got a plan in place to cut this opportunity stone dead.  It could be as simple as warning signs by the windows to advise pupils to change away from them when they’re open.  Job done.

Now pass me the brain bleach so I can get on with my dancing and you can too, safe in the knowledge that you’re doing all you can to protect your pupils from prying eyes.

NOTE: If any of you teachers have had the misfortune of encountering one of these weirdos and have a tale to tell or advice to pass along, do email me and I'll share it here.


Music ideas

For your last classes of the semester or the year, when you might have a ‘just for fun’ lesson that doesn’t fit the rest of your usual curriculum, or you just want to sign off with a big smile, why not simply change the music?

If you teach Hip Hop try something classical on your pupils. 
Teaching Ballet?  Try some electro-funk or just anything with a totally unexpected tempo.

These are just a few clips I’ve grabbed from YouTube.  I've deliberately picked a variety of rhythms and moods from staccato to calm and fluid, from traditional to current.
Whether ballet, modern, hip hop or partner dance, mix it up... Go on, I dare you.

Commodores -
Nightshift

Andy Burrows -
Light the Night

Ray Lynch -
Celestial Soda Pop

Mason Daring -
From the Earth to The Moon

Ludovico Einaudi -
La Nascita Della Cose Segrete

Christine and The Queens -
Tilted

Percy Grainger -
Mock Morris

Erasure -
Home

Sarah McMachlan -
Song for a Winter's Night


The first five minutes

This month - the one thing you can do that'll make your pupils adore you

How can you make the first five minutes of your class magical?  It isn’t what you think.

This will sound mundane, but actually, secretly, your pupils will love you for it.

When you very first meet your pupils at the very first class of the semester or course, don’t lecture them from a mile away at the front of the studio.  Get them to huddle around, really see you and get into your air space.  Quietly and respectfully explain the studio works...

Do you allow people to bring in water bottles?  Wear outdoor shoes?  People to join the class if they've arrived late?  People to watch if they want to bring someone with them?  Car parking, changing rooms location, toilets location, keeping windows open or shut, moving portable barres, the format of the class, what you’ll include, “when I say this, this is what I mean”.  Quickly run through all the 'admin' you can think of.  Everything you know and take for granted.  The boring stuff.  Because trust me, it works wonders. 

Is he explaining a step or sharing the best local parking? Could go either way

This little huddle at the beginning of the first class goes an incredibly long way to making your pupils feel cherished, respected and relaxed.  They’ll view you as kind and approachable, and you’ll get so much more from them if they are comfortable in your presence.  It’s a key factor in building a relationship that’ll keep them coming back each week.  And they’ll dance all the more confidently for feeling like they are valued by their thoughtful teacher.

(And I should say at this point, that even if you publish all of this on a leaflet or on your website, bother to say it in person.  It's not just useful information about how to find the toilet, or how to set up the studio; it's their chance to properly meet you up close and get to know you a little.)

So few teachers bother to do this.  And worse – many don’t give orientation detail or even simple rules, but bark at people for getting things ‘wrong’.  Pupils simply don't know your way of doing things if you don't tell them in the first place.

It’s such a simple, charming little thing to do (it only takes a minute or two) and believe me, when done well, makes for the best, most loyal class of adult beginners you’ll ever have. 


Dancewear

This month it's how to answer the question "What should I wear to your class?"

Exactly what instruction should you give to adult beginners about what to wear to your classes?
I’m writing this as I vividly remember an exchange with a frustrated teacher that went a bit like this:-

TEACHER: “Ugh, another adult beginners class, and yet again, half of them turned up with totally unsuitable kit.”
ME: “Like what?”
T: “Pink satin slippers that’ll wear out, elastic sewn on wrong, yards of ribbons hanging off them, you name it.”
ME: “What do you tell them to wear?”
T: “You know, just the usual stuff.”
ME: “So you actually give them a printed sheet, or there’s a page on your website, or it’s on the flyers and posters for your class – you actually tell them exactly what to wear and they go out and buy all this stuff they’re not supposed to?”
T: “No, I don’t have anything I give them, but it’s just common sense, isn’t it?  I have to spend the first part of every new class pointing out all the wrong things people are wearing and that’s a waste of their time too, isn’t it?”
I haven’t exaggerated this – it was an actual conversation I had with a teacher.

So I have some suggestions on how to avoid this scenario which, in case you haven’t worked out, is so much worse for the pupil than the teacher.
Let me start off by suggesting what you SHOULDN’T say…
When a brand new pupil (who is perhaps a bit nervous and almost certainly can’t read your mind) says “What should I wear to your class?”, or you sit down to write a bit on your website or studio literature about what to wear in your class, please don’t say “Whatever you feel comfortable in”.

You may feel that you’re being kind – encouraging the pupil to just be themselves.  You may think that you’re being supportive – by not insisting that new pupils buy a truck-load of brand new kit before they’ve even done a single class.  Or you may just assume that pupils instinctively know what they should wear.

However, what this answer actually does is cause confusion.  People don’t know what you mean by ‘comfortable’. Turning up in pjs would be bad, right?  So what level of comfort are you talking about?

Give examples of suitable comfortable clothing - are jogging pants OK or do you need to see the shape of the leg?  If so, make sure people know that leggings or tights are preferable to loose-fitting pants.

Make sure you are also clear on what they don’t need to do. For example, there are many people who think that they have to bring ballet shoes to a ballet class.  Excited by the thought of finally turning into a real ballerina, they will buy what you consider to be inappropriate pink satin slippers (and will probably sew the ribbons or elastic on wrong, too).  But without any clear direction from you, left to their own devices they think they are simply being helpful and keen.

Don’t break their heart and embarrass them by declaring their slippers ‘wrong’ in the first few minutes of their first class.  That makes both you and them feel bad.

If you’re not bothered what they wear on their feet, tell them they can wear anything at all and specifically mention slippers, socks or bare feet.
However, if you have specific requirements, make very sure you communicate these clearly - the types, material and color of shoes, whether they need to be broken in or adjusted before class and so on.  Don't assume the pupil knows anything at all about dancewear.

New pupils really can get swept up in the excitement of doing their first dance class and it’s your job to gently yet firmly steer them to what they need to know without dampening that initial joy and enthusiasm.  And don’t worry at all about appearing patronizing – they really do want basic guidance at this stage and are happy to follow your lead.  A super-easy way of doing that is to tell them what everybody else wears in the class - that'll give them a very useful, clear picture.

So that’s my number one tip for teachers of adult beginners when talking about what to wear to class: Just be very clear and give specifics.


I do hope that some of that has proved useful, or at least food for thought.

If there are any questions, observations, tips, rants or experiences that you'd like to pass along about your own adventures with teaching adult beginners, do get in touch.

I wish you, as ever, happy dancing

Just for dance teachers

Dance teachers, your dedicated info page is here, and contains details of how to use our classes as choreography inspiration for your adult beginners, and also how to apply to be featured on DanceClass.com as a guest editor.

Details of how to sign up your classes or studio to our dance class directory are here.

And if you have any questions, you can use our dedicated dance teachers contact form to get in touch.

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