11 Ways To Create A Positive Atmosphere In Your Dance Classes

Today’s guest post is by belly dancer, teacher, and DanceCostumes.com writer, Erica Rhodes.

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There are many reasons students walk in to take their first dance class, ranging from a love of the art to trying something new. Many dance students find that learning to move their bodies helps develop a more positive self-image. It’s not surprising, as learning to feel comfortable in your own body can often times can carry over to all aspects of life.

When students feel good about themselves in dance class, they enjoy their experiences more. This increases student retention and can inspire your class size to grow. You, the instructor, can enjoy knowing that you’re giving back to the community, when your students begin to experience a change, not only physically, but in mind and spirit too.

How can instructors help students think more positively about themselves?

IMAGE A belly dancer poses with arms above her head, a confident smile on her face. IMAGE

Photo courtesy Brendan Lally Photography; dancer: Letitia, Ammara Dance (www.ammara.ca)

Words of encouragement and a positive atmosphere go a long way. Here are some suggestions to help instructors foster a healthy self-esteem in their students:

  1. Give students plenty of support and encouragement. For many new students, dance is challenging. It can be frustrating when even the most basic moves seem much too difficult. Reminding students that everyone had to start somewhere and even the best dancers in the world faced challenging movements when they started out, as well.
  2. Be free with your compliments. Everyone loves to hear good things about themselves and their skills, especially when trying something new. Make sure to compliment every student , even if it’s not during every class. This can be a great mark of their improving skills.
  3. Eliminate negative talk about bodies. While constructive criticism can help students improve their skills, negative criticism is very damaging to a student’s self-esteem. This is especially important with negative self-talk and negative body talk. Comments like, “You’re so thin!” and “I’m so fat!” can have an effect on the whole class. It’s not just the student that is being spoken about or the student talking about themselves that feels the judgment, but the whole class may feel the need to compare themselves to that person. It’s better to avoid those judgments all together.
  4. Keep criticism upbeat and positive. Delivering all criticisms in a positive tone helps encourage students to improve their skills, but also takes away the sting of feeling like they just don’t get it. The easiest way to keep things constructive is to follow every criticism with a compliment or some other positive reinforcement. For example, when correcting a student’s posture you can follow with complimenting her on the grace in her arms or her fabulous footwork.
  5. Try to keep competition in check. In any dance class there will always be some level of competition. It’s human nature to be at least a little competitive. A little playful competition can be okay, as long as everyone keeps a healthy, positive attitude.
  6. Keep the music uplifting. Music can have a drastic effect on a person’s mood. Using light, airy music in class fills the room with a peaceful nature. Upbeat music can be fun and can really get students into the mix. It also helps to avoid music that might make students feel self-critical. Songs that talk about looking hot or feeling sexy can make students feel bad if they don’t feel their body matches the image.
  7. Encourage costumes or other dance wear to set the mood. Flamenco dancers wear long, ruffled skirts. Belly dancers have coin scarves. Ballroom dance is always more fun in a dress or a suit. Incorporating elements of the dance can help students feel more connected to the movement and the dance. Dressing up for class, even just a little, can make any student feel more like a dancer. That positive attitude carries over to everything they do.
  8. Rotate the star of the show. Instinct tells us the featured dancers in any student show should be the best dancers from the group, but everyone wants a chance to share the spotlight and it’s discouraging to see the same students get picked over and over. This goes for the classroom, too. Help students rotate in the class. This is a great way to meet new people, and when the same students aren’t hidden or hiding in the back all the time, it helps each student feel more like a star.
  9. Be positive about yourself. Students look to you for guidance during class, not just to teach them to dance. An instructor that talks negatively about herself or her skills will find her students feel it, too. ‘If she isn’t good enough, then what must that say about me?’ It’s much better for the instructor and her students alike to be positive.
  10. Share your personal experiences. While the class shouldn’t be filled entirely with, “When I was learning to dance,” it is sometimes nice for students to hear about the troubles you had starting out. Students will identify with your story and be less likely to feel bad about the movements that challenge them.
  11. Help students develop realistic expectations and celebrate their successes. It’s daunting to face a movement or step that gives you trouble and it’s not easy to watch a fellow student that picks up everything the first time. Sometimes it helps to remind students that not everyone will have the same skills and talents. Instead of focusing on what another dancer is doing, they can focus on what they are capable of instead. Help your student set goals to tackle one challenge at a time. When they reach that goal, help them feel good about their accomplishment. Changing the focus from competition to personal accomplishment helps students own their own victories, no matter how easily they may or may not come to the rest of the class.

When students feel good about themselves it carries over to everything in their life.

They will smile more, carry their heads higher, and have a more positive outlook on life. While it may seem like “just a dance class” to some, each student will not only learn to love dance, but will also have a greater respect for their own abilities.

Erica Rhodes began belly dance in 1999.  After dedicating two hours each day to practice for the next several years, she first appeared on stage with her old troupe, Tribal Storm in 2006.  Since moving to Texas in 2007 her dance career has taken off.  She has been teaching dance and performing in the Central Texas area since July of 2007 and has become a regular performer with the Desert Passion Middle Eastern Dance Theater events with her current troupe, Tribal Storm. Erica writes for DanceCostumes.com.

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  1. Great article! #2 Being free with compliments is one I use a lot, especially with adult dancers.

  2. I’m starting something new in classes this year. Making all my kids bring a notebook where we are going to do “homework assignments”. First week is write all things you are good at. Dance related. I want kids to focus on the good and how to think of themselves as winners. I’ll do a quote of the day…were going to take split pictures and things so they “see” improvement, and his notebook can be used to write dances down, combinations, music…anything dance related to keep them
    Positive and happy!!

  3. Fantastic article! I’m a school teacher by day and a Zumba Fitness Instructor by night! Such wonderful tips were offerered! I really liked the rotating of the star! At times, I do notice the same students in the back and I like to change my playlist to add more dance routines where we rotate lines. (Back row moves up one and continues throughout class. I also thought another key point was to # 10 Sharing personal experiences! Many students are shy when it comes to certain dances such as belly dancing, salsa, samba, etc. I always share my little helpful hits that helped me learn the dances. For belly dancing, I say beach ball as we hold our arms to pretend we are actually holding the ball, to then move our arms up in the graceful pose! Also, love this statement: “When students feel good about themselves it carries over to everything in their life.”-So true!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. This article has inspired me as I have got stuck in my ways and needed to look at my own motivation and the rotation of the star is great and I’m going to try and remember my experiences .Thanks as I’m a little disheartened today and this has helped so much

  5. hi nichelle the article was very good and helpfull to understand dance from the point of view of students its very natural with the instructor of the class to expect everyone doing the routine fab but under that pressure due having less transfer knowledge of kids some instructors behave very irrelevant they pass negative comment then what should a student do is there any other way that the transformation of knowledge becomes easy ……..