Today, we welcome Jamie Benson, a man of varied talents, (which he uses for the good of dance, of course) to Dance Advantage. If you’re not currently teaching dance in a conservatory or academic environment, this article is made with love for you.
Keep the Classes You’ve Been Given
As an aspiring or even established dance instructor, you’ll likely be hired at some point to take on the task of inspiring the less then serious student. It’s blasphemous I know, but many of your students are casually exploring a hobby while in your class. Heck, with the economy the way it is, dance can even be seen as frivolous (gasp) to the more recreational dancer.
How do we get these students to plunge headlong into the deep dance waters of your class to discover the stunning pearls of wisdom you have to offer? How do we get you to achieve the kind of attendance you need to retain as many classes as possible?
In this article, you’ll find a few proven methods to increase student retention while becoming a more formidable instructor.
1.) Quantify your value right away
Run your class a little more like you would a business (well sort of).
When presenting yourself and your skills (your product essentially), the student (or customer) needs to be able to quantify right away what is in this dance thing for them.
You’re pretty great (I’m pretty sure of it) but remember, your students are most likely already busy. And they, like you, are being bombarded with a plethora of other ways to better themselves. Your credits and the student’s initial reasons to sign up for the class may not go as far as they used to.
Any business person worth a damn will tell you that you have to provide your audience with a plethora of quantifiable incentives and surprises to build excitement, brand awareness and sustained trust. I am not one for lengthy speeches during a dance class (they drive me bonkers), but briefly verbalize throughout your class how dance can transform lives, in both little and large ways.
Next, you’ll get some specific examples on how to do such a thing.
2.) Be a health & fitness resource
The majority of people in your dance class are there to look better and make healthier choices. When you’re leading people in an intensive sweat-a-thon, the idea of fitness & health seems implied I know. But, what can we do to help our students be truly conscious of the relevance dance has in how we look & feel?
As you mold your dancers into expressive performers with gorgeous lines, take a moment to note what that arabesque is doing to sculpt their bums too. If someone looks tired, physically or emotionally, suggest an easy meal idea or exercise that could put a literal lift in his or her step.
Be a resource for your students beyond simple dance technique. Create & offer them continued value online so they can incorporate your lessons into their daily lives. The habits you help instill in your students will provide mutually beneficial results. You’ll be acknowledged as the dance guru you are while your students reap the rewards of a healthier lifestyle.
3.) Listen, empathize & adjust
It’s about them, not you.
My number one pet peeve when taking class is when an instructor ponders their own reflection in the mirror more then how they can help me, their student (Check yourself for this. We’re watching you). Whether you struggle with this type of narcissism or not, actively assessing your dancers in every moment is a truly special skill.
I find it useful & fun to approach a class like a detective would a case. Look for clues on how to provide personalized attention to your student’s practice.
Use your senses. Do you see anyone wresting with a stiff joint, tight muscle or even an old injury? (You already asked who has had injuries before right?). Before class starts, at a water break, or during a transition from one activity to another, keep your ears perked. Do you hear anyone complaining about his or her bodies? Add a stretch or activity to your warm up that may help alleviate the issue. Be especially attentive & supportive if it appears that someone is just having a bad day.
If I’ve learned anything from watching Dancing with the Stars, the struggle inherent in learning to dance represents so much more then the dancing itself. Be conscious. Have a blast being the solution to any kind of problem that may come up.
4.) Surprise & delight with your music selection
French screenwriter and novelist, Françoise Sagan, once said that, “Art must take reality by surprise”.
Dance class is no different. Playing around with your music selection is an easy way to start. If you’re teaching a ballet class, and you’ve been paying attention (see rule #3), try an impromptu hip-hop or 80’s ballet barre one day.
Create incentives for the students to engage more fully in class. Give deserving dancers the opportunity to create their own playlist for your next warm up. Keep them guessing, ya know?
5.) Connect their mistakes to your own
One of the easiest ways to disarm & bond with your dancers is to recognize their mistakes as your own. We were all beginners once. It’s tough to stare at yourself in a mirror and be told you aren’t doing things right for a whole class at a time.
When you see students battling bad habits you’ve had before, let them know that you’ve been there. Use a little self-deprecating humor about your own experience. Be quick to laugh off mistakes you make while teaching class. Giving dancers a good laugh also gives them wiggle room to grow without unnecessary drama.
Use this 5-point plan to create a fertile environment for fun, fitness & real creative progress.
Now, if the studio where you work is not doing a great job at connecting with their communities and getting students into your class to begin with… well, that will be my next article for you.
For now, use these tips to become an indispensable part of your dancers’ quest to better their lives. Become infectious enough to fill those classes up all on your own.
Jamie Benson, proclaimed as “one of the strongest, hottest contemporary dancers of his generation” by dance critic Lewis Segal, is a dancer, choreographer & Alumnus of Cornish College of the Arts. Heralded as “Chaplin-like” by Back Stage West, Benson first garnered critical attention originating the role of “Eldon” in LATC’s Ovation award winning production of Shag with a Twist in 2005. Jamie Benson has also performed in the film Rent, McDonald’s Mario Art commercial, Rei Aoo’s Dance Planet, on the television series Dance360 & as a member of the Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble. Benson was the dance instructor & choreographer for the Washington State University Dance Squad while conducting dozens of Dance Camps across the Northwest with Dance Tec. In Los Angeles, Jamie Benson instructed at Gold’s Gym Hollywood, Fancy Feet Studio, the Pasadena Academy of Dance & an after-school program at Los Feliz Elementary. Benson recently lead over 300 dancers in both New York City & Portland, Oregon in the international line dance event Le Grand Continental. Benson teaches an array of dance styles detailing & expanding upon the principles & joys of movement. For more visit jamiebenson.com.