Tips for New Instructor?

Congratulations on becoming an instructor!

A lot of the replies hit nails on the head regarding what should be done. I will try to add my two cents in without sounding too repetitive, though some things that have already been said I too will say. But here's the thing: a teacher is someone who never says anything once. Also, if this is something your mentor has already told you, also apologies.

First and foremost, be reflective in your practice. If you haven't already, come to the understanding that learning is a process. This goes for your students, and for you as well. Emphasize this understanding to your students, repeat that phrase often, and model this behavior so they can feel comfortable on their journey. That being said, understand that the same applies to you. You will also need to be kind with yourself, as well as with those you teach.

Come to the understanding that teaching is a process also. This goes hand in hand with the first point, but it's something we often forget. No one is born a natural teacher, regardless of what others say. Some people have a natural inclination towards it, same as some people have an inclination towards dance, but without pedagogy, codified strategies, and clear terminology even the most impassioned individual is useless. One can be a championship dancer and a lousy teacher, same as one can never win Blackpool and be a brilliant educator. That rant aside, as you would be kind with your students, be kind to yourself. You will learn from each lesson, successful or failed, and you will learn how to explain things better as time goes on. You will gain that clarity of explanation only from explaining it incorrectly a million times, same as your students will finally do the action correctly only after doing it incorrectly a million times.

Find clear terminology. "Ballroom dancing comes down to three things: posture, weight change(s), and frame. Everything else is commentary." I opened with that line every [first] lesson I gave. I them defined those terms: posture (the relationship of your spine to the rest of your joints), weight changes (steps from one foot to the other, completely shifting your weight from one leg to the other), and frame (the relationship of your elbows, if you will, to your spine), and not only modeled the behaviors but adjusted the students to feel them as well. I am going to emphasize this next part: it took me a few years to get down to those understandings and those words. Until I codified these terms, I struggled to explain concepts.

Read, read, read; learn, learn, learn; ask questions, ask questions, ask questions; listen, listen, listen. This one goes with the above advice. Terminology is important in dance. "Ball of foot" and "Toe" are two different terms for a reason; "Body Rise" and "Foot Rise" come from two different anatomical parts and achieve different things; "Sway" and "Shape" are not the same, etc.... decide that these things are insanely important to you, and that you need to know them, because you do. The more you use these terms, the more your students use these terms, the more of a common language you and them speak, the easier it will be to figure out what went wrong, what went right, etc. Not only that, but the more manuals you read, the more books you read, the more lectures you attend, the more lessons and trainings you take, the better you'll get. Plus, haring other people explain concepts helps you codify terminology and helps you clarify your own confusions, and the more clear you are, the more successful your lessons are, the more successful your students are. On that note, speak with your students and ask them questions, check for understanding. If you're being open and candid with them, they should be open and candid with you. Also: get your hands on general education pedagogy books. You don't have to become a teacher, but teaching philosophies and strategies do help convey dance info too.

Keep things simple. This kind of goes with the clear terminology concept, but often times we as instructors can get overzealous and excited when a student succeeds and teach them something they do not really need simply because they got that one other thing right, or we over-complicate an explanation or give a long-winded answer when there wasn't a real need, or we plan three objectives for a lesson and stubbornly want to get to all three when one concept covered in depth will suffice. Keeping things simple helps you, helps your students, and in the long-run helps make progress easier and faster. This goes hand in hand with having a reflective approach, and with speaking with students about what went well, what needs work, and what doesn't.

Conference, and get outside eyes (observations) in on your lessons. So, conference with your students. Take a half a lesson sometime, or a full one even, or time after lessons, to discuss and reflect. Tick off boxes that you accomplished, plan for the next session; the more involved a student is in their growth and progress the more likely they are to take pride in it and want to come back. It also shows you care about their growth and progress, and gives them ownership. It fosters the relationship between you and the student, and it's an easy way to have a road map for both of you. Observations are invaluable, though not always needed as you get longer and longer on your teaching track. As a starting teacher, I had to be observed by my boss and my colleagues, and then we discussed what worked and what didn't. An outside eye is super helpful, and again, hearing someone else explain a concept helps you solidify your own understandings. Maybe these are built into the environment of the studio for which you work, maybe not.

Those are the ones I can think off at the moment. As I said, some of these have been mentioned, but I hope my two cents are also worthy of at least consideration.

Congratulations again, and best of luck on your dance journey!

Wow! Thank you, this was a lot of great information!

And thank you for the congrats :)) I am SO excited. I have been wanting to be an instructor for maybe 2 or 3 years and wasn't ready for a while. Now I feel a little more ready and I am really so excited


Well-Known Member
Personally, I hate that. Because what you're really saying is that I didn't do it right and that it was not good... so just tell me that, then tell me how to fix it. I don't need to be patronized, I just need clarity.
Ditto that. I know when I've done something incorrectly. Don't say something is good if it's not.


Well-Known Member
What level of students are you teaching? Brand new bronze group classes or open gold competitive students? That makes a big difference. Know what you are is very specialized....don't teach a style that you really have minimal information about. Continue to learn yourself and grow in your skills. Never, ever become impatient with a student. Students want to be corrected but in a way that facilitates their learning. The best teachers know how to do this.


Well-Known Member
Great post @Br0nze

Can't re-iterate "keep it simple" enough. If your student's eyes are glazing over, STOP TALKING. No more explanation or clarification, time to just do it. You can always flesh out concepts afterwards, but dumping an ice water bucket of info on them all upfront is sometimes just a waste of water.

Re: the "empty cup" metaphors.... not all your students will be coming in with an empty cup just waiting to be filled. They may have previous experience (ballroom or not) and ingrained habits, some personal issue may be bothering them that day that needs to be sussed out or addressed up front first... you may have to dump out their cup, or part of it, before you start filling it with your content. Just be aware that you're not always dealing with a blank slate.


Well-Known Member
When a student is doing something wrong, don't simply say "Don't do bad-thing." That is unhelpful. What's the student to do with that, to keep from doing bad-thing? Put an explosive belt around their waist and detonate?

Instead say "Instead of doing bad-thing, do good-thing. Because explanation." The "because" part might be optional for those who, unlike me, are not analytical engineers.

Dr Dance

Well-Known Member
Are you up for the NUMBER ONE tip? Always maintain a gentle sense of humor. As an example, check out dance instructor Lawrence Welk on his TV show in the 1950s:



Well-Known Member
Are you up for the NUMBER ONE tip? Always maintain a gentle sense of humor. As an example, check out dance instructor Lawrence Welk on his TV show in the 1950s:

late 1970s. This show was for many years one of the few places on tv where you could see partner dancing, btw. Great music, too....

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