Many little girls take ballet classes when they are young. Dance is a timeless activity that involves discipline, strength, grace and dedication. Most people think of little girls in pink tutus when they think of ballet classes. But what about the dance teachers?
Many parents put their kids into dance class for fun when they are younger, and some kids may even grow up to love dance. I was one of those kids who grew up in the dance studio from the time I was 4 until I graduated high school, and I still go to the studio whenever I can. When I was about 14, I started teaching dance.
I have taught dance now for about six years, and let me tell you — it's not easy! Many people have the misconception that dance teachers are just babysitters in a big open room and wear funny tight clothes while speaking words the kids don't understand.
I suppose some dance teachers let the dancers run around wild during class, but where I grew up, dance teachers and dance itself are to be respected by paying attention and following directions. When you have 10 energetic 4-year-olds, teaching them the discipline required to be successful in class (and to keep your sanity) is not the simplest task.
It's not just the toddlers that are hard to manage either. When kids get to be about 7 or 8, they often get frustrated with what you are trying to teach them. Some studios allow the kids just to fool around in class and are not worried about what the child's technique will look like when they are older. From my experience, it's very important to make sure each child understands what he or she is doing, not only for making the recital dance look good but for the kids to feel like they are cared for and special. Being a positive role model for kids is especially important at this age.
By the time dancers are in middle school, their friends are at the dance studio. At this point, dancers usually understand what kind of dedication it takes to be a successful dancer. Many kids decide to quit and pursue school clubs, sports, etc. This is really where kids have to decide to be a serious dancer or to just do it for fun, if they continue at all. This stage is especially difficult for the dance teacher, as they must be supportive of their students, even when they choose to do something else with their free time.
There are also many middle schoolers who don't want to be in dance classes but their parents make them go anyway. When students don't want to be in class, it's difficult to get them to do what you want them to do. Learning technique is hard enough, but having students fighting against learning technique only makes the teacher's job harder.
In high school, many dancers are on competition teams or participating in many recital pieces. These kids have stuck it out since a young age. This is a critical time in a person's life. Being a dance teacher comes with a responsibility to these dancers to make sure they are not only getting good training that will prepare them for a career in dance if that is what they so choose, but also learning the discipline required to be good at something or to do something professionally.
Being a dance teacher is not just about teaching a certain style of dance; it is about teaching a way of life. Many young dancers become passionate about dance, an art form which can tell stories, raise awareness, provide comfort and change the world. Teaching the skills necessary to do these things is only one small part of the job. Most dance teachers I know pour their hearts and souls into their work, spending countless hours outside of the classroom to make their students the best they can be.
Being there for your students, not yelling at them when you want to, keeping your cool when you're about to lose your mind, losing sleep over trying to find the perfect song for a group, coming in on your day off to work a little extra with a student, being attacked by hugs when you enter the studio and truly caring about every dancer you ever taught to plié or pointe their toes is really what the job is about.
I know my dance teacher has had a huge impact on me, and I can only hope that I have the same lasting impact on others. I am a dance teacher, and that does NOT make me a babysitter. To my students, I am a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a support system, a cheerleader, a confidant. I am a dance teacher, and that makes me pretty awesome.