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Re: Scared new ballroom teacher seeking suggestion
Posted by Ralph
6/16/2008  11:59:00 AM
Well, I'm certainly not going to tell you that you're "not qualified" to teach the class without knowing more (or, for that matter, tell you that you *are* qualified...). Your situation might be reminiscent of lemons, and the ease of making lemonade isn't quite clear to me.

But, to take an pragmatic approach to the situation you *are* in, some thoughts/questions/suggestions:

What is your "other dance experience," for one thing? What are your *teaching* skills, as opposed to pure dance skills? How many classes are you teaching -- is the ballroom class one of three - or one of twelve? etc, etc. If ballroom/dancesport were a major part of the enrichment program, it seems logical your knowledge/skill would have been a subject of the interview in your hiring process. And -- if you're a youth filling a summer job, expectations may be quite different than if, say, you're a professional instructor in some other form of dance.

A "summer enrichment" program, together with the age group you're teaching, makes it sound likely you're teaching a group which has little-to-no dance experience. Even if there is an experienced student or two in the mix, you have to be teaching to the class as a whole -- to the lowest common denominator, or close to it. (Incidentally, if you DO have an advanced student, you may be able to recruit them to HELP you teach the others....)

As someone else suggested, I would talk to your supervisor about the situation. What are his/her expectations? If you're not right for the job, its best for both of you - and the students - to find that out ASAP. But remember that with the range of courses being taught (and perhaps what they are willing to pay ), if the "boss" had to do it all over again, you might still be their best (or even "only") choice for the job. The course title -- is the accent on dancesport or on the health benefits of dancesport? Are you teaching "serious" dance students, or is this a "recreation" program? Do you have control over the syllabus, in whole or part? Can you limit yourself to one or two dances, or are you required to cover "all" of them? How was the class marketed to the students and their parents? How much of your dance experience is relevant to ballroom - for example, many ballroom positions are taken from ballet, even unto their names....

Without knowing a whole lot more than I do at present, it's very hard to give solid advice on how to structure your class. I will tell you, briefly, what I do with my classes -- which are rife with those who have never danced before. And, if your curious, I am not a *great* dancer, and there are probably plenty of folks on this Board who would sniff and say I'm not qualified to teach. Maybe so. I'm a social dancer, one who would probably be somewhere in the mid- or maybe, just maybe, an advanced-bronze level of dance. I also teach "enrichment" classes, though for adults - children taking my classes are rare, and the lowest age I've had to deal with is a middle-schooler, so I don't know how to address the complications young children can sometimes present. My classes are also much less intensive than yours, meeting once a week for 2 hours or so, for 5-6 weeks -- and the classes also typically focus on one dance at a time (i.e., an entire 6-week course would be on tango, and another course totally about waltz, etc.)

The classes seem to be both successful and popular. Why? I think in part it's due to the attitude I project: I clearly love what I'm doing, and I don't hesitate to let that shine through. I know more than my students 99% of the time, and I'm good at TEACHING what I do know (I'm sure everybody reading this thread is familiar with one or more great dancers who couldn't teach a rug to lie still). I use my quirky sense of humor a lot, which is something which might be more tricky with kids - I don't know.

The first class is very simple, confidence-building stuff, on the level of "dance is just walking to music, and you've been walking most of your life." I cover the history and characteristics of the dance, and teach perhaps two of the basic steps. What it means to lead, how to follow. Proper dance hold. And the whole while, I'm beating a drum on three topics: frame, frame, and frame.

After this, you do need to know content, and I don't know what you know, what you can borrow from other dance experience, how quickly you can learn more -- or how quickly your students will learn. I've found few good books on ballroom -- though you might try "Quickstart to Tango" by Jeff Allen, which *IIRC* also discusses some of the "fitness" aspects of dance - I know he has a similar book on swing (which I've never read), and a "Complete Idiot's Guide," which I didn't find as enjoyable as the tango book -- but then, I read the tango book first.... In addition to the dance lessons you are taking, there are also videos, some on-line (such as at this site, hint-hint) some on VHS or DVD. Some might be in your own local library. Some of the Dancevision videos are designed to be complete syllabi for each dance -- though at ~$50 a pop, they're rather expensive.

You'll find that there are many identical/similar steps that cut across several dances (like the "box step") -- In my classes, I try to emphasize steps that "migrate" across dances easily. And I daresay a lot of class time is going to be eaten up by "review" and "practice."

If your students are more advanced than I've been assuming, your situation is much tougher. My best advice is to recruit a student to help, and to make the best of it.

Summing up: talk to the boss honestly about his/her expectations and your abilities. When teaching, emphasize fun, and let your passion for dance (which I figure you must have if you're teaching multiple classes) shine through. Content: emphasize simple steps (including some with turns, which everybody seems to like), and FRAME. Attitude: be positive. Remember you're in charge, and you either know more than your students, or you get help to make you so. If you make a content mistake, confess it and correct it: you're not likely to get your head ripped off (well, at least not if you're teaching adults... ) Consider explaining the situation to the students; they might be supportive, and kids may react well to a let's-learn-together approach (or not).

Hopefully, this entire situation can still turn out to be a learning experience for your students - as well as for you. Good luck.!
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