A dance teacher communicates theory and practice of any one of a number of dance disciplines to students.
Since time immemorial humankind has danced. Be it for celebration, social interaction or to express a deeper concept related to the human condition that is inexpressible through other means, dance is inextricable from our existence in the same way as music and conversation.
Over time, dances have become highly complex and specialised, often taking years of training in order to reach an intermediate level; other times they are simple and to be enjoyed as part of a group celebration. We rely on dance teachers to show us the steps and begin to bring out the potential in our bodies.
With a greater emphasis on personal development and more leisure time than ever before, more and more people are turning to dance classes as a means of keeping fit, meeting new people and discovering more about themselves.
Popular forms of dance being taught today include:
- Contemporary dance
- Ballroom dance – foxtrot, ballroom, salsa, merengue, cha cha.
- Latin dance – salsa, samba, forro, lambada, tango.
- Urban dance – breakdance (B-boying), capoeira, street dance, jazz, tap dance.
- Traditional dance – Scottish reels, Irish dancing.
Working as a dance teacher means working freelance in most cases. Income is based upon the number of classes given and the frequency, as well as the number of people who attend. With experience and time, a dance teacher’s reputation may grow, leading to potentially higher income.
- A dance teacher just starting out earns about £30 per hour or class, working one or two hours a day.
- An experienced dance teacher may teach several large classes a day, each netting upwards of £50.
- A well known choreographer can command around £60 per head for workshops with perhaps 20 people in attendance, in addition to regular classes and appointments as a choreographer for particular dance pieces or shows.
A dance teacher is responsible for the following:
- Leading a safe warm-up prior to dance class to minimise the risk of injury and facilitate good practice.
- Explaining and demonstrating individual movements, sequences and concepts to dance students.
- Documenting students’ performance, providing feedback and advice outside training times.
- Researching and developing their own skills.
- Creating original pieces of choreography and communicating these to students.
- Teaching the theoretical aspects of dance and movement in a classroom setting.
Normally dance teachers come from a background of being dancers themselves and may become teachers due to their own high skill level and desire to pass this on to others. To study for a qualification in classical or contemporary dance you would need to have a minimum of 5 GCSEs and a couple of A-levels.
To teach dance in schools you need to have a qualified teacher status (QTS); more information is available at the TDA. Alternatively you can study for a PGCE, a one-year teacher training programme in addition to a dance qualification.
The Council for Dance Education and training (CDET) has a list of vocational dance courses here.
For classical and contemporary dance courses check with individual organisations such as:
For ballroom qualifications and many other types of freestyle dancing check with the IDTA International Dance Teachers Association
For a successful career a dance teacher must possess the following personal attributes:
- Excellent ability in their personal area of expertise.
- Excellent anatomical knowledge.
- Patience and an ability to communicate movement to people of all abilities.
- Ability to keep control over a large class of people.
- Friendly and sincere, good at networking.
- Good organisational skills, if self-employed.
Dance teachers normally work from within a dance studio or classroom setting. This may be in a children’s school, a specialised dance school or a privately hire studio.
Hours vary according to the setting, with school classes taking place during the day and private classes in the evenings and at weekends. As a result, hours can be long with early starts and late finishes. Additional commitments, such as performances and one’s own training, add extra fatigue and mean that a dance teacher’s daily existence can be very tiring. With this amount of activity, injuries are common and must be dealt with immediately in order to minimise the impact on further learning and income.
First and foremost, a dance teacher must be highly experienced in all aspects of dance – performance, choreography, body conditioning and training.
For the teaching aspects of the job any experience working with groups of young people or adults is beneficial. Shadowing a dance teacher to gain experience or working as a teaching assistant is beneficial and often a natural part of the dance learning process.
Major employers of dance teachers are schools where a dance class or two a week may be part of the curriculum. Besides that, sports centres and dance schools offer rooms for hire by dance teachers of a variety of fashionable disciplines such as ballet, capoeira, salsa, samba and street dance.
It is common for professional dancers to become dance teachers once they have amassed enough experience or reached a point in their careers where it is the next logical step.
Experienced dance teachers may go on to develop their own particular style or movement concepts and put these into performance. Thus they become dance choreographers, working with any number of professional dancers to bring their visions to reality.
Also known as…
- Dance Teacher
- Ballet Teacher
- Modern Dance Teacher
What’s it really like?
Jane McLean, aged 24, is a dance teacher, performer and choreographer. She works as a graduate assistant in Laban, a highly renowned conservatoire, and also teaches in a variety of school and workshop settings around London.
How long have you been involved in the dance industry?
I’ve been working in the industry for 4 years. Recently I’ve been working at Laban, as a graduate assistant, and teaching in various different settings with children and adults. I’ve also been performing in various places and doing the odd commercial piece of work; I recently did a campaign for Caterpillar clothing.
What did you do before you became a dance teacher?
I’ve been dancing since I was 4 years old. I trained in ballet and then began contemporary when I was about 16. Before becoming a dance teacher I was training at university. I actually applied to study languages but at university I saw an incredible dance performance at the Lowry and that changed my mind. So I did my degree, a BA honours in Dance, and then a diploma in Dance Studies.
What do you do in a typical day at work?
A typical day would have me teaching half a day in a primary school in the morning, teaching dance to children between the ages of 4 and 11. Then in the afternoon I’ll do evaluation from the morning’s activities and preparation and paperwork for the coming days. Some evenings I teach a class and choreography for a youth dance company aged between 16 and 24 years old. Additionally I have to keep up with my own training. I train in capoeira four to five times a week. Choreographing my own work gets fitted in around other things, maybe in an afternoon slot, where I’ll work on pieces with one partner or more. Also I might have rehearsals for a piece I’m appearing in and/ or auditions on top of that.
What do you like about being a dance teacher?
It’s challenging and creative and allows you to use your body. It means you are doing something different every day, using your mind and your body in a different way every day. Also, when teaching, it’s really good to see that you’re inspiring people and giving them confidence to fulfil their own potential.
What do you dislike about the job?
You have to work really hard for a relatively small amount of money. You can’t separate your work from yourself because you are using your body and you can’t separate the two, so it can be quite draining. Everything that’s in it is you, so you’re exposing yourself to criticism and the strongest always comes from within, always questioning yourself, so it’s hard in that way.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
Get to know people. Talk to anyone you can and anyone you meet in the dance world. Make lots of contacts because quite often that’s what gets you work, rather than going to auditions. Try and find your niche, what makes you different from other people. Be prepared to have a portfolio career; living off dance is pretty hard so you need to be prepared to work as a dancer, choreographer, or teacher. Be prepared to have another skill or do normal jobs to actually earn you money, like working in a bar or restaurant to keep you supported.
Where do you see yourself moving next, in terms of career progression?
I’d like to do more performing. I’d like to make my teaching more research based, so teaching becomes even more for you and for the art than your students alone. Through your students you discover more about the art and find where you’re going next. That’s going to happen by working with higher level students, so in the future I want to work at university level. I also want to choreograph and produce my own work.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
Train really hard and know that you’ll have to work a lot free of charge in the beginning to get things going. Know that once you turn your hobby into a career it completely shifts everything; you won’t be able to look at it in the same way again. It’s definitely not an easy option, but it is really, really rewarding and allows you to be incredibly creative and gives you opportunities that you would never get in a regular job.
Do you mind us publishing your salary – this is very helpful for job seekers?
That’s hard to do because I’m self employed; there isn’t a salary as such. Money comes in bits from different places but an average starting salary in London is about £35 an hour. For a full day of teaching you should expect to earn about £120. Of course well known choreographers can command a lot more than that though.