The journey of becoming a professional dancer requires more than spending a few hours a day at the dance studio. It requires commitment, dedication, and tons of motivation. To instill motivation in your students, you must inspire them with each class. This guide will show you how to inspire your dance students to do better and dance at the highest level they can.
So, how to inspire your dance students? The best way to inspire dance students is to give them a common goal and purpose. Hold competitions, engage with them individually, promote on social media, assign homework outside the studio, videotape classes, and improve the environment of the studio.
I will discuss the top ways to inspire dance students in detail below. The strategies are similar to those used to inspire any group of motivated and talented individuals and the models used by inspirational leaders.
How to Inspire Your Dance Students
“How do I inspire my students?” is a common question on every dance teacher’s head. The answer is constant work, patience, and empathy.
Your job as a dance teacher is to make classes enjoyable, hold events outside of classes, and deal with students individually. The way you carry yourself during your classes will determine the success of your students and your dance studio.
You must feel compelled to instill a sense of hard work in your students because your students will be passionate about dance. If you want to push them to the next level and make your students ecstatic about dancing, there are many things you could do.
#1 Create A Common Goal
The single most potent technique to inspire any group of talented individuals is to align them around a common goal and purpose. You need to understand the needs and goals of individual students and connect them to the larger goal of the group.
Perhaps your students are working towards a national competition. Or maybe the goal could be as simple as every single student moving on to the next level. You need to voice this larger goal and provide a mission and purpose for your students.
#2 Use Positive Reinforcement To Inspire Your Dance Students
Dance teachers have to deal with the odd student who isn’t enthusiastic about dance. These students can be challenging because they won’t learn at the pace of other students, and they can even be rude.
If a student fails to follow your instructors, instead of telling them, “You failed at X” thing, take one thing they did right and reinforce that. If you praise them, this will boost their self-esteem for the moment, and they’ll want to do better. Then, they’ll listen to you.
Even if a student comes motivated, they might become discouraged when their teacher tells them they’ve failed at something. Instead of telling a student they’re not doing well, start from an improvement perspective, and help them understand how they could improve their dancing. Always talk from a praise perspective, and help them correct their mistakes by framing them as improvements.
You’ll usually teach in groups, which means certain students won’t go with the flow. Don’t single them out because this can make them feel targeted. If you need to correct them, call them after classes and spend some time with them. Remember that even if a student is slacking at a certain thing, they will have strong points which you could praise.
The student’s strong points could be the creative dances they exhibit, the way they perform in groups, etc. Whenever you see a student doing well, use the moment to praise them for a job well done. Be aware not to offer drive-by praises. This way, they’ll be a lot more motivated to listen to your instructions, and they’ll take your criticism as improvement advice rather than as an insult.
#3 Hold Dance Battles To Inspire Your Dance Students
Nothing makes students happier and more excited than dance battles. When they’re taking classes every day, students want a place to show off and something to look forward to that they could post on social media. Dance battles are the peak competition for any dance studio teaching popular genres such as pop, hip hop, R&B, and more.
The studio could host a dance battle between your studio and other dance studios in the area, or you could host individual dance battles and hand out rewards for the winners. The battles will have judges, and students will dance to the same songs to determine which students out-danced others. You can also post these dance battles on Instagram; the exposure can bring new students to your classes.
The dance battle has to follow a similar structure to other competitions. It will foster a competitive environment in your studio and push students to improve themselves.
The dances can be done in solo style or groups, progressively eliminating teams until there are only winners left.
Example: If you start with 30 students, eliminate 15. Then you’ll eliminate half more until only 7-8 students remain. After that, you hold the semi-finals and finals where you declare the winner. Typical prizes include cash, trophies, merchandise, and winner certificates.
You should time the battles, and each student should be given 30 seconds to a minute to show off their dance skills. You can also choose not to eliminate after the first round and give each student a chance at multiple rounds. The students have to show off their dance skills to the judges, and the winners get prizes.
Competitions such as these play a significant role in inspiring and motivating your competitive students.
#4 Dumb It Down To Inspire Your Dance Students
Frequently, students will refuse to learn from you or resist to make a specific move because they’re not confident they can pull it off.
To instill confidence in your students, you must de-accelerate or slow down your dance and break your instructions down piece by piece until they get it.
The students might feel intimidated or inferior if they see their teacher performing a perfect routine because they assume you expect them to be accurate, too. Some teachers like to show off, and this creates insecurity in students because they feel like they’re competing with the teacher.
Start by teaching your students in small building blocks. Instead of showing the entire dance move at once, start by breaking it down, move-by-move, and verbally explaining what you’ve done. You want to teach the dance as if you’re talking to a 7-year-old, making it easy for them to follow the instructions.
The moves that you’ve practiced hundreds of times come naturally to you, and you can hardly remember your initial hurdles. Don’t expect your students will get it right the first time. However, if you dumb down your instructions and explain moves in plain terms, you can instill confidence in your students until they can successfully replicate you.
#5 Receive Feedback To Inspire Your Dance Students
The classes will end, and the students will all get ready to go home. Before you send them to the changing room, pull the problematic students aside. This way, they don’t stand out among the crowd when all the students are present.
Once you meet them in private, ask them what bothers them and how you can help them perform better. Tell the students, “I’ve noticed you don’t like [X] thing very much. What bothers you about it?”
Your students are human. They will get tired of having to make excessive corrections if they’re always failing at something. This process makes them frustrated, and many of them want to give up.
It’s your job to stop them from giving up by addressing their issues personally and spending time with them after class to give them individual attention. Make sure to do it in a friendly and helpful tone, rather than addressing them in a commanding tone.
#6 Move Between Students
Many teachers make the mistake of instructing students verbally from one position and not touching them physically or moving directly between the students when they’re dancing. The best teachers are always in the mix, dancing with their students, or fixing their form when they’re not dancing.
You want to keep walking to encourage movement in your studio instead of standing. Students look up to you and your behavior, and if they notice you standing, they may refuse to move. To encourage constant movement, always be in the mix and always be ready to dance with your students.
#7 Separate Classes By Expertise
Make different progression levels based on how experienced your students are. The most qualified students won’t want to dance with beginner students.
You should have different classes for beginners and advanced students. It can also be discouraging for students to dance with experienced students because they’ll know they’re not at their level. The students have to feel like they can keep up with the dances and that you’re not overlooking them.
Start by restructuring your classes and accommodate your students based on their learning curve. If they learn fast and they transcend the beginner level, send them to the advanced courses. If they’re slow, keep them at the beginner level until they gain the confidence to move up.
#8 Highlight Students On Social Media
Bring everyone into the spotlight. The students want to feel that they’re individually appreciated and that they’re part of a community. This ties into praising students for progress no matter how small, instead of criticizing them. If a student does well, ask them to remember what they did and show it to you at the next class.
This focus on positivity gives the student a sense of ownership and encouragement, making them eager to show off again. Do it out loud so that everyone can hear you and other students want your validation. If one student receives praise, others will instinctively step-up their game to receive your recognition.
When you start designing new choreography or participating in media events, you should include students of all levels and create a combined dance. The dances should be challenging, but each student should be able to keep up.
When you join your classes together, you show your students that they’re all similar. Moreover, you should congratulate students when they succeed in working with different groups because knowing you’re satisfied will be very validating for the whole group.
What better way to make a student shine than to take a picture of them dancing and post them on social media? Instagram allows you to show off students on the story or directly in the timeline. The students can then re-share the story, showing it off to their friends who might not be even into dance.
Highlighting students gives your studio exposure, and it makes students feel appreciated. You can highlight students daily or select the best students every week and show them off. You can also take group pictures during classes and tag everyone. This process is an excellent marketing strategy, and it makes everyone feel like they’re part of a team.
#9 Record Videos Of Classes
One thing that makes students excited about dancing is the opportunity to be seen on live video. When you have a performance, start recording and publish the video on social media. These videos will prompt students to dance like they’re in the middle of a competition. They will look forward to this part of the class, and it will ignite their performance and bring out the best in them.
The video doesn’t have to be professional – it can be an average video you record on your iPhone.
Students don’t have an incentive to perform because no one can see them, but once the camera is on, they become dance machines. You can even change the environment while you’re recording by installing LED fixtures that light up and convert the dance studio to a nightclub.
Make the studio spectacular and make your students feel like they’re stars. They’ll not only be more eager to attend your classes, but they’ll share this experience with their friends on social media. And the more people they share with, the more students you’ll get.
#10 Find Out What Your Students Like
Analyze each student individually and notice the things they like about dance. Each student likes something about dance or they like something about your classes which keeps them coming back.
- Some students are social butterflies and only go to classes to socialize with friends.
- Others might like a portion of your classes, such as the individual performance part.
- Many students feel a thrill when they’re performing, and this might be the thing your student likes.
Know your students. The only way to make them more inspired is to know what they like. You can understand a student’s taste by engaging with them during classes. Accept that some students will not be into dance as much as others, and this is natural.
Sometimes you want to take your foot off the gas and ease the pressure on students who don’t take the classes seriously. If their enjoyment for dance classes stems from the social aspect and the validation on social media, you should highlight them more. If they like to perform and they excel in performance, give them a spotlight and let them accomplish more.
#11 Repeat Your Intentions To Inspire Your Dance Students
Many instructors assume that if they say something once, the students will get it. Dance students are typically young people, and their mind drifts off in a million different directions. If you tell them something at the start of the class, there’s a low chance they’ll remember by the time they’re out of class.
- Start by explicitly stating what you expect of students.
- If you want them to do a particular exercise, tell them the reason why this exercise helps their dance.
- Show it off visually and explain it verbally.
If you expect students to work hard for the entire 90 minutes they spend in class, tell them what reward they will get at the end. Students are motivated when they’re practicing for a competition or preparing choreography. If they don’t have anything to look forward to, they’ll be less inclined to perform better.
Many students will require more effort to perform specific dances than others. Instead of excluding them from competitions or getting tough and preventing them from performing, take your time after class and spend 30 minutes working with them.
If you only have one more happy student at the end of the private lesson, the effort will be worth it. The students have to know that no matter the hurdle, they can always come to you. Excellent teachers are available for their students around the clock.
#12 Ask Your Students Questions
Even though it’s not the dance teacher’s job to foster cognitive ability, it could help to make your students think critically during class. Instead of immediately telling students why they need to do a certain thing, you could set an example and let them think about why they need to do the thing in the first place.
Example: “We need to wear these shirts during that performance tomorrow. Why do you think we need to wear them?”. If you feel that your classes are getting too repetitive, say, “I know the classes can get boring. What would be fun to do for you?”.
The human element will separate your classes from the rest, and your students will feel like their input is valued. This human element makes them feel like they’re a part of something greater than themselves.
#13 Create Your Assessment Standards
You’re the teacher. You can set your standards and decide what’s good enough for you. Many students take it personally when they’re mastering new skills, and the teacher doesn’t take it to their liking. The student’s self-worth and ego are a part of their performance, and many feel like they’re taking on risk when they’re learning new skills.
Explain all the skills your students will obtain and how they’ll progress when they’re starting with beginner classes at your studio. Make it so that they think of progression in terms of skills they have to obtain and not random dances that they learn during your classes. Give them context for each step.
Students might want to give up because they’re afraid of risk. Don’t emphasize their overall performance but always focus on individual skills. Make them master specific skills and keep them moving with skills-based encouragement. This way of teaching will encourage your students to keep taking on risks and deriving motivation based on the progress they’re making.
#14 Give Homework Outside The Studio To Inspire Your Dance Students
Dance is a lifestyle. Your students will practice dance outside the studio, whether they’re at home, school, or on vacation. Many of the best ideas students can convey to you will come outside the studio, and you shouldn’t be afraid to assign creative homework for them. You can assign students in teams and have them practice routines which they’ll present during the next class.
If you feel that two of your students are getting along, make them partners, and tell them to prepare a dance for the next class. This process will foster community and encourage your students to work together.
How to Improve Yourself to Inspire Your Dance Students
The student is a reflection of his teacher. If your dance classes are monotonous due to the nature of the dance style you’re teaching, the main thing you can improve is yourself. Sometimes you can’t “hype” the class by inventing competitions and improving students, and the main thing you can change is yourself.
Improving yourself can change the mood of the studio because students judge teachers based on who they are.
Example: Would a teacher with only one year experience have the same authority as a teacher with 15 years of experience and many awards?
The teacher’s personality also matters. Your students will look up to you, and your mood can reflect their mood during the dance class.
Remember, you’re teaching an art form, and there’s a human element to this that isn’t present in other conventional 9-5 jobs. If you want to inspire others, you have to become an inspiring person yourself.
There are things you can do in your personal life that will make you more inspired to dance, which will reflect in your students. Such activity can make your students respect you more and be excited to attend your classes.
The best way to improve yourself is to put yourself in the shoes of the student and see what character flaws and things you would notice about yourself that you’d like to change.
There are also many other active things you could do that would improve your classes by expanding your horizons. The following are the best ways to improve yourself:
#15 Take Dance Classes Yourself To Inspire Your Dance Students
Learning doesn’t end once you become a teacher. Many teachers have their mentors and gurus they look to for guidance. Having a second person on your level or above will keep your dance in check.
One way to accomplish this is to take one or two classes a week and enroll in a dance studio that is not related to your dance style.
Taking dance classes will keep things in perspective for you and allow you to see the business from a different perspective. Even if you’re teaching hundreds of students and making a living running a studio, you could always pop into other teacher’s classes and become the student.
Taking classes will also allow you to review your teaching style because you’ll observe awesome things about other teachers you’d like to emulate yourself.
Small things such as the way they correct students could reflect in your teaching style. If the teacher conveys confidence and fixes student’s poses in a way that makes the students observe their mistakes, you could implement it in your teaching.
Even if you’re the best teacher in a hundred-mile radius, taking classes could break your routine and help you get a different perspective. When you put yourself in the shoes of a student and have their POV, you will notice things that annoy you or make you happy that you can instantly apply to your classes.
#16 Switch Up Your Dance Style
If you fixate on a particular style such as Urban Dance, it can be tough for you to branch out and try something else. Once you’re used to teaching a specific form of dance, you spend years, if not decades, perfecting it and teaching it to your students.
This niching down makes you lose touch with other possible dance styles you could be experiencing and teaching to students. Dance becomes a routine for you, and you end up doing similar choreographies and repeating the same techniques over and over.
To prevent this, try out the polar opposite classes of your current teaching style. If you teach Urban Dance, take Ballet classes. And vice-versa.
Taking the time to learn something new, even if it’s only for fun, will keep you grounded and remind you why you started dancing in the first place. You’ll develop more empathy for your students because putting yourself in the student’s shoes will remind you of what it was like to be a beginner.
Teachers are used to perfecting a particular dance style which they’ve masters to perfection, which makes them lose touch with the experience of a beginner. Don’t forget your innocence. Try something new.
#17 Buy New Wardrobe
Many teachers buy the first thing that feels comfortable, and they continue wearing it for every class. It’s not enough to feel comfortable in dance clothes – you also need to look in the mirror and see what emotions they evoke in students.
Maybe your clothes are too dark, and you want to get bright colors. Perhaps you’re over-dressing, and you need to try a minimalist style with only 2-3 pieces of clothing. Decide what works best for you and try out different variations of that.
#18 Enroll In A Different Art Class
Try a radically different version of performance art to the classes you’re currently taking. Taking dance classes isn’t a significant change for dance teachers as they’re used to dancing constantly. Their extensive knowledge allows them to adapt to different forms of dance instantly.
So instead of taking dancing classes, take acting classes. If you get better at acting, you can implement elements you learned from those classes into your dance classes. Who knows how you can use your new-found skills in exciting ways?
#19 Attend Workshops And Seminars
Dance workshops are held all over the world, and you could spend your travel productively, instead of only traveling for recreation. Sign up for workshops around the globe and see how other dance studios handle their students.
There are always new methods and ways of teaching ways that could be eye-opening for you and enrich your current classes. You could also make friends with teachers and learn from them directly. Many people travel aimlessly – make it your goal to move with a purpose.
You will feel recharged, and you will bring a lot of new ideas and knowledge to your local dance scene that might not exist yet. Maybe you decide to implement new clothes in your choreography based on things you’ve picked up abroad. Perhaps you want to change the environment and add art to your studio, making it more colorful. Watch, learn, read, and soak it all in.
If you can’t travel to a foreign country, attend a performance at your local theatre and watch how other dance studios do it. Learn from them and implement the best ideas in your studio.
#20 Get A Mentor
If you took teacher training, your teacher was your mentor without knowing it. The mentor doesn’t have to be superior to you; they only have to be someone who holds you accountable. You’re a mentor to all your students, and you keep them responsible for their performance on the dance floor.
Ideally, your mentor should be someone you look up to and someone who inspires you. If you have a teacher who is inspiring you, ask them to be your mentor and have them on call.
This way, whenever you run into issues with students, you could consult them and ask them for help. The mentor-student relationship doesn’t only last a few months; it could potentially last decades. It reminds us we’re all human, and one day, you’ll be mentoring other teachers yourself.
NOTE: I have written an article on whether dance studios need music licensing. If you run a dance studio, it is essential reading for you!
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About the author
Naz Ahm is the founder of StudioGrowth and has spent a decade growing start-ups and venture-backed companies. He writes about sales, marketing, and growth, especially in the fitness and wellness industry.
Naz has an MBA from IESE Business School and started his journey in the wellness industry when he set-up an on-demand wellness business. Naz currently resides in London, U.K.