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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Teaching Dance in Community College

A lot of people have asked me what it's like to teach dance in a community college environment. Well… it's completely different from teaching dance in a studio environment.

In a studio, you get students who want to be there, but you also get those whose parents want them to dance, those who feel they are supposed to continue dancing because it's what they've always done, and those students who think it's the "it" thing to do. You have to deal with students who think they're better than everyone else, overbearing parents, parents who don't pay on time, or at all, and many other stressors. I owned my own studio for about 3 ½ years. Probably the most stressful job I ever had.
I'm not saying teaching at a community college is any better or worse. It's just different.
First, your students are different. Sure you still get the ones like at a studio, but you also get those who have always wanted to dance, they just never got the chance. Most of the time, they are brand new beginners, and you have to start from square one. The trick is, they aren't 3-5 years old. They're 18-20. This makes it easier and harder.
How so? Well, it's easier because you can present more complex ideas to them without having to break it down into terms a young child would understand. Also, they want to be there. They've always wanted to take a dance class, and this is, often, they're only opportunity. You can also push them a little harder, and cover more ground in a shorter amount of time. It's harder because you're dealing with absolute beginner adults.
In my level 1 classes, I'm usually dealing with a group of students who are pretty much all on the same level. Sometimes I'll have a student or two who have had some dance before, and I try to push them a little more. Give them a little more advanced variation of the combination to work on. But, for the most part, I have a level 1 class of true beginners. I love these classes because everyone is in the same place. I can structure each lesson as a whole.
In my level 2 classes, it's a bit different. I will have students who range in level from those who've had our level 1 and want to continue taking classes and advancing, to those who've been around and taken the class for two or more semesters, to those who've had studio training and are well-advanced. These classes are a little more complicated to plan for, as I have to make sure everyone is being challenged. Often, that means two or more variations of the same combination. It can get kinda complicated for me sometimes, but I'm determined to make sure every student will get something out of class.
In my level 1 classes, I'm looking for an understanding of the concepts presented. I really want them to have a good grasp of the steps and positions/poses presented. I want them to feel comfortable enough with the material they can perform in our end-of-the-semester performance with ease. I want the choreography for their piece to reflect a level 1 curriculum, and be pretty and elegant. I want them to feel like they have truly accomplished something.
For my level 2 classes, I want them to feel challenged. To gain a deeper understanding of the genre they are studying. I want their piece to reflect more complex movement, and all that can be accomplished with additional study. Plus, I want it to be pretty and elegant and, sometimes, cutting-edge.

All-in-all, teaching dance at a community college is frustrating, liberating, complex, enjoyable, and, above all, rewarding. It is so satisfying as a teacher, to see your students on stage, performing, and having fun. To see that sense of accomplishment on their faces is heart-warming.
I am one of those few people who can truly say "I love what I do." I look forward to each day I spend teaching. I love being able to share my knowledge with those who want to learn it. Seeing someone who started the semester feeling awkward and unsure of themselves get up on that stage and own it… well… there are no words to describe it. Heart-warming doesn't come close, but it's the only thing I can think of to come even close to accurately describing the feeling.
So, if you have a passion for something, and want to inspire and touch people's lives, I suggest teaching at a community college. The rewards definitely outweigh the frustrations.