What is your dance teacher REALLY thinking?

Your dance teacher. Your crazy, quirky, energetic, imaginative dance teacher. You see them day in and day out at the studio and in many cases outside of the studio for performances, competitions, recitals and more. Most would even venture to say that their dance teacher is more like family than just someone who teaches them how to dance. Together you will likely experience many highs and lows as you advance through your dance training. From the celebratory moments after a great performance, to the sometimes frustrating and grueling rehearsal days, it goes without saying that your dance teacher is perhaps a very important part of your life.

We all have had those moments in class where you’re just not sure what your teacher is thinking. I remember as a student always wondering what was going on in the back of my teacher’s minds. Did they think I was doing a good job? Did they put me in the back because I’m bad at this part of the choreography? I am having such an off day and forgot my dance. Are they going to be mad at me? Did I overstep my boundaries by telling them about this great song I found? Do they think I want them to use it for one of our dances? Did they really mean to put me in this dance? Or should I be in a higher level class? Ahh! So many thoughts running through my pre-teen and teenage brain!

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

Now those years have long passed and as I’m going into my 10th year of teaching I find myself wishing I could answer some of these questions (and more!) for my students. However uncomfortable the conversations may sometimes be, there are many things that I know we as instructors wish we could tell our dancer’s when it comes to things such as favoritism, being unprepared for class, class placement and even that darn show “Dance Moms.” Every now and then these types of conversations come up while at the studio, but honestly, I don’t feel that we talk about some of these subjects enough. So let’s just get it out there. What is your dance teacher REALLY thinking?

I spoke with numerous teachers from around the country (and even one from Europe) about many things that I know as teachers we wish our students knew and understood. In this two-part series you’ll see answers that touch on many subjects that frequently come up in the studio setting and hopefully gain insight on what teachers really think. I loved reading through these interesting and diverse answers and I’m sure you will too! Stay tuned for part 2 coming up soon!

Happy Dancing,

Miss Alex
Astound Dance Academy
Warsaw, Indiana

First off, what do teachers really think about favoritism…

That’s a tough one. I don’t think I have favorites. If you’re going across the floor in a progressions/technique class, everyone gets corrected. There are some kids that work harder, that push themselves, and that are able to handle more critiques. We unfortunately live in a time where I think kids are coddled and babied. Not everyone is cut out for the same type of critiques that we received as kids. Of course, there’s the general corrections of using your core or turn out, but I can get very specific, down to what your pinky toe is doing and how it is effecting the way you balance in a sous-sus. Not everyone can handle that. The kids that can are normally the ones that have the qualities I listed above. They come off as being the teacher’s pet, or the favorite, but no, they just work hard and are dedicated to their training. I honestly think that calling favoritism is someone’s way of making excuses for their own level of dedication to our craft. I truly love all of my dancers equally and want the most for them. But I can only want it so much for you. YOU have to take YOUR training into your own hands. We give you the tools; it’s up to you to do so. And honestly, the ones that would qualify for my favorites are the ones you least think. I like the underdogs. The ones that aren’t the best, but they give their all in every class. I love a good Cinderella story when it comes to dancers. The wrinkly, lumpy caterpillar that becomes the beautiful butterfly. I love small victories. Inch by inch, step by step, we’ll get you to where you can potentially be, but only if you let yourself get there. It’s easy to be a “favorite,’ it’s harder to stay there. All you have to do is work hard. -@DanceTchrProbs

I feel that favouritism s REAL but it shouldn’t be anywhere in dance because at times it can give false hope to the selected dancers whilst suppressing the ability of the other fellow dancers in class. I think that whenever there is favouritism in class it equals to failure as a teacher because when he/she is blindfolded as a possible artist, available options would be limited unnecessarily. Being on both sides of the coin myself, both as a dancer and as a teacher, I think that realistically, as humans, favoritism is part of our current life. You would have to deal with it in every single day of your life, be it during a regular shopping spree or whilst landing a job. The moment you understand that, you will be a positively oriented being because dance is an experience itself that teaches you other things in life. We have heard of allegations of favouritism and rivalry way too many times in dance. For instance,, in the Bolshoi Ballet theater company, Pavel V. Dmitrichenko, the former soloist was jailed for 6 years for throwing acid at Sergei Filin’s face because of alleged favouritism. A dancer’s job comes at a price of course, but dance is not made for the people to show that fighting for the respect of life is in fact part of being a dancer, that is why in my classes there is no way that there is going to be any form of favouritism even though, sadly enough, some people/parents hardly ever understand that. And of course, favouritism is very subjective. Mostly it depends on one’s very own perspective. – Eleonora Fae Cauchi

It’s based on insecurities of dancers that are always comparing themselves to others instead of focusing on being better than the dancer they were yesterday. I find something I like about all my dancers, this word doesn’t exist for me. –Miranda Heitz

“Favoritism” isn’t a term bestowed by the teacher but usually tagged to a student who always seems to be selected for demonstrations and earns verbal praise from the teacher to the exclusion of the rest of the class. And usually those students are ones who pick up combinations quickly and who portray the “ideal” dancer aesthetic. But in my class, being the one who always gets it doesn’t automatically earn you a spot in the front. In fact, I’m not concerned with who might be in front at all. It’s honest effort and humble acceptance of either achieving the skill or knowing you have work to do that matters to me. -Miss Bree L

I despise the word favoritism as a teacher…especially when it’s used as a weapon!  Naturally, human beings are DRAWN to certain people, personalities, and as teachers we are naturally drawn to the students who are giving it their all in our classes.  In most cases, that word is thrown around when it comes to the opportunities given to the same kids, the front line, and the kids who receive “special parts”.  Instead of giving the child credit for all of their hard work, the teacher is accused of favoring them, when in actuality every student takes the same class, with the same teacher, and has the same amount of hours.  It’s up to the student to take it from there!  -Kaelyn Gray

Favoritism can definitely be an issue within the studio. Whether it is an unfounded claim made by a parent or student or it is truly happening, it can be detrimental for all involved. I am constantly checking my actions making sure I am giving equal attention to all of my students. I also demand that the dancers support ALL of their teammates as well! –Jen Timberlin


And how do teachers really feel when you make suggestions (music, choreography, etc.) to them…

I welcome music suggestions!  I can never get enough music on my Ipod and Spotify account!  But I make it very clear that just because I ask for your suggestions does not guarantee I will use them in class.  I may simply listen to them on my personal time.  I find a good way to get their suggestions into the classroom setting is through the warm up exercises. Choreography is a little trickier because I generally am very inspired by the music to do certain choreography.  So the choreography that I create is very person to me. Honestly, I take it personal when a student doesn’t like the choreography and suggests something different.  It’s almost like they didn’t like a certain part of me and they are trying to change it.  But, when those situations come up, I try to ask myself “Would that be new for you instead of doing something you already know?”  If it’s like a transition move or a pose then I am more open to student suggestion and spontaneous outbursts.  If a dance student can’t share his or her creativity and ideas with their teacher then there is not a lot of evidence of learning on the teacher’s part.  Dance class should provide a space to have a conversation of movement between the teacher and student. Teachers can listen to the other party.  That does not mean that the teacher has to change what they were doing and do it, it just means that they can listen and ponder. -Ashlee McKinnon

I just giggle, stop them and say “That’s why they pay me the big bucks, but I like your creativity” or “I’ll have to look up that song” Future choreographers don’t need to be squashed but they need to respect their teachers. They’ll have a time when they can be a choreographer, but for now they just need to be sponges. -Miranda Heitz

Students often give their opinions or suggestions about music, choreography, or things that we should do in the studio in general. I always listen to them and I do take their thoughts into consideration. I do remind them that I am the dance teacher and they came to me to learn how to dance,   learn how to choreograph, and learn how to be a part of the experience. There’s often not too much said after I explain that. -Ami Dowden-Fant

I don’t think that a student means anything negative by doing this, or is trying to imply that they don’t trust your judgment. I can see how this would be felt by an instructor, though. Creating choreography is such a personal thing, and most do not want anyone else to crush that. I usually respond by saying, “THAT’S an idea” and leave it at that. Whether or not I use the idea depends on if I “feel” it. I definitely have to feel it to choreograph to it. Sometimes the best choreography/ideas come from inspiration from others. – Maryjo Lipowski-Leatherbarrow

OK…I APPRECIATE the ideas, and I don’t mind music suggestions at all (my students have excellent taste in music!!). HOWEVER, when it comes to choreography, um no. Especially if their suggestions are cooler than mine! Haha! There have been exceptions, because I believe we are raising our future choreographers and teachers.  As long as I’m giving them direction to create (i.e. “I need you to figure out a clean transition to this cluster…”I need you to figure out this partner thing”) that is ok in my book.  The worst feeling is when you create an 8 count and they say “I feel STUPID DOING THAT.” Or the worst, “I CAN’T DO THAT.”  Burns me to the core. -Kaelyn Gray

In my experience, most suggestions given to me by my students are thoughtful and inquisitive. To me, it shows a budding interest and curiosity in another aspect of the craft that they are learning. They are thinking of a future time when choreography will be their decision and are excited by that. And based on that, I’m not going to cut them down or shrug off their ideas. Instead, I thank them and affirm what they’ve said. However, if a student offers her/his opinion with a side of sass, then I’m going to smile and reply simply that when they are the teacher, they can choreograph how they please. -Miss Bree L.


We all know THAT show….What do teachers really think about ‘Dance Moms?’

I have mixed feelings on this subject. I honestly think the show has made dance more popular among students. More kids are interested in learning to dance. I think the show is ridiculous and inaccurate. I believe that Abby used to be a good teacher. Hard on the kids but still a genuine love for them and now I feel as if fame has gone to her head. I don’t see the show lasting much longer. -Jamie Wallace  

Dance Moms portrays an individual who is never filmed doing any kind of a dance motion at all, or actively correcting her students. Instead, what is presented to a public who may have no knowledge of the dance world is an authoritative figure whose only design, it seems, is to verbally cut down her dancers. She plays upon emotions and fears and pride and self-centeredness to an extreme level. She is not a true teacher in any sense of the word. -Miss Bree L.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t like Dance Moms. I mean, who doesn’t love a drama filled reality show?! I watch it every week. Mostly to live tweet for my followers, but I watch to see what is going to happen next. Who’s gonna lose it this week?! I have actually had the opportunity to be involved with the show, so it was nice to see how it actually goes down. Yes, some stuff is scripted. But I have to admit that there is no way that all of these women and children are that phenomenal of actresses to have these huge blowouts and emotions at beck and call. When the show first started out, I was a huge fan of the portrayal of the dance teacher for mass media. We give corrections, we say ridiculous things, and sometimes, we do have to yell. Unfortunately, I think it has turned into something nasty. Do I think Abby has the best interest for her dancers? Absolutely. Do I agree with how she goes about it? Not always. We all know that there are times that we are so frustrated with giving the same correction over and over that we get incredibly frustrated and get loud. It happens. We can’t deny it. -@DanceTchrProbs

I am not a fan of “Dance Moms.”  Yes, I have watched it, and yes I get caught up during down times and have found myself engrossed in an entire season while binge watching, but I do not like how it portrays a dance teacher, the relationship of a dance teacher and students, the amount of work it takes to become a high-caliber dancer, or the positive and safe atmosphere of a dance studio/classroom.  Dance Moms gives a false representation of dance teachers because it shows teachers as “ordering” kids to do movement and telling them how to feel and what to look like and how to express themselves.  It also shows dance teachers are being hands off as Abby Lee never demonstrates the movement, corrects body alignment in a hands on manner, or even takes interest in the child beyond their presence in the studio.  I also do not appreciate how the students come to the studio and speak only about the “fear” they have of missing class, being late, going on a school trip, or not being 100% in class.  Dance studios, classrooms, opportunities, etc. should be a safe haven for students to express themselves freely, and enjoy the movement that comes from their own bodies.  It should not feel like a burden to their psyche or something that oppresses how they are and what their other interests and desires are.  As a child, I was very active in dance class (going multiple times a week, being on a competition team in multiple styles), but I also was able to cultivate my desires and interests to play sports (volleyball, softball, soccer, basketball), play piano, participate in girl scouts, go to summer camp (dance camp, girl scout camp, adventure camp), take vacations with my family, and see my friends.  Dancing gave me the freedom to express myself in all things, not the fear that they would interfere with the expectations of my teacher.  I am not a fan of Dance Moms at all (but I will give props to whoever choreographs her work. It is good choreography and the students themselves are sound technical/talented dancers. I will not take those two things away). -Ashlee McKinnon

I watch the show Dance Moms often. I believe that it sets a negative tone of how a dance teacher’s relationship should be with the parent and/or the dancer. Unfortunately Dance Moms displays a lot of favoritism and a lot of verbal abuse when it comes to dance teachers and dance students. The dancers are very beautiful, but they are also very one-dimensional and not as diverse physically. I believe that Dance Moms is such a poor representation of the average dance studio in a community, but because of its great success across the world we are forced to use it as a reference to get people to understand dance in general. For that reason it has brought a lot of people to dance that would have not walk into a studio on their own and for that we have to be thankful. -Ami Dowden-Fant

Gain any insight? Have any questions you’d like to ask a dance teacher? Let me know! But for now, stay tuned for Part Two…

Who are our teachers? We interviewed teachers from all over the country (and even Europe). Find out more about them!

Miss Bree L. has been teaching dance for 14 years and is currently teaching at Aspirations Dance Company in Lombard, Illinois.

@Dancetchrprobs is an anonymous Twitter account (with over 6,500 followers) who dishes on all of the things that many dance teachers wish they could say but can only think. Follow them for some great humor and insight into the dance world today.

Jamie Wallace is the owner of Extreme Dance Arts in Saginaw, Michigan. You can find more information about her and her studio at http://www.extremedanceartssaginaw.com/home.html.

Kaelyn Gray has been teaching for 15 years and in addition to teaching at her home studio in Cincinnati, she is also busy creating and promoting her cutting edge tap dance tutorials that you can find online at http://www.tapdancetutorials.com.

Jen Timberlin has been teaching for 12 years and is currently the owner of Starstruck Performance Company in Auburn, Indiana. Find more about her studio at http://www.starstruckperformanceco.com.

Miranda Heitz has been teaching in all styles of dance for the past 18 years. She is currently instructing at Dance and Circus Arts of Tampa Bay and Florida West Ballet Company. She is also a guest artist with The Brandon Ballet Company in Brandon, Florida.

Ami Dowden-Fant is from Richmond, Virginia and is the Artistic Director of River City Dance & Performing Arts Theatre. Check out more at rcdance.org,

Maryjo Lipowski-Leatherbarrow has been teaching for 26 years and currently teaches at Dance Fusion, AZ Eutopia Fitness and Dance, AZ Conservatory of Dance and AZ Brick’s, all of Arizona.

Eleonora Fae Cauchi is a dancer, teacher, and choreographer currently residing in NYC. She also is busy running her dance studio, which is located in Gozo, a small island in Europe.

Ashlee McKinnon has been teaching dance for 7 years and is the HS Dance Teacher at Capital City PCS in Washington, DC.

4 thoughts on “What is your dance teacher REALLY thinking?

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