Dancing USA Oct./Nov.2000
Dance Instructors Wanted: No Experience Necessary!
by Jeff Allen
The purpose of this article is meant to inspire qualitative teaching and moral business practices for those who pay for and deserve excellence in dance education. The segments of the public who can truly afford large blocks of private dance instruction without economic consequence are rare, the rest of us are generally turned off when we do have the opportunity to make the discovery of less than savory business, contract, and sales practices by dance studios and so called, professional dance instructors.
There are many of us in the profession of Ballroom, Swing, Latin, and Tango dance instruction that are moral, honest, and ethical. Additionally, and no less important, these same dance professionals are very well prepared to share their knowledge effectively during the process of dance education. These teachers of dance respect their art and their students. These students work hard to pay for their instruction. What all dance students deserve is getting a quality dance education from the first lesson.
Dance professionals and studio owners with self-respect, and respect for their students will not be offended by this article. It is my hope, that they will join me in speaking out and do whatever it takes to change many of present practices within the profession before being forced by a government agency or statutory regulation to do so. The educated consumer does not want to pay for artificial and false accolades meant to paint an insincere picture of the student’s progress as an attempt to sell more dance lessons. They simply want to learn to dance!
I have always believed that the intrinsic desire to dance, channeled into the ability to dance, becomes the love of the art. For this to occur, qualified professionals must supervise the process. If they did, we would increase the base population of students beyond our wildest dreams. For this to happen, many of the dinosaurs in our business must either adapt or like their predecessors become extinct!
The economics of dance instruction
A dance studio is a labor-intensive service business and although it may offer promotional products like jackets, shoe bags, shoes, music, videos, its major expense is labor. In addition to labor, a dance studio has a large number of fixed and variable expenses such as rent, telephone, advertising, sound equipment and recorded music. The overhead of a dance studio adds up very quickly. Unless students purchase a consistent volume of lessons each and every week, a studio can quickly go bankrupt.
Dance studios are under more pressure to make hay while the sun shines than are most other businesses. The peak operational times for dance studios, other than in cities that have a twenty-four hour business and personal lifestyle, is between 7 PM and 9 PM. Because of the very small window of peak operation, it makes perfect sense from a cost accounting view to provide as many service hours as possible during this peak period. In other words, a studio owner has an economic incentive to put as many dance instructors –experienced or inexperienced– at the same time. Think of a restaurant that is only open for two hours at lunch and must pack as many customers as possible into the dining room even if it requires diners to share a table!
Look in your local classified ads. Often times a classified advertisement appears that reads something like this: Dance instructors wanted – no experience necessary will provide training. Enjoy the wonderful and exciting world of dance as a profession! The purpose of this advertisement is to attract a particular type of applicant. Preferably, people with good looks, an effervescent personality, better than average coordination, and with little or no business experience. To some studio owners, these applicants make ideal teachers.
The core issues are cheap labor and low overheads. Because profitability is such an elusive and important target, no experience necessary teachers allow studio owners to achieve two crucial objectives. First, no experience translates into much lower compensation than experienced or highly qualified. Second, no experience necessary teachers provide the necessary manpower to generate the peak hour sales necessary to avoid bankruptcy.
No experience necessary teachers are a vulnerable group and easily exploitable. The prospect of a career in dance holds a great deal of allure. The mystique of dance exists in our intrinsic desire to do so. Instinctively we are attracted to the pure animal magnetism of the dance and the dancer. Somehow, we know from a very early age our social life, self-confidence, and success in meeting the mate of our dreams, etc. will be greatly enhanced if we can dance. In addition, right from the beginning of recorded history the manipulators and unscrupulous realized that there was the ability to control and profit from the allure of the dance.
This is why an ad that makes no sense from the logic used to select any other form of teacher makes sense. Consider: young and naive in business practices, very little if any disposable income to spend on dance training, and the boost to their ego and social life to be able to say, I am a professional dance instructor’s Good looks and an effervescent personality get these young people invited to attend a teacher and sales training Class. Business naiveté is a plus so that these Fledglings can be indoctrinated into the sales program and policies concerning just how much dancing they will be allowed to teach at that particular studio. Yes, in many instances sales and the learning curve of the students are directly related to each other. We will discuss more about this but first I want to take you through a little of the period of the new teacher’s training and what is going on in the studio while it is progressing.
Beware the manager of the studio who introduces a new instructor and says, here is your new teacher, and expert in everyway and specially trained to accommodate the needs of a new student like yourself. Often times the truth of the matter is that anywhere from three to four weeks up to three to four months ago, your new teacher answered an ad like the one previously described to accommodate the studio’s drive to increase or replace their serviceable hours.
Quite possibly, your new Dance instructor has never taken a private lesson or coaching session themselves for the purpose of their personal dance knowledge or improvement. They have never been out on the floor during a public social dance or dance competition, never lead or followed someone around a legitimately size dance floor, never even danced at a wedding and yet the dance studio still charges up to $85 per hour (rated at a full 60 minutes) or more for this person’s service!
Your new teacher really has very little to offer beyond the dance steps and the ability to flatter and ingratiate. Moreover, beginning dancers can purchase many videos for less money and more expert tutelage. The same steps that No experience necessary teachers view on specially prepared videos for training are also available to the public through books and videos produced by high quality and extremely experienced teachers. Since the inexperienced teacher (one with less than three years formal training) is still very new to the idea of teaching from a technical and kinesiological point of view, they would have great difficulty in transmitting the feeling characteristic of a dance and making and describing the necessary physical adjustments a student dancer needs to progress.
To gain some confidence and relieve the gut feeling of woeful inadequacy the new teacher works diligently on the preparation of your lesson plan. They want to teach or show you something especially in plain view of all those other students in the studio who know much more than they do. Then they hear the words, now Bob or Jane do not go out there and teach just show your students the steps, exactly as you see them on the video! Questions arise rhetorically, why didn’t someone tell me it was going to be like this. Could it be that others, students and teachers alike, in the same boat are too embarrassed to say anything? Could it be that they feel somewhat relieved or vindicated when others like blind sheep are brought into the fold?
For many of these No experience necessary teachers, they quickly find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Picture yourself being presented with an employment contract after attending a short series of sales and teacher training classes. You are enthralled with the prospect of learning on the job and dancing for a living. Imagine an employment contract with all the bells and whistles for what will most likely be a part-time job that pays on the scale of Burger King and the employment contract includes items like the pumped up value of their training (10K 20K more than they are likely to earn) along with their responsibility to pay for it if they request termination before a year of employment. It may also include a covenant not to compete within a 50-mile radius of the studio for a designated period. What matter does this make, I am a dance instructor, see a lawyer, why? Before the new sales / dance technician even is aware that they may be confronted with their own morality and self-respect they are locked in. Even if this contract were frivolous and not enforceable, where would they get the money to fight the breach?
Controlled Learning Curve
Because the No experience necessary teacher has such limited knowledge, a student’s learning curve (the amount of dance steps you have purchased or that they are allowed to show you) is designed to maximize the hype your teacher applies and minimize the frustration for you and the new teacher. This is done by maximizing the encouraging words of a, “dance professional,” and eliminating areas of dance, like traveling around the floor (progressive movement), that your teacher is unprepared to deal with.
Eventually a student will grow tired of mimicking the same few steps repeatedly and ask about learning more, only to be told additional steps are part of an additional program. All of this is a part of a well-orchestrated sales plan. If the new teacher sells you an additional block of lessons they receive a bonus commission like the insurance, and other sales intensive businesses if the new teacher cannot sell they are out or they starve.
To be sure, these new teachers are lovely people and treated their students with wonderful kindness and attention. It is the only part of the job they can perform with skill and confidence. Frequently, both new and older students, even with suspicions of something being amiss will purchase more lessons from this teacher that they want to parent, care for, or even love, more than learn dance from, the powers to be are counting on this.
Do not quit your day job! Take some lessons with the highest-level teacher you can find and learn to dance to find out if you love it. If your aptitude is terrific than approach a teacher with whom you develop a rapport. In addition, ask if you can mannequin for them on lessons or provide other services in exchange for taking classes. It may be that something you do know how to do is a required service by that teacher. You will never know unless you ask. Barter is a wonderful thing. Many terrific teachers teach large classes and this is an ideal place to start your search. Do this for a couple of years not months. Then start to think about teaching.
As I suggested earlier, there is indeed a need for competent instructors. Then the hard work begins: examinations and accreditation! The proverbial, Piece of paper, is always impressive to a new student although they may not know what it means or one organization from another, they do know the holder of such a document must have done some work and been recognized for it. A competent society that belongs to the NDCA will have independent examiners (not in your studio) that will spend several hours examining you and if you pass, provide this document.
An outside examiner rather than an in-studio test is necessary. Generally, the in-studio test is more of a promotional device for sales and administered to fledgling teachers to promote the same. These exams are easy and weak and nothing more than a mild test of memory. Join the society of your choice and then through them contact an examiner for the criteria for the exam. Today, all good examiners are familiar with both International and American styles. Their approach to the exams will be the same way in all disciplines.
Bronze may be the standard that you teach for a while, but to do so effectively, you should seek a much higher level for yourself to be effective. In many ways the floor craft and technique at the social level is more critical let’s say than the competitive. On a competition floor at least line of dance and movement is more predictable for students at the Bronze level then it is on the social dance floor. The teacher should be at least familiar with the soup to nuts, to avoid contradictions that may come up later from only a knowledge of the steps versus characteristics, leads / follows, floor craft, etc. There is NO disadvantage to enhancing your personal dance education in all disciplines, the more you learn the more problems you will be able to tackle for your students thus become a better teacher.
OK, I have posed many scenarios that exist within the inner workings of a dance studio. Some have short term, some, I am afraid, have long-term solutions, and there is as you can imagine an overlapping of consequences for new teachers and new students.
Only top-notch, accredited teachers deserve the big buck, $85 an hour private sessions. Like the commercial says, Pay me now or pay me later. Error left unchecked resulting from the new teacher’s inexperience or lack of knowledge will be born in you for a long time. The kind pat on the back followed by, Don’t worry it will get better in time, leaves you only with the empty feeling of having only error to rehearse!
Prudent students should ask the prospective teacher for a verifiable biography or resume, including professional medal tests and examination credentials since these have much more to do with teaching than just competitions. It is my hope together with this look at some of the internal workings of the dance business that these guidelines will help you select the best teaching experience your hard earned dollars can provide. In the next issue, I will continue this approach as it applies to students.