Dancer : Maddie Welsh
Photo by : Geek With a Lens

Over my years of teaching for a variety of different studios and now co-owning my own, I have learned a lot of things. One of the most important things I have found is that good communication benefits everyone.  If there is a problem, how can it be addressed if it’s not communicated?  Ugly gossip, rumors and misinformation can occur when a parent or student asks a peer instead of coming directly to the teacher for answers.  As a teacher, one of my many jobs is to try to make myself approachable and to disseminate as much information as I can to my students and their parents about the dance world.  Here are some tools I use and things I encourage to make it easier for a dancer or parent to know where they stand as far as their progress goes and what they need to work on in order for them to be successful.

Check Lists.  At the beginning of every school year, I give each student a check list for their level that states clearly and concisely what they need to accomplish to be considered for advancement to the next level.  The check list also includes all ballet vocabulary and each term’s definitions that students need to know in order to advance.   Some of the things on the list are behavioral and some are technique based, but they are all important.  For Creative Movement, some of those things include: being able to separate from their parents, knowing not to hang on the barre, keeping their hands to themselves, demonstrating first and second position and skipping.   For advanced classes, some of those things include: being self-motivated, working on corrections without prompting, demonstrating coordination of upper and lower body including head movements, understanding that every step is important, the ability to reverse petite allegro quickly and performing well on the stage as well as in the classroom.  Every so often, a student will come to me with their check list and tell me they think they have accomplished everything on their list.  Most of the time, this is not the case, but it opens the conversation and gives us something concrete with which to discuss their progress and what they still need to achieve.

Goal Writing.  This is an exercise I do with my intermediate through advanced students after the first month of classes.  I have them write out five very specific and measurable goals that they would like to accomplish by the end of the year.  (I would like to be able to complete technically correct double pirouettes on both the right and left sides. Or I want to get my leg three inches higher in développés to the front, side and back.)  I have them keep a copy and they give a copy to me.  It is always interesting to see what each student writes.  Most of them are corrections they have gotten time and time again in class, but some are surprising.  What is going to motivate a student more than helping them to accomplish something they really want?  How will you know what those things are unless you ask? At the end of the year, I hand back their goals and they can see if they have met them or not.

Office Hours.  This is something I just started and it has worked out amazingly well; I recommend it to everyone.  We recently moved studio spaces and my office is now located where not everyone can see who’s coming and going.  I decided to post open office hours during which students could come and talk to me without an appointment.  I had a parent ask after the first month if those hours were only for the dancers, or could parents use them too?  I told her that they were open for everyone.  I feel like the open door policy has been great for the students, parents and me.   I have answered great questions and have been able to address concerns before they reached a boiling point.  Plus, I don’t have to come home late at night after a long day anymore and make phone calls.  I can take care of issues during business hours and, if no one comes, it gives me a set time to answer e-mails before going home too.   I love it when everyone wins!

Pointe Shoe Checklist.  One of the biggest questions I get from parents and dancers alike is, ‘When can I get pointe shoes?’  If the dancer is reaching the age when we begin to consider her pointe shoes, I give her a list of specifics so she can track her own progress.  If you’re interested, check it out at:

Parent Observation.  We have parent observation twice a year at my school and I use it to the utmost.  I make sure I tell the parents while they’re a captive audience about upcoming performances, summer classes or deadlines.  I also purposely let the dancers out ten minutes early and tell the parents I’m doing this so I can have time to answer any questions or address any concerns they may have.  This opens the floor to them and lets them know I’m approachable.  It also keeps the classes running on time so the next teacher can start their class in a timely manner.  If you are a parent, make the most of your time observing by reading this:

End of the Year Evaluation. Yes, I write out report cards for each student at the end of the year.  My colleagues think I’m crazy spending upwards of 40 hours filling all of them out with comments, but the parents and students find that it is vital to receive feedback.  It is also helpful to answer questions before they are asked.  They receive their report card during their last class and then, over the summer, they receive their placement for the next year.  If their report card was not glowing, then they already have the reasons why they were not moved up a level and a very specific list of things that need to be improved upon.   I rate each student on scale of 1 to 4 with 1 being excellent, 2 good, 3 fair and 4 needs improvement and I try to be as honest as possible.  Some of the categories I ‘grade on’ include: Attention Span, Attitude, Correction Retention, Choreography Retention, Performance Ability, Body Placement, Musicality, Work Ethic, Footwork, Balance, Turnout, Extension, Muscle Control, Upper Body, Coordination, Jumping Ability and Attendance.  There is also space for me to comment on each category and overall comments at the end.

Being Approachable.  I try to smile at my students and parents and greet them with a hello.  I ask them how their day or weekend was and try to engage them in everyday conversation.  However, this works both ways.  If the dancer is always coming in late, in a bad mood, tired and/or rushing off to the next activity, how can I talk to them about their goals or address my concerns in their development?   Equally so, if the parent avoids eye contact, always seems in a bad mood or never comes in the building to pick up or drop of their child, how can I approach them with issues?

 The dancer, parent, teacher relationship is such an important one and it take all sides of the equation to solve most problems.  It is so important to keep lines of communication open so that relationship can be a healthy and positive one.