Back to Dance: Starting Your Year on the Right Foot

It's that special time of year when the kids head back to school, and studios and teachers across the country kick off a new dance season.  As teachers, it's our job to start the year off on the right foot!  Whether you're jazzed about the new year or exhausted from a busy summer, the first few weeks of a class are crucial to a ensuring your best year yet.

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Here are three important reminders that will bring you a more successful season:

1.  Set the tone.  You set the tone of your classroom.  The energy, structure, and connections that you bring to the first class will set the tone for the rest of your year. 
 - Come to class with a positive attitude.  Showing your love for dance and your love for your students in the first weeks will inspire them to work harder in class, for themselves and for you.  Research shows that students work harder for teachers they like and respect -- make sure that you're one of those teachers.
- Make your fundamental rules clear and enforce them in a positive, yet constructive manner.  You can't and shouldn't cover all the bases on day one, but you can choose your three most important rules to present and enforce throughout the class.  For younger dancers, I choose:  Listen to the teacher, Keep your eyes on the teacher, and No touching other dancers.  For older dancers, I remind them of three rules that can be expanded later and that apply to every single class they'll ever take:  Respect yourself, Respect your classmates, and Respect your teacher. 

2.  Be consistent.  Being consistent in the first class is both difficult and essential to your success.  It can be hard to follow your regular class structure on day one, but your dancers' expectations will be derived from what happens in their first class so you have to set yourself up to succeed. 
- Follow your regular class structure.
- Give dancers gentle warnings and reminders if their behavior is out of line.
- Establish clear expectations.  Instead of introducing a long list of rules, take the first day as an opportunity to verbalize your expectations throughout the class.  As you teach a combination, tell dancers whether you expect them to practice with you as you teach.  When you line dancers up, verbalize how you'd like dancers to travel across the floor.

3.  Make connections.  As teachers, we can get caught up in the content and technique of our dancers who are coming back from summer dance programs or from months of vacation.  You might be feeling rushed with the hustle and bustle of the first week.  Slow down.  There will be weeks and months to come during which you'll be able to do that extra tendu combination or that tricky petit allegro you prepped before class.  Save your extras for another day.  Take the time to smile and make eye contact with your little ones.  Stop for hugs before and after class if your students offer them.  And take the time to tell your older students how happy you are to see them back in dance.  Personalize your feedback throughout the class.  If you notice that a student has made progress over summer, let him/her know.  Show them that you see each and every one of them and that you value them as students and individuals.

Best of luck to all the teachers and studio owners out there! 
Have questions about getting your year off on the right foot?  Feel free to comment and I'll answer asap.