The Teacher

The TeacherThe mediocre teacher tells,
The good teacher explains,
The superior teacher demonstrates,
The great teacher inspires.
– William Arthur Ward
Dance teachers are much more than ex-dancers passing on their craft. We are educators in so many ways and our multi-talented skills can often be undervalued by the public, parents and students themselves. The hours we put into our art goes well beyond the hours we spend in front of our students and when it comes down to the actual teaching component, it is easy for us to fall short of our talents of inspiring the passion of dance within our students due to creative burnout.
Within our dance industry we have a variety of teacher training programmes all generally aimed at learning a methodology and refining our skills on critiquing our students’ technique. However not only do teachers of dance need to become an expert in dance technique, they also need to become skilful at working with different personalities and knowing how to get the best out of every student. What motivates one student might dis-empower another. This is where teaching every student as an individual by learning how to communicate in terms of the dancer’s values is incredibly important.
The above quote by William Arthur Ward demonstrates 4 levels of awareness in teaching and for us dance teachers all levels of teaching are required – from telling to explaining, demonstrating and inspiring. But what makes a teacher amazing, memorable and most motivating to their students, is one who knows how to transform the body and the mind of the dancer! This is a skill that all teachers have within them, but few realise or know how to do.
First, let’s define the 4 levels of teaching described in this quote:
The mediocre teacher is one who projects their values onto their students and expects their students to ‘fit in’ and absorb all the knowledge imparted by their teacher without question or thought. As much as telling is a big part within teaching to stay in this level and use it as your primary teaching basis is ineffective to the whole development of your student.
At this level students risk subordinating themselves to their teachers values and ideals where they associate being the ‘best’ with gaining their teachers approval. This can create disempowered students if teachers fail to grow beyond this level as students will continually place their self worth in the hands of their teacher.
The Good Teacher Explains is one who has evolved from the base level of telling and begins to explain the ‘why’ of what they are teaching. This is the first step to opening up communication with the student. For example when a teacher explains why having correct posture and “lengthening both sides of the body equally” will develop safe dance practice (providing benefits of correct technique and longevity of career) students are becoming involved in their learning process. The teacher has linked the benefits of their particular teaching which opens up the students to a better understanding of ‘dance’ and to think laterally.
The Superior Teacher Demonstrates Is the ability to demonstrate and give students examples of what you are teaching through using yourself as the example. This is not limited to physically demonstrating technique. Teachers demonstrate their self discipline, time management, self purpose, personal fulfillment by simply living it themselves. Students are learning much more than ‘dance’. They are learning how to operate successfully in the world by modeling the practices of their teachers, mentors and parents.
The Great Teacher Inspires is a teacher who teaches from a holistic approach. They have the ability to tune into their students, learn their student’s values, understand their mindset and help their students work through fears that may arise in pursuit of their goals. These teachers are masters and have the tools to move their students from one level of ability to the next because they are working with all elements of the student not just their physical ability. These “great” teachers inspire through seeing the potential of their students ability unfolding even when the student cannot.
You are a great teacher and have within you the ability to take your students to the next level. The most simple and effective way to do this is remember the magic of you, your unique flare and most importantly why you fell in love with the art of dance and teaching. Ultimately we dance for the feeling we experience when we move to the rhythm of the beat, just like we teach for the feeling of seeing our students shine!
Dance teachers are amazing and greatly impact on their student’s lives. The more teachers are feeling fulfilled within themselves, the greater impact they will have on their students. Dance teachers are much more than teachers of dance… they are teachers of life!
Yours in dance and life
Kate Histon
P.s. Stay tuned for next months tips on the power of communication!
© Copyright Kate Histon 2008.
Kate Histon is an international consultant and facilitator in the field of human behaviour for performers. She is the owner and director of Dance Dynamics Theatrical & Performance School in Byron Bay and a certified ballet teacher through the Royal Academy of Dance For more information on Kate’s services visit