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  • Nichola Johnson

Dance Training: the good, the bad, the ugly

"Learning to walk sets you free. Learning to dance gives you the greatest freedom of all: to express with your whole self the person you are." -Melissa Hayden-


The problem is not all dance training gives you the freedom to express yourself. Anyone can teach dance. Anyone can open a dance studio. Anyone can stage a performance. The challenge with this is that anyone, with any credentials, and any kind of mindset can teach and shape your child. There are no licenses or regulations on the dance studio business, and unfortunately for many it is just that - a business. The dance industry has become something that would make Martha Graham roll over in her grave. Many studios teach children to imitate a teacher and dance to a song, which is a wonderful thing - don't get me wrong, but they are missing the key ingredient of dance. Dance is an art form, it is an expression of self and a process in which to find oneself. Dance is about speaking through your body and sharing your story with others. Dance is a legacy with a rich history from pioneers who have shaped what we now know as movement.

Many teachers are not equipped to teach. Yes, I realize that is a bold statement. Not sharing the history of dance with your students is doing them a great disservice. Not understanding that a child is missing out on formative years of expressive development, if not given the chance to speak THEIR story through their movement at a young age is a HUGE disservice to students. Focusing on a trophy or a costume or a trick is completely missing the point. Not teaching an authentic technical vocabulary (ballet, modern, west african, jazz, latin, tap, etc,,,,), but instead teaching an uninformed variation on technical concepts is just simply unfair to those that believe they are receiving a quality dance training.

I have been teaching for over 20 years. I have learned from the best and the worst and I have constantly questioned and refined my own teaching practice. I teach dance to college students from all walks of life. I work with young adults that become so frustrated with the training they received as a child, once they step into the college sector. So often I hear, "my teacher never taught me HOW to do things, just showed me what to do", "I have never choreographed anything and I am scared now to do it", "wow, I have been doing this wrong all my life and my teacher never said anything", and the one that hurts my heart the most "Oh, I didn't know dance was an art". What?!! These poor dancers, they are so hungry and eager and want so much to learn! To that I say, if you are going to call yourself teacher, then you best put the work in and learn your material because you are monumental in the development of your students and they deserve the very best you can give them.

Teaching dance is not a hobby or a fun past-time, it is a profession that holds great responsibility on many levels. Dance teachers are, not only helping to mold the development of young bodies, they are making lasting impressions on growing creative minds, and even more importantly, they are a significant part of their students' journey in developing self-confidence and awareness.

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