Relocating your work routine from the dance studio to your home can pose some serious challenges (after all, the bedroom isn’t exactly the ideal setting for teaching grand allégro). So, if you’re struggling to find your groove in the virtual classroom, know that (1) You’re not alone, and (2) You’re on a steep learning curve right now, so be patient with yourself.
We spoke with three dance educators—Michael Waldrop, the associate artistic director of the jazz & contemporary trainee program at the Joffrey Ballet School; Allegra Romita, a program administrator and adjunct professor in the dance education department at NYU Steinhardt; and Brandon Burnett, a former Dance Theatre of Harlem artist and adjunct dance professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County—who’ve picked up a few best practices while teaching online classes from home over the past month. Here are their tips.
Try it out
The best way to know if a lesson plan will work in the space you have—and reduce your anxiety about how the exercise will play out with your students—is to try it before class starts, says Romita, who currently teaches modern and yoga courses to undergraduate students. “The exercises I have created for my students to do online are all movement experiences that can take place in a 5′ x 5′ space.” By modifying your class to accommodate the size of the room, your students are able to perform exercises safely in their limited spaces, says Burnett.
Keep what works
Despite the change in location, there’s no need to throw out parts of your curriculum that can be done in small areas. “I always attempt to re-create what I do in the studio in my online classes,” says Waldrop. “I try never to lose this, as it is me, my energy, my connection, that I want to share with every dancer.”
By retaining what you can, you also provide your students with a semblance of normalcy, an experience grounded in rituals they’re used to doing. These holdovers help everyone in the class feel connected to the pasts they’re still mourning and to one another.
Stay open to change
It’s important—if not necessary—for dance educators to be able to adapt to new and evolving circumstances. It’s a skill set you already have, but you should lean on it now more than ever and be prepared to make changes to your curriculum as needed. “If I create a combination that travels, I give the students another version that doesn’t travel as much,” says Burnett. “I even take into consideration the type of floors my students are moving on and modify the exercises accordingly.”
Embrace change as a central part of your teaching, so when you need to adapt, especially on the spot, you can—with confidence.
Give personal feedback
Since there are fewer opportunities for teachers to personally interact with students during an online class, you may have to find creative ways to deliver feedback. “I believe online classes necessitate individual time with each dancer, outside the virtual classroom,” says Waldrop, who does one-on-one video conferences with his trainees to discuss their progress. “It’s a mentoring type of conversation, where dancers can feel they are still on their journey.” Carving out time to give individual feedback to each of your students shows them you care and gives them reason to continue believing in themselves.
Remember: Online training is still training
Situations may get (and have likely already been) difficult, frustrating and, at times, discouraging, because dance classes were never meant to happen in your bedroom or living room. But if you can remember why you’re doing what you do, you can harness all the love and positivity you need, to lead a thoughtful, inspiring class.
“This time is still training,” says Waldrop, who thinks it’s important for students to know that their teachers understand their goals for the future. “I am still with them to help them achieve their dreams.”