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Tailoring Class for Adult Dancers

Dance class for adults © Pavel Losevsky |

By Emily Yewell Volin of Dance Informa

Adult dancers attend an open class for a variety of reasons. Nearly all come because there is something about the atmosphere and physical work accomplished during dance class that cannot be replaced by other workouts. Alongside the desire to experience the sensation of moving as an artist, comes the fear of measuring up to either the memory of what beautiful dancers we used to be and/or the dancers we aspire to be. Teaching adults, at any level of accomplishment, can be tricky business. Here are a few tips for making an intermediate to advanced level adult class beneficial and fun for the students and the instructor.

Help Check the Baggage

Adult dancers are self-aware and self-critical. Many have experienced life changes or injuries that created a break in regular class attendance. Rejoining, or sampling for the first time; the dance world can be anxiety inducing. Compassionately address these fears during class. Sometimes an encouraging word makes all the difference. Adults are particularly cognizant of their own technical or physical shortcomings and benefit from someone else celebrating and sharing their milestones in class.

Set Goals

Progress is easier to notice when goals are defined. And, the more a student progresses, the more that student will look forward to class. In turn, the student becomes a more regular participant in class and their pace of improvement is accelerated. Encourage students to share their goals with you and generate class and personal goals of your own. Adult classes generally include dancers with recreational interests, aspiring professionals and retired pros. Find out what tool kit each student expects to gain from participation in the class. An instructor must find ways to properly challenge every student and that planning begins with a conversation.

Warm-up Thoroughly

Adult bodies need an especially thorough warm-up before moving into progressions and combinations. This group of students also desires a comprehensive workout (aka sweat) from their time and dollars spent at the studio. Develop a fun warm-up with some material that repeats or cycles through your classes. Familiarity will provide dancers the opportunity to focus on their performance quality while increasing technical accomplishment and calories burned.

Celebrate Mature Expression

I once told a class, “You know it’s a real shame that now, as an adult, I’m artistically capable of expressing what I want but my body has too many injuries to technically perform the movement properly.” This comment received a resounding reaction of familiarity. It is common for younger dancers, in the prime of their performance years, to become so focused upon the competitive technical mastery of dance that they compromise performance quality. There is something liberating about not feeling like you have to have technical prowess in order to experience an impact through your dancing. Adult students enjoy moments of performance-based movement when they can ‘just’ move and let their artistic expression take the lead.

Keep it Technical

Adults like knowing we are getting the ‘real deal’. Create technically challenging combinations, teach the necessary skills, then encourage and provide necessary modifications. A trained or aspiring adult dancer will be bored by anything less.

Provide Detailed Corrections

Dancers know a correction is a compliment. We thrived on that feedback during our performance years and expect the same attention to detail as adults. Distinguish for yourself what constitutes ‘giving’ a class and what constitutes ‘teaching’ a class and always choose to teach. Challenge the students and coach them toward their personal best.

Create Community

Dancers enjoy spending time and sharing life experiences with other dancers. Our experiences and outlooks are unique. Create opportunities for class members to visit and become acquainted. If allowed by the studio where you teach, create a Facebook page or group where students may interact. FB is also a fun place to share images and/or videos of class work. Just be certain you never post or tag video or images of students without their permission.

Ask for Music Recommendations

Accompaniment sets the tone for so much of the work accomplished during a dance class. Occasionally solicit music recommendations from students. You may be pleasantly surprised by what you will be exposed to musically, and the student will appreciate the opportunity to dance to something he or she found inspiring outside the classroom.

Relax the Rules…a little bit

Dress codes and strict scheduling are generally not necessary for an adult class. There are exceptions, of course. If a student arrives a few minutes late to class, allow that person to join the class. Likewise, set a policy for very late arrivals. Injury prevention is the instructor’s primary concern. Use discretion in determining a plan and explain your logic during a neutral conversation – perhaps during a goal-setting session. That said, plan to start and dismiss class about five minutes late. Adults seem to run on a five minute delay. However, beginning later than the five minutes after start time can create hostility from a scheduling point of view.

Make your dress-code preferences clear. Adults typically have injuries and body issues that need specific coverage to promote comfort, support and positive self-image. Do not compromise on the safety and instructional demands of attire. However, allow adults the freedom to choose what they wear to class.

Keep Class Fun

Work hard and play hard. Adults know how to regulate the balance. Laugh a little, push each other, be supportive and have a terrific class.