By Rhee Gold
Why are you such an advocate for the recreational dancer?
First off, I believe that dance is an art form and that every person, whether child or adult, can experience that unique feeling that dancing gives us, whether they can do 10 pirouettes or only 1. To me it’s that inner-gut thing we should be passing on, regardless of the skill level of the student. If we as teachers lose sight of the value of the recreational dancer and focus only on our best or most promising students, then I wonder if we’ve also lost sight of why we became dance educators in the first place.
Tell me more about that inner-gut thing.
It’s that feeling that takes over when we feel the music in our dancing or the sweat is pouring off us in class. It could happen when we see a piece of our own choreography or someone else’s. It’s like a light switch that turns on the passion. And yes, I believe everyone has it, even the 11- year-old with the size 13 feet! Unfortunately, some teachers think that switch flips on only with the advanced dancers.
What do you say to teachers or school owners who tell you, “I’ve paid my dues; I don’t want to teach the recreational kids anymore?”
Believe it or not, I respond with “Not a problem!” Then I ask them, “Who will you get into your school to give those recreational dancers what they need?” Be sure you have the best people in place; then feel free to teach whom you like. But if you have the less-talented or least ambitious teachers working with your recreational dancers, that’s what you’ll get back from those students.
What are the benefits of a recreational program, to the teacher and the students?
The recreational programs are often a school’s financial backbone. A solid base of once- or twice-a-week students who are not training at a discounted tuition (like many advanced dancers do) can make or break a school.
Advanced dancers must start somewhere, and a recreational class is the place. Some will improve or develop a passion and want to take on more classes; eventually they become your advanced dancers. If you have a weak recreational program and rely on getting your stronger students from other schools, you’ll often inherit the other schools’ headaches, too. Better to build your own dancers who’ve grown up in your school and understand your philosophy.
Watching those recreational dancers grow and become more accomplished is sometimes more rewarding than working with advanced dancers, because they truly feel a sense of joy when they accomplish something. Often the advanced dancers take what they have for granted.
How do you make sure you give your recreational students the same amount of attention as your advanced or competition students?
For me it’s a quality thing. Give them good teachers who can choreograph for them, people who know how to instill a solid foundation and how to make the kids look and feel good about themselves by the end-of-the-year performance.
I don’t like to let teenagers teach the recreational kids—often younger teachers want to create great dancers and they skip the basics, going right to the big stuff without realizing that their students can’t do the material. Then the teacher and the students become frustrated, which is not good for them or the business.
How can a teacher regain her love of teaching recreational dancers?
Sit in on your recreational and preschool classes and notice the joy on the kids’ faces when they learn a basic shuffle or a simple pas de bourrée. Know that the recreational student feels great just learning the basics, which is the same thing your advanced dancers feel when they accomplish the big stuff. One doesn’t have a better feeling than the other, so why should we not be as excited for the recreational dancer as we are for the advanced one? Each of us was a recreational or preschool student once. It’s a good thing our teachers saw our potential—otherwise we wouldn’t be where we are today. Go look for students like yourself in those recreational classes!