July 2017 | Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Contemporary Classroom Etiquette

Contemporary Classroom Etiquette

by Jennifer McQuiston Lott

Tip 1
Ballet has its history of established etiquette; classic modern techniques such as Graham or Limón follow clear rules of conduct. A typical contemporary class may be more relaxed, but classroom etiquette is still important. Outlining and enforcing a code of behavior will prepare your contemporary students to enter any class or audition, and will create a respectful, safe, and productive learning environment.

So begin your class well. Make it clear from day one that you expect students to arrive early to warm up; smile and make eye contact when greeting teachers, accompanists, and each other; silence and put away phones when they enter the classroom; and remain quiet during class. Respect and discipline should be reciprocal—model the behavior you want to see.

Tip 2
Here are some additional etiquette guidelines to consider:

  • Establish proper placement and alignment at the beginning of class, and insist students maintain them throughout. Don’t allow slumping or sitting, and discourage folded arms, which some instructors and choreographers view as disrespectful.
  • Establish spacing between students and proper flow across the floor. Students should make clear, orderly lines during center work, and stay on the sides when not dancing across the floor.
  • Remind students to leave clear sight lines between the teacher and the accompanist (if applicable).
  • Limit questions to encourage students to hone their listening and watching skills. I ask students to try new material before asking questions. Even then, I answer at my discretion.
  • Remind students to focus on their own dancing. It’s usually awkward when one dancer offers unsolicited corrections to another. (However, do consider creating mediated opportunities for students to give one another constructive critiques.)
  • End every class with an appreciation ritual to thank the instructor, accompanist (if applicable), and students. This builds a sense of community and sends everyone off on a positive note.


Jennifer McQuiston Lott is assistant professor at the University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and founder/artistic director of Michigan’s Traverse City Dance Project, a summer initiative for professional dancers.