How to Become a Dance Teacher in Australia: Everything You Need to Know
“You have to have that passion first. That’s it. You’ve got to love what you do. I think that’s in anything — love what you do and you’ll do well in it.”
Lana Aarons, dancer turned hip-hop studio owner and teacher, doesn’t shy away from emphasising how love for dance plays a central role in pursuing a career as a dance teacher.
To become a good one, however — one that can make a life-long career out of it — Lana identifies four central pillars that a dance teacher should have:
Whether you hung up your dancing shoes a while back or you’re still in front of the studio mirror every day, a career as a dance teacher is achievable and highly rewarding. From the skills you need to the responsibilities you’ll have, Lana provides a realistic insight into what a career as a dance teacher is like and what you really need to know to get there.
How to become a dance teacher in Australia
1. Hone your dance skills before you leap into the role of a dance teacher
Choosing your favourite dance style will make teaching it that much more fun. Dedicate yourself to honing the technical skills of that style until you’re highly proficient in it. You should feel confident you could help others develop their skills in that style.
2. Give yourself a solid foundation in dance teaching by studying a relevant qualification
Any Bachelor of Dance degree will allow you to work in a variety of environments and give you the practical and theoretical knowledge required to be a great dance teacher.
3. Get a job as a dance teacher or a dance teacher’s assistant
You could teach in schools, in dance studios, in dance academies, and a range of other environments. Use your dance network in your favour to help you land interviews, or even gain a bit of experience to help your resume stand out.
“For me it was always a normal thing to go and dance… The teaching aspect was always something I thought I would do in the future,” Lana says.
Most dance teachers, if not all of them, are passionate students of the artform themselves. Hence, the transition from student to teacher is often a very natural one for a lot of dancers.
Lana, for example, often approaches the hiring process for her own studio in a more personal way — “The majority of people who teach for me now, originally came to me for dancing,” Lana says, “All my staff have learnt under me.”
Finding a mentor within your dance community is a great way to not only learn the dance steps but learn how to think of them, visualise them and communicate them. “You have to practise and learn from other people,” Lana says.
With time, and some hands-on experience, these relationships can often lead to job opportunities.
Formalising your dance skills via a Bachelor, Diploma or Certificate IV qualification is a great first step. Many of these qualifications offer opportunities to develop a broad range of supplementary skills valuable within the dance industry, including dance teaching skills.
Completing dance teacher courses through education providers like ACPE or ATOD (Australian Teachers of Dancing) can help you further refine critical skills and knowledge. Depending on which training body and qualification you choose, this level of education can lead to dance teacher jobs in:
What key skills do I need to have to teach dance?
Let’s return to Lana’s four pillars of a successful dance teacher:
For many dancers, passion and talent are the most easily achievable steps of becoming a dance teacher. But these are not the whole picture.
“Being a teacher is not only about being able to give students information. It’s also the innate ability to choreograph and make things up,” Lana explains. “You have to have passion for your chosen styles and you have to be good at that style, and you have to be able to visualise what it should look like.”
For Lana, being able to visualise and choreograph are critical components of becoming a good dance teacher and for many, this ability is innate. “From a very young age I was able to visualise what I thought things should look like and how to put them together,” she explains.
Although a natural ability to visualise is important, practise still makes perfect. Taking every opportunity to create your own dances in multiple styles will help build confidence and fluidity in this skill.
For many dance teachers, skill is not an issue. Some have even perfected the art of choreographing. However, these skills can only be truly appreciated when combined with effective communication.
“The most important thing is knowing how to communicate. You have to have passion but you have to be able to transfer that passion into a communicable message to be a good teacher,” says Lana.
Communication doesn’t only entail yelling out the steps or instructions. It also includes visual cues, physicality and verbal triggers.
Dance teachers also need to be approachable and easy to trust, for both students and parents.
“The kids need to feel that they can talk to me about anything, but the parents need to as well.”
From difficult conversations about progress and abilities, to ensuring the physical and mental health of your students, you will come across a wide range of people and circumstances that demand you to step up — not only as a teacher, but as a mentor and role model as well.
Providing constant feedback to your students and their parents/guardians is another form of communication that dance teachers need to perfect. Lana adopts a mostly positive feedback structure that encourages open communication channels between student and teacher.
“As a teacher, you’ve got to work on not what they’re good at, but what they’re not good at while giving positive reinforcement the whole time.”
Organisation and preparation
Lana emphasises that to teach dance “you must prepare before every single class” while also being “adaptable”.
Like any job, sometimes things just don’t go your way. Being adaptable and able to overcome unexpected hurdles in (or outside) your classroom is often what separates the good teachers from the great ones.
What personality traits will you need to succeed in this role?
First and foremost, Lana says, “You have to be able to stand in front of a lot of people to dance and teach. You have to be certain in your ability, and confident in what you do.”
Teachers, no matter their speciality, are leaders and need to be confident in their abilities. For Lana, confidence was always tied directly to dance.
“You wouldn’t think of me as a shy person, but I’ve always hated standing up and giving speeches. Yet I could dance in front of anyone and not have any worries about it at all.”
When teaching dance, it’s essential that you find a way to communicate your ideas and visions to a room. This takes time and practice (and sometimes a little “fake it till you make it” mentality).
Compassion, empathy and intuition
According to Lana, “You have to be a bit of a psychologist to be a dance teacher.” So, like any good therapist, you need to care.
Good dance teachers listen and take the time to understand their students, their goals and how they’re feeling. Not only does this make you a better teacher but it helps you shape better dancers.
Can you make a career out of dancing teaching?
“A dance teacher doesn’t work a nine to five. They work in a whole range of places and styles and it’s about finding your passion for what kind of teaching you want to do,” Lana says.
Working evenings, early mornings and weekends are all standard practice for a dance teacher. However, a lot of time is put into planning lessons, choreographing dances, communicating with teachers and students after-hours and general administrative duties. And unfortunately, a lot of the time dedicated to these extra responsibilities goes unpaid.
Average hourly rates for dance teachers
Approximately 23% of dance teachers in Australia work full-time hours
To create full-time work for herself, Lana recognises the importance of consistently learning new trends, skills and styles — “I had to constantly morph myself to be able to keep doing what I love. As a teacher, you have to keep up with the trends of what is changing all the time.”
Is a career as a dance teacher fulfilling?
According to Lana a career in dance can be one of the most fulfilling and professionally satisfying experiences a dancer could ask for. However, this career choice can also only be as fulfilling as your “love of seeing others succeed and progress”.
Dance teachers should inspire and be inspired. Every day should have the opportunity to be different.
“Every time you teach, you’re teaching something different. New choreography, new people, new environment. It’s all different all the time. But the pleasure you get from seeing the progression of your students is what it’s all about.”
Lana searches for teachers who are willing to work hard for both themselves and their students, identifying that it’s these people who have what it takes to build a strong, loyal client base and make a living doing what they love.
“I take the time to find dance teachers who are willing to put in and don’t work normal hours. You know, my hours are everywhere and I’m there for people on the phone after hours answering questions and giving feedback. If you’re willing to put that in, those students will stay with you for their dance life.”
Do you think you have what it takes to become a dance teacher? Are you willing to give it a try?