Many a dancer will tell you that dance training is about more than simply dance — it provides an important foundation for life outside the studio. After all, dancers require focus and self-discipline along healthy dose resilience, and the best teachers actively develop these qualities in their students. This holistic approach to dance has been the guiding force behind studio owner Jane Grech’s teaching career. Determined to help other dance teachers bring out the best in their students, Grech’s Dance Studio Success, an online resource for educators and studio owners, recently launched DanceStep, a four-level Student Teacher Education Programme informed by her 20 years of experience as a dance teacher and refined over the last five years in her own studio, Jane Grech Dance Centre, in Adelaide. Dance Informa speaks here with Grech about DanceStep and the ways in which can help young dancers reach their full potential.
What motivated you to create the DanceStep programme?
“DanceStep was initially created organically through the Jane Grech Dance Centre. Our Centre strives to empower our young students and provide a holistic approach through opportunities that benefit the whole person — as we all know teaching dance is so much more than just the steps! We wanted to inspire and encourage every dancer — not simply the technically-gifted students — and open their minds to the many and varied roles that exist in the dance industry. We knew this would provide a platform for students to grow in confidence, particularly through their new roles as leaders. The programme made such a positive and lasting impact, inspiring me to package the programme so that other dance studios could also take advantage of these outcomes — and so DanceStep was born!”
You have been using DanceStep at Jane Grech Dance Centre for five years now. How did it take shape initially, and how have you refined it over the years?
“Initially, it was simply the students attending class and helping out the younger students. From there, though, we added induction and education programs, celebrations and now guided learning workbooks to really help focus the students’ observations and time in class. My hope is that the programme will continue to grow and evolve as we seek to constantly improve the original four levels and add further levels. We hope to share the programme with overseas studios as well.”
Can you tell us in more detail what kinds of changes in the student-student/student-teacher dynamics you noticed since you started implementing DanceStep at your studio?
“In relation to the student-student dynamic, the inclusion of the DanceStep programme has fostered a greater sense of community within my studio. The younger students have always looked up to the older students, as is the case in many a dance studio, but this program provides a great framework to help them build relationships over extended periods of time. The real magic happens when the studio comes together for performances and workshops and the students all know each other’s names and look out for each other. In a large and ever-growing studio, this is a really important element for me to focus on.
In terms of the teacher-student dynamic at our studio, we have witnessed a change in the levels of understanding as to what it means and what it takes to be a dance educator. The programme offers an overview of the many facets of the role, many of which the students didn’t know existed prior to participating!”
How does DanceStep resonate with your personal teaching philosophy?
“My teaching philosophy is that every student is worthy, and should feel and be valued for who they are. For me, DanceStep is one more tool in my toolbox to help make that happen. Not all students are technically gifted, and so success for those students as dancers can only reach a certain level in the studio. This can lead to feelings of failure or not being good enough. Students who are involved in DanceStep have a further opportunity to experience success and feel good about themselves. It offers an alternative method to contribute to the life and community within the studio, and this assists in their feelings of self-worth. It empowers students to take ownership and responsibility for others and can often be the first step in finding the leader within!”
On your dance blog, Dance Studio Success, you mention that success is defined differently for different studio owners. How do you define success, and how do you think DanceStep can help others to achieve their own definition of success?
“Success is very much a personal journey, and I do truly believe that it is (and should be) different for all of us. I also believe it should be fluid and evolve. For me personally, my definition of success is when I have been able to be the best version of myself in an effort to guide and inspire those around me — students, employees and others — to be the best version of themselves.
The DanceStep program goes hand-in-hand with this, as it is a step-by-step program that guides students through new knowledge and learnings in dance and dance education. This information empowers them to consider themselves as leaders, to consider the potential impact they have on others, and to learn to serve and give back through their community. Simply by doing the programmes and engaging in these sorts of activities, they will move several steps closer to being the best version of themselves at their stage of life.”
The DanceStep programme is designed to engage students from 10 years of age upward and is taught in a sequential, age-appropriate way. Can you give us an example of how a student might progress through the programme?
“A student can start at any age from 10 years; however, all students must commence at Level One. This is because the information is presented in progressions, and each piece is an important part of the puzzle. Obviously, older students commencing at Level One may fast-track through the theory, whereas a 10-year-old may take the entire year.
A great example of a learning progression within the program is a student learning about the importance of warm-up in relation to ‘safe dance’. In Level One, a 10-year-old student explores the importance of warm-up and the effect it has on the body. In Level Two, the student is asked to observe and participate in the warm-up within their class, then must reflect and comment on the activities that were included and why. A Level Three student teacher expands on this learning once more, and will be responsible for constructing their own warm-up, complete with picking music and activities, and share it with their supervising teacher for feedback, and finally, in Level Four, the student will teach their class a warm-up. The student is responsible for the music and movement selection, together with the cueing and teaching of the exercise. In this way, the student teacher is able to show and explain the why, what and how of teaching a warm-up to the point that they are able to complete the task independently.”
I know that many dance studio owners and dancers will strongly agree with your belief that dance is a great preparation for life. How has dance benefitted you in your broader life and career beyond the ‘dance realm’?
“Just last year, our dance studio turned 10 years ‘old’. At this time, I reflected very fully on how my dance education prepared me for life. I’ve realised the very characteristics I needed to be a good dancer are the same as those needed to run a good business and be a good dance studio owner.
To be a dancer, you must be self-disciplined. When your muscles ache from the day before, when you have tried to perfect a pirouette and you still fail, when you think you just can’t rehearse a routine one more time…. you can. It’s easier to quit, and others do, but successful dancers and successful business owners do not quit. We keep getting up, keep giving our best, knowing that it all adds up to success.
To be a dancer, you must have resilience. You must be tough. Just because you love what you do doesn’t mean it’s always fun. Just recently, I watched some of our students participate in a very tough class at an external workshop. It was hard on so many levels, but none of them gave up. None of them let it take away anything from their love of dance. If anything, it spurred them on to greater heights. There are times that dance hurts, physically, mentally and emotionally, and times when you are pushed to what you think is your limit. You fall, but dancers get back up. Running a business is no different.
Because of dance, I’m confident and have a strong belief in myself and what I can achieve. Dancers also need this belief in themselves. As you progress as a dancer or as a business owner, you develop these characteristics — your self-discipline becomes more fine-tuned, and your resilience levels increase. My dance training was the ideal preparation for life.”
What kinds of changes have you seen in the young dancers in your studio who have taken part in the DanceStep programme? What is the most gratifying aspect for you?
“For me, watching young dancers contribute to their community in a positive way is both exciting and gratifying. The students from our Centre who have been part of the programme have experienced increased levels of confidence and sense of belonging to the studio. They have learnt patience, empathy, communication skills and how to take initiative in different situations. It’s wonderful for me as a dance studio owner to provide opportunities for our students to flourish as dancers and, with the inclusion of DanceStep in our offering, to also watch them grow into confident young assistant teachers.”
What does dance mean to you?
“For me, dance is life. Dance is my heartbeat, my rhythm.”
DanceStep is currently being launched to teachers and dance studio owners through a series of Sharing Sessions in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney, which began on June 26. During the three-hour sessions, Grech offers further insight into how DanceStep has positively impacted her own school, which now mentors up to 40 assistant teachers per year.
Upcoming sessions are:
Sydney Sir Stamford at Circular Quay: Monday 10 July 9:30-12:30pm
Dance Studio Owners can also opt to sign up their businesses as affiliate studios, which are supported by DanceStep products including student workbooks, certificates, badges and supporting teacher resources.
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.