So you think you can teach dance? Well, maybe you can; but can you teach it well, and can you make it pay?
While some will doubtless be sad to note the encroach of standardisation into the traditionally idiosyncratic dance education space, many others believe that recently accredited training packages like the Certificate IV and Diploma courses in Dance Teaching & Management not only bring more certainty and accountability to the world of private dance schooling but also create viable pathways for dancers to remain in the sector.
Studied full time, the Cert IV (course code: CUA40313) is one-year, the Diploma (CUA50313) two. Both include modules related to dance technique, business acumen, lesson planning, and the health and welfare of students. Units of competency include things as diverse as “teach medium level classical ballet dance technique” and “ensure a safe workplace”. In short, it’s a specialised teacher training course that assumes the graduate will look to either start his/her own school or work as a sole trader. In this regard, it is well suited to dancers at any stage of their development (performance age or older) and can clearly be weaved into and/or wrapped around a professional dance career.
According to Dr Katrina Rank, Director of Education and Life Long Learning with Ausdance Victoria, “The whole course is really about people with dance skills developing the business and professional and teaching practise skills required to be a good teacher of dance.”
Whilst this may seem obvious, it is perhaps something that many trained dancers either overlook or minimise. As Karen Malek, Director at Transit Dance in Melbourne (and a current provider of the course) observes, “I’ve heard the argument that a piece of paper will not make a good dance teacher, and that in itself is accurate. However, this piece of paper [Cert IV] has 14 units of work, and, at the very least, it gives someone aspiring to be a dance teacher a basic understanding, not only of how to run their business but how children of all ages learn.”
Dancers, like other artists, can sometimes tend to be a tad “impractical” and, indeed, often seem at odds with a mainstream culture centred upon money, marketing and mortgages. “I think there’s a lot of people out there who maybe have had great training in the performing arts but don’t know the first thing about how to go about doing very basic things like registering a business,” Malek contends. “And then, you know, how to set goals, how to create a vision and then do all the things around that that’s going to make the business work and let you pay your bills and put food on the table.”
Indeed, it is doubtless fair to say that both the Dance Teaching & Management courses (Cert IV & Diploma) are rooted not only in current pragmatism but in recognition that the further flowering of the so-called “gig economy” will mean that increasing numbers of us will operate our own businesses, especially if this allows us to earn a living by following our passion.
Meagan McClaren, the Business Manager at the Adelaide-based campus of the Australian Company of Performing Arts (ACPA), which offers both courses, sees it thus, “For those who do make it into the industry, along the way they can be earning more to support their practise. You know, they can do their shows but also work as a teacher, maybe even teach the choreography from the shows they’re in.”
Furthermore, McClaren argues, qualifications of this type will increasingly become the norm. As she explains, “More so now than ever, people are wanting qualifications for teachers, not like back in the day when it didn’t really matter because anyone could teach dance.”
As market expectations evolve, so, too, Ausdance’s Rank argues, should the practises of teaching. Recalling her own dance training, she says, “Another important thing is that we don’t necessarily want people to go out and teach in the way that they were taught because sometimes that’s not appropriate anymore. So, if we go, ‘Oh well, I’m not so scarred by my experience, so I’m going to do it exactly the same way,’ then we’ll find trouble. I mean, I wouldn’t want to teach in the ways I was when I was doing ballet because I would be creating a lot of damaged dancers. So, courses like this say, ‘No, these are the acceptable practises,’ and they outline what it is you will be responsible for.”
For someone like Malek, who has been teaching dance for decades, the current approach is a clear improvement on the more haphazard style of yesteryear. As she duly notes, the “best teachers are always looking to update their skills” and, to that end, the roll-out of Dance Teaching & Management courses represents a generational opportunity for people in the industry.
Thinking back to her own adolescence, when she was doing dance classes in rural Victoria, she reveals, “There certainly weren’t courses like this around when I was first teaching, so, in a way, a lot of us were probably just re-hashing what we’d been taught. I craved information and knowledge, but, living in the country back then, there really wasn’t much around.”
Meanwhile, McLaren from ACPA in Adelaide believes that these kinds of formal qualifications, even in the arts, address the key issues of credibility and trustworthiness. “It’s paramount,” she declares, “because people want to know that what they’re paying for is credible. Yes, you can be a great dancer, that’s one thing, but to be a great teacher takes different skills, and that’s where the change in mindset has happened. It’s no longer, ‘Oh, she’s a great dancer, so therefore she’ll be a good teacher,’ and that’s where these courses come in.”
To find out which training organisations offer the Cert IV and/or Diploma of Dance Teaching and Management course, check out Dance Informa’s Full Time Dance & Auditions Guide.
By Paul Ransom of Dance Informa.