BDC Credo: What Makes a Great Dance Teacher

At Ballroom Dance Chicago, we’re constantly examining and exploring our roles as dancers, teachers, and inspired individuals in the lives of our students and the wider Chicago community. To deepen and expand our understanding of these roles, we’ve taken to individually writing and sharing our responses to some of the principles we’ve devised to guide Ballroom Dance Chicago.

What makes a great dance teacher?

Lydia Feuerhelm:
The media has popularized images of dance teachers as mean, elderly people either stamping their canes on the floor or wearing their hair pulled back too tightly. While I’m sure that those types of people still have some genuine insight to offer, we pride ourselves on being approachable. As humans, we tend to gravitate towards people we can relate to, so it makes sense that if you see someone labeled ‘dance teacher’ who is far removed from anything you relate to, you’re likely going to dissociate yourself from anything involving dance. But instead, imagine that someone who dresses like you, is in a similar stage of life, and is open to knowing you as a person, also happens to be teaching you how to dance. Suddenly, dance becomes a much more approachable topic!

A great teacher understands where students start (even before they enter the studio), and they remember how it felt to learn as a beginner.  Many of our students start from absolute zero, and as such, most people simply crave reassurance: they just want to know that what they're doing is good enough or simply headed in the right direction. In order to make them feel comfortable, not only must we relay the information we’re teaching in a succinct, approachable way, but additionally, we must be open to forming a genuine connection with our students. That way, students not only are open to listening to what we’re saying, but they’ll actually be able to absorb and learn.

Cathy Gilpin:
A great teacher believes that their students are fully capable of learning material, they just need someone to help them in understanding the information in a way that makes sense to them. At BDC, we approach every teaching opportunity with a sense of warmth, encouragement, and a commitment to pushing our students beyond their own sense of limitation. Most of our students are starting from square one, and have low expectations of what they can accomplish. It is our job to celebrate each victory along the way and inspire them to reach beyond their initial dance goals to achieve a level of competency they wouldn’t have otherwise dreamed of.

We do this, first, by creating a strong relationship with our clients. We pride ourselves on our ability to connect with each student on a personal level, and teach them as if we were just good friends who simply want what’s best for them.

Read more of the BDC Credo.