Dance of Asian America
Photo by James Wiseman,


How do you engage someone new to your dance style?  Here's our top five tips for how to teach a beginner to dance:

  • Find out what their goals are, and then focus on their goals.  Ask them what's important to them.  Dancing on rhythm?  Learning to lead and follow?  Developing a personal style?  Let their priorities lead you.  Once you've shown them you are committed to giving them what they want, they are likely to listen to other instructions you may want to give them.
  • Use normal words.  Describe moves with language everybody knows like forwards, backwards, quick, slow, and rotating.  Adults can handle terms like trapezoid, but even adults can panic when they first here dance terminology especially when they know they are about to be expected to do it but have no idea what it is.  So, ease their nerves by waiting until after you demonstrate a move before calling it by its name.  It's great when you can get them to do it with you and then tell them the name of it.  In other words, wait to call a rock-step a rock-step until after you can see your student is doing it well.  Label it after they know they can do it. 
  • Think positive.  Use positive reinforcement for all correct movements and good efforts.  Tell students WHAT TO DO (not what not to do).  Say "take a smaller step" instead of "don't step that big".  Demonstrate according to the same principle.  Show them what's right.  Students need mental images of what is correct.  Don't cloud their vision with poor examples unless it is absolutely necessary to break them from developing a habit and you've already tried the positive approach.  Be encouraging!  You got this!  ;-)
  • No laughing in dance class.  Well, no laughing at anyone.  You're in charge and you should create a safe space even amongst couples and families, so don't let people who are just hanging around watching you class laugh at someone who is trying.  Of course, a little laughter is bound to happen from time to time and you can just brush it off with, "Haha, OK no laughing in dance class!"
  • Enrich your students with information about dancing.  Tell them the history of a move or a dance.  Give them context: be it historical, political, social, or geographic.  Help them appreciate what they are learning about.  Connect them to the world of dance by inviting them to upcoming events.

Leave Comments