Let's talk about the one thing that you are taught in class, other than dancing, which is a key stepping stone to your career: proper dance class etiquette. In my experience so far, most dancers around me have underestimated the importance of class etiquette and following dance class rules. When taking class, they are trying their absolute hardest, but feel they still cannot reach teacher expectations. What they don't realize is how they present themselves makes a huge impression. Practicing proper presentation begins in the studio, and these habits will directly translate to how you present yourself in auditions and on stage. Becoming aware of developing proper dance class etiquette can drastically change how a teacher will work with you because, as a teacher, there is only so much you can know about a dancer from their dancing alone. The first thing they notice is how you walk into class and what you are wearing, the next being how you work and respond to them in class. The easiest way to understand the effect this has on a teacher is to look at it from his or her perspective.
Most importantly, practice proper dance etiquette for yourself and your self-confidence
Picture this: you're teaching, for example, a ballet class and begin the first exercise. Immediately a student catches your eye; they are wearing clean dancewear and have hair that is neatly pulled back. This shows the importance of knowing what to wear in dance class as it can make a huge first impression. Even though this student hasn't even begun to dance yet, you already feel that they are focused from this well put together appearance alone. As the class goes on, you notice this same dancer makes eye contact when you teach the exercises, asks questions for clarification, and applies each correction given. You feel more inclined to work with this dancer which reveals the importance of body language. As a teacher, you want students who are engaged and ‘getting it’ or fully processing your teaching points, which can be translated through how that student is working in class. Learning how to present yourself properly, in both your outside appearance and body language, will take you above and beyond teacher expectations.
Still not convinced? Take a look at the same scenario, only this time with a different dancer. Let's say this student catches your eye during class for a different reason; they arrive ten minutes late, wearing a messy ponytail and baggy sweatpants. What is your first impression of this? You probably can't help but assume that they are not ready to properly work in your class. As you go through the barre or warm up, this dancer keeps arms folded between exercises and mostly looks at the floor. You feel less inclined to work with them as they don’t seem fully engaged. In reality, this dancer may have the same level of passion and technique as the dancer in the previous story but, as the teacher, you are too distracted by their dismissive presentation to recognize this. In this scenario, the dancer could be getting a lot more out of class if they were aware of proper class etiquette; as could a lot of other dancers.
If you're wondering how you can improve your own dance class etiquette after reading these scenarios, start by evaluating yourself during class. Here are a few major points to pay attention to:
- Dancewear: Are you thinking about what to wear to dance class and matching your dancewear to the genre of class you're taking? For example, if you choose to wear a leotard and tights to a hip-hop class, you may be giving off a strange impression.
- Remember the importance of body language: In my experience, it can make the biggest difference in the impression you give off. Pay attention to the position of your body when the teacher is giving out corrections or the steps to an exercise; just like you would when having a conversation with someone, make sure your whole body is facing the teacher to show you are engaged with what they are doing. Follow the teacher’s direction and practice the movements as they are taught, this will ensure you know the exercise.
- Don't be afraid to ask questions: Whether it is a clarification about an exercise or inquiring about a certain step, it is better to ask and know than to guess. The teacher will know you are taking your work seriously and will appreciate the open communication.The same goes for when a teacher asks a general question to the class; more often than not, dancers seem scared to answer any questions asked. Even something as simple as “Would you like to repeat the exercise or move on?”. Most wait for others to answer it, creating long silences with all the students staring blankly at each other. Remember, the teacher is not trying to ask any trick questions, and truly just wants a genuine answer.
- Spatial Awareness: Actively think about your spatial awareness in general to avoid collisions, and make a good impression with the dancers around you. Take into consideration the space you have, and the spot you are standing in, when starting an exercise. If you know the exercise travels mostly to the right, as an example, start on the left side of the room so you have enough space to execute the exercise properly. Try to switch up the spot you stand in for each exercise; remaining in the front can come across as hogging the space and remaining in the back can seem like you are trying to hide. As a courtesy towards other dancers, ensure everyone has the opportunity to rotate throughout the space.
Practicing proper presentation begins in the studio
Demonstrating proper class etiquette is useful for much more than figuring out how to present yourself or how to get a teacher to like you. It contributes to the reputation you are building for yourself, both in and outside of the studio. The dance world is small, and as a dancer, each connection you make may create opportunities to build your network and further your career path. With every class you take and each new artist you meet along the way, you are continuously making these connections; so it’s in your best interest to make a lasting impression. This impression you are making on others will extend beyond the studio, as practicing etiquette will become everyday habits and will be reflected in how you present yourself in any situation. But most importantly, practice proper dance etiquette for yourself and your self-confidence. Putting yourself in this routine will put you in the right mindset and allow you to show everyone around you your full potential as a dancer.