Pathways to Teaching: The Australian Dance Teaching Industry

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For most of us, our dance teachers are the most influential and important people in our dance lives. As students we owe them a lot; they guide us through correct technique and injury prevention, they are our mentors leading us from class to performances to auditions, and no matter whether we dance for fun or dance as a career, our teachers are the ones who help us achieve our goals. So what if the student wishes to become the teacher? There are many pathways into dance teaching, which has led to an incredibly diverse and vibrant community of dance educators throughout Australia. This means not only more options when it comes to choosing the kind of dance education we want to receive, but also more options for those considering dance teaching as a career. 

Jarryd Byrne teaches students at Transit Dance

Jarryd Byrne teaches students at Transit Dance

Qualification via a Syllabus

What might be considered the most traditional pathway in to teaching is to follow a syllabus right through from completing your own dance exams to the point of being qualified to teach the syllabus yourself. This means you can be officially registered as a teacher for that syllabus, which is highly desirable and often a requirement for prospective employers (dance studios). The RAD, for example, will allow registration of teachers who have completed a range of RAD awards including a degree, diploma, certificate or licentiate. This ensures regulation of the RAD community, preserving the integrity of the syllabus, so that the students learning the syllabus from a registered teacher have the best chance of passing all of their dance exams. Cecchetti Ballet Australia has a similar system, with teachers training through a rigorous system of examinations in order to reach one of five levels of qualification. The level of qualification also dictates the level to which a teacher can enter a student into an examination - so in order to enter students for the highest level of dance exams, teachers will need to be at a higher level of qualification within the syllabus. 

Industry icon, former president and current director at the Australian Teachers of Dancing (ATOD), and recent star of our Atelier campaign Karen Malek knew from very early on that she wanted to teach dance. At 16 she completed a Junior Teaching Certificate with the ATOD, followed by her Associate Teaching Certificate, Member's Certificate and ultimately her Licentiate Teaching Certificate. She went on to study further with the Australian Ballet School teacher's course, at the same time as conducting her own school with 5 venues and 20 teachers. When the ATOD received funding a few years ago allowing teachers to upskill onto the National Framework, Karen was able to complete a Certificate IV and a Diploma in Dance Teaching & Management, as well as a Diploma of Musical Theatre. Not only that, but through the ATOD she has also completed certificates in examining, business and management. As she says herself, "the best teachers never stop learning", and it is clear from Karen's impressive resume that this advice rings true. Karen believes that anyone serious about teaching dance should show their commitment to teaching by completing a Certificate IV in Dance Teaching & Management (through a studio such as Transit Dance for example). The strong foundations of this qualification are essential, teaching students an understanding in how children learn, how to devise lesson plans, how to teach effectively, and so on. 

To have the opportunity to pass on the knowledge my teacher passed on to me is a blessing and a gift. I pinch myself every day that I get to travel the world teaching teachers and students. I thank my parents every day for the gift of dance.
— Karen Malek
Karen for our  Atelier  campaign

Karen for our Atelier campaign

Other formal qualification options

Not every teacher educates via a syllabus or examining body, but you may still wish to obtain a formal qualification of some kind. Many universities and education centres now offer a range of dance education courses such as diplomas in Dance Teaching and Management, Bachelor degrees in Dance Education, and certificates in Dance Teaching, that are not attached to a specific syllabus body. These courses mean that both ex-professionals and also those who danced throughout their life but not professionally can extend their knowledge base to ensure they are best equipped to teach others. These courses usually place an emphasis on foundations for dance, health and physiology, and formatting lessons and classes. Completing a course like this will give you the benefit of learning everything you need for safe practices in teaching, whilst giving you a bit more flexibility in where you can apply your knowledge once qualified.  You'll be able to teach dance with more of a classroom education focus, within a primary or secondary school.


Professionals turned Teachers

If you have spent time as a professional performer, you can effectively turn your personal experiences in to a career in teaching. The phrase "those who can't do, teach" definitely doesn't apply here - those who can dance to a professional standard are often incredible teachers. Ex-professional dancers are often studio owners themselves or regular teachers at a studio, utilising their years in the industry to pass on their knowledge, though they may never have trained originally with the aim to teach. Bear in mind though, if you do want to teach a set syllabus (e.g. RAD or ATOD), and enter students for exams, you will still need the appropriate qualifications. If you've got a background in performing and want to make the move over to teaching, you could start by applying to teach at an established studio (or several), to gain some experience. It is not uncommon for dancers to teach at multiple studios - but you will need to ensure all your employers are comfortable with this. Once you are getting in some practical hours, you could start studying for your teaching qualifications. If you prefer not to study, there are some studios which are more relaxed in their approach to teaching, and may not require this from you if they don't follow an organised syllabus. Remember though, if you do some formal study then you will have a better idea of the requirements of your students, which leads to a safer dance environment for everyone.


Guest Teaching

If you're a seasoned performer and you like teaching but perhaps don't want to teach full time or attain any formal qualifications, you could consider guest teaching. There is a huge trend for professionals at the top of their game to feature at the increasing number of workshop style events and classes popping up across Australia (and internationally). If you're social media savvy, you can connect with your students on multiple levels - not just in class - and you'll find that you can gain a huge following by being open and accessible to the dancers who you inspire. Demand for influencers to run workshops and classes is at an all time high; experienced dancers can intertwine their professional career with a teaching career, and young dancers can experience new styles and learn from those who know exactly what the industry is looking like right now. You can either set up and offer these workshops yourself (if you're good at organising events and you have enough of a following to ensure success!), or you can apply to guest teach at an established event. Just remember that in this area of the teaching industry, networking and creating a name for yourself will be key to ensuring you get booked.

The most rewarding part of teaching dance is the opportunity to touch lives and meet people. To interact with people is to engage in life. To be a great artist one must live and experience all that life has to offer. To teach dance you must pass on these experiences to your students to encourage them to be the best possible version of themselves.
— Karen Malek

Whatever path you take into dance teaching, you'll be entering a hugely rewarding and integral part of the dance industry.  If you can, as Karen suggests, "commit yourself to lifelong learning", you will be part of a network of incredible teachers like Karen who are growing, evolving, and shaping the young dancers of today. We need the range of teaching styles that come from these different pathways in order to maintain the multifaceted dance community that has emerged in Australia, giving our students the freedom to choose the kind of dance education they want to receive. Diversity is key! And no doubt your own career will be influenced by those who taught you along the way - so don't forget to say a huge "Thank You!" to your own dance teacher, for helping you get where you are today.

For more information on qualifying to teach dance, visit some of the links below:

RAD - Become a Teacher

Cecchetti Australia - Teacher Training

ATOD - Teacher Training

Transit Dance - Teacher's Course

Article by Emily Newton-Smith

Photographs by Elly Ford, featuring teacher Jarryd Byrne and students from Transit Dance

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