by Patti Smith
Being a ballroom dance teacher is a fun, rewarding career. What most people don’t know is, how did we get there? How did we become ballroom teachers? What does the road look like from average Joe to top ballroom professional?
One of the comments that I hear from time to time from new students is, “So Patti, what’s your real job?” They all seem to be shocked and surprised when I tell them that being a dance teacher is my full-time career and not a hobby. What many people don’t understand is that this is a serious profession, like being a personal trainer, or any other job that requires serious education, credentials, skill, and knowledge. Also, ballroom dance has a governing body known as the National Dance Council of America. This is an organization that sets the standard and quality of dancing and instruction within our industry, and any instructor worth their salt will follow the guidelines of the NDCA for dancing and teaching. Which brings me to those people calling themselves “professional dance teachers,” like the one in the video below:
Yeesh, that was painful. I imagine those readers who know what Bolero should look like are probably shaking their heads and wondering what they just watched. Thankfully, this is pretty far on the end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, there are people who have been dancing for many years, and because they are good to great dancers, they believe themselves qualified to teach. A true professional has been trained not only to dance well, but also to teach well. These skills are measured through certification exams. The NDCA recognizes 9 syllabi that an instructor may be certified in. Those syllabi are:
- Arthur Murray International (AMI)
- Dance Teachers Club of Boston (DTCB)
- Dance Vision International Dancers Assoc. (DVIDA)
- Fred Astaire Dance of North America (FADS)
- National Dance Teachers Assoc. (NADTA)
- North American Dance Teachers Assoc., Inc. (NADTA)
- Pan American Teachers of Dancing (PAN AM)
- U.S. Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (USISTD)
- U.S. Terpsichore Assoc., Inc. (USTA)
You may ask yourself, “Well, if someone knows how to dance, why would they need to be certified in order to teach someone?” There are many reasons for this. It’s not enough to just be able to dance! In order to teach someone how to dance, qualified, certified instructors have to know ALL aspects of the dance and human movement. For example, the box step. The box is a simple pattern that is used in several dances, the foot positions being forward-side-together, back-side-together, and counting 1-2-3 or slow-quick-quick. But is this really all I need to know to teach someone how to properly dance a box? A professional teacher will need to know aspects of these movements like dance position, amount of turn, alignment, CBM, sway, rise and fall, and footwork! Not only will your teacher need to understand these intricacies, but also understand the technique and movement of each dance; the character of each dance; and how we portray it through our bodies. So you could say dance is as much science as it is art!
The next thing your qualified instructor is well-trained in is the art of instructing. (Go figure!) This is also measured by their certification exams. When we take exams, we have teaching questions such as how we would structure a group class, what to teach and when, and how to teach certain techniques like Cuban motion and rise and fall. It’s one thing to know how to do these; it is another thing entirely to know how to teach them!
I want to let people know that there are many levels of certification, and one of the qualities of a great dance instructor is that they are always continuing their own education. The first level of certification is known as Junior Associate, and the last level is known as Full Gold, with many levels in between. Should your instructor be Full Gold certified for you to consider them a good teacher, or to spend your time taking instruction from them? Absolutely not. Some of the best teachers I know only have their Junior Associate certification. This exam gives an instructor the best foundation possible to be a great dance teacher. This doesn’t mean, however, that a teacher should stop at Junior Associate! Like I said before, the best teachers are always continuing their education and striving to achieve higher levels.
When you are searching for a dance teacher, you should ask them what certifications they hold, and even what certifications they are striving to achieve. Those of us that are qualified, certified instructors are very proud of the work we put in to earn our certifications and are happy to share that information with you. In case you’re still wondering, “Do I REALLY need a certified teacher?” Watch that video again, and you’ll have your answer.