5 Things to Bear in Mind When Teaching Online Dance Classes

Headphones and phone with zoom app

Whether you’ve been teaching for a month or a decade, online dance classes require different skills, mindsets, and equipment.

As we’ve seen dance studios closed and human contact outlawed, the partner dance world has been moving online—which is welcome news to dance teachers looking for a way to maintain their income, as well as for dance students missing their weekly fix of salsa or swing.

Yet do you have the energy to carry an online dance class? Are you confident explaining concepts that you cannot demonstrate in person? Do you feel that you know how to teach an online partner dance class?

1. The Equipment You Need to Teach Online Dance Classes

While you don’t need the latest DSLR camera and a state-of-the-art dance floor to teach online dance classes, you will need certain things:

  • Enough floor space that you can dance your full routines
  • Large enough rooms that you can position your camera to capture your full body throughout the entire class
  • If the classes are live, a strong internet connection
  • A working knowledge of the programmes and technology you’re using
  • A quiet enough flat or house that the class won’t be disturbed by your roommate playing their music

Depending on your budget and dance space, you could also benefit from:

  • A microphone
  • A dance studio or otherwise empty room

This shouldn’t need stating, but skimping on any of these points can lead to disappointed students.

2. How to Explain Directions and Orientation

In the dance studio, students can position themselves in such a way that it is easier to see which direction you are moving in. They can also watch you in the mirrors. In online videos, they have fewer tools at their disposal, which means you need to help them out more.

Show the routine from all sides, but don’t switch frenetically: this will become confusing.

Verbally orient your students: use phrases such as “you should end up facing three o’clock”, “go to your right”, “turn back in the direction you’ve just come from” and “a 270° turn”.

If you need to demonstrate something face-on, mirror it. Learn the routine or technique in both directions. Why would you expect your students to be able to do the reverse of what they see if you can’t even reverse what you do?

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couple dancing swing at home

3. Why Time Management Matters More for Online Dance Classes

In normal dance classes, students come into our world. They escape from their outside responsibilities, such as looking after children, workplace targets, and cooking dinner, to enter the dance studio.

However, in online dance classes, we come into our students’ worlds. We ask them to free up an hour for us so we can give them a reprieve from the mundanity of everyday life.

In their world, they might have agreed to help their children with their homework after our class. Perhaps they have scheduled a Zoom meeting with their boss that starts straight after the lunchtime musicality seminar. Or they could have to give up the living room space they negotiated access to with their housemates.

We might be giving them the best hour of their day, but they are also giving us something: priority over all those other requirements. And in turn, we owe them good time management. Particularly if it’s a live class that they can’t pause when they need to, we need to give students back their living room and their computer when we promised.

4. How to Manage Your Students’ Attention Spans

In-person dance classes, especially partner ones, will always be more engaging than their online versions. They’re also a lot harder to leave early. Unfortunately, just one click of a button and someone can exit your online dance class to watch some TV.

This means that more work needs to be done to keep the classes engaging. In a Dancers’ Notes Facebook poll with nearly 100 responses, 20 people said that they “lack the motivation” to do online dance classes and “miss the classroom energy”. Only 12 people said that online classes could be “just as good”, with two people saying that they could be “even better”. Don’t give up just yet, though: fortunately, the most popular answer was that an online class’ value “depends on the teacher and organiser.

Studies show that the ideal educational video length is 6–12 minutes long, while two-minute videos typically have the highest engagement. While you might not be able to teach an entire dance class in this time, you can keep your classes short and varied.

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For example, try breaking your class into a warm up, three 10-minute sections, and a Q&A instead of one long routine. Those sections could be divided into learning different types of body movements, different sections of the routine, or increasingly difficult variations on the same topic. Break them up further by including lots of practice with music.

Moreover, bring as much energy as possible to your classes, and make sure to smile.

Woman nursing injured neck from working at home on sofa

5. Why Warm Ups Are Even More Important for Online Dance Classes

In addition to getting people into dance class mode, warm ups help students avoid injury. In fact, this is their main purpose.

When teaching online dance classes, especially the more acrobatic ones such as Brazilian zouk and sensual bachata, the warm up is more important than ever. Your students haven’t just walked to the studio, listening to music on the way. They’ve stood up after spending perhaps a couple of hours on the sofa or at their desk. Their necks, shoulders, and intercostal muscles are probably stiffer and colder than normal.

This means your warm up needs to actually warm up your students, especially in any areas that you plan to work in the class.

Feature photo credit: Julio Ricco, Shutterstock.com

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Ella Baila is the alias of a bachata teacher. She dabbles in most Afro-Latin dances and is blues-curious.