If you want to start teaching dance full time, you need to be doing these things to build a sustainable career.
When I was eight years old, I looked at my parents and confidently exclaimed "I am going to be a dance teacher when I grow up!"
What I didn't know back then was that it would actually come true, OR how much work it would take to make it my full time job.
My first ever paid job was as a class demonstrator at age 14, and with the exception of a six-month stint at a kitchen supply store at the Santa Monica mall to make ends meet while pursuing dance in L.A., my entire career has been inside the dance industry. This is not by accident, or by luck, this is by decades of focused and intentional efforts to carve out the life that I dreamed about as a wide-eyed little girl.
Since I have already pas de bourree'd my way through the obstacles of getting a teaching career up and running, I figured I would pass along some of that knowledge to all of you "newbie" teachers out there!
Here are FIVE tips for new dance teachers entering the work force:
1. Join a community (or several)
The dance world is small! Everyone knows everyone, and there is always someone who can introduce you to your next boss or collaborator or business partner.
These days the resources are endless for joining communities of dance educators. A quick search on Facebook Groups reveals many public groups you can join that focus on dance education, choreography, booking jobs, dance science, and so much more. Join these groups and jump in to some conversations!
Another great way to find your community is to become a member of an arts service organization. National Dance Educators Organization, Dance/USA, National Dance Council of America, National Dance Teachers Association, International Association of Blacks in Dance, and Dance Masters of America are just a few examples of membership organizations that provide lots of networking opportunities specifically for dance teachers. Most states and cities also have local chapters to keep you connected with nearby peers. You can also search for organizations that are specific to your culture or genres of dance.
More importantly, a community only works in your favor if you actually participate within that community! Go to the conferences, follow up on emails, ask questions and lend productive ideas to conversations in your social media groups.
2. Brand yourself
A career in the arts can take many twists and turns, but something that you can control along the way is your personal brand. After all, this is how you will be making your paycheck, so this is your business and your business needs a brand.
If you want to dive deep into branding yourself and have the money to invest, you can hire a brand manager or work with a branding company to help you in this area. But, if you are like most early-career teachers, and you don't quite have a budget for this yet, check out free resources like Canva or PicMonkey. Remember, a brand is more than a logo. Your brand communicates who you are, your story, your values, your style and so much more. Have fun with it!
3. Social media
New dance teachers these days must be very mindful of their social media presence. I often coach new teachers in this area, and the first thing we do is take inventory of what is already on their pages. The reality is, most studio owners or hiring agents will take a look at your social media pages before offering you a job. If you do not already have one, create a dance-specific page for yourself and set your personal pages to private.
Don't obsess over the number of followers you accumulate. Building an honest, mindful and consistent presence on your desired social media channels is more important than numbers. Show off your skills, share your process or tips for dancers, and highlight things that make you more marketable. (Bonus: this is an area where you can really develop your personal brand as a teacher).
Social media is a fantastic tool for connecting with potential employers, too! I have personally hired several dance teachers and choreographers solely based on their social media presence! And, on the flip side, I have turned down many applications due to negative or inappropriate posts on applicants pages. Choose what you post wisely and jobs could be landing in your DM's before you know it!
4. Cold calling/emailing
When you're launching your teaching career, you are in the "hustle" phase. Now is the time to begin building new relationships and getting booked. Whether you are going the freelance route, or looking for one studio to call home, reaching out to "cold leads" can generate some momentum in the search for jobs.
A "cold lead" refers to anyone you don't already know. This can be done by researching studios or schools in your area, or if you want to branch out nationally, you can search more broadly. Then, it is as simple as sending an email or DM to introduce yourself. Keep it brief and to the point. You only get to make a first impression once, so be sure to proof read, include links to your website/social, and thank them for their time.
Typically when you're contacting cold leads, you will only hear back from about 10% of those contacts. But, if you have the time and are looking for new places to teach, this might be an easy way for you to make some new connections.
Unlike a typical 9-5 career route, teaching dance requires a lot more adaptability and creativity if you want to make this your full time job. It is very unlikely that you will make a living independently by teaching at only one studio a few days a week.
Learn to be adaptable in what you teach, where you teach, and other ways to generate income in the dance industry. Are you well-versed in social media platforms? You could offer your services to manage the social media pages for your studio to supplement your teaching pay. Did you gain experience in lighting design, sound board operations, or stage management while you were in college? Offer up these skills to your studio or local community theater groups. Want to teach more during the day? Find local home school groups or senior citizen groups to lead day-time classes.
By putting yourself out there to join new communities, build your brand, up your social media game, start conversations and remain flexible along the way, you are setting yourself up for a fulfilling and exciting career as a dance teacher!