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So you bought your kid a tutu

You graduate from school, you need money, you want to do something in your field, you teach. Tales from the…

By Melanie Kuxdorf , in Blogs Struggle and Strife: A Dancer's Life , on February 1, 2008

You graduate from school, you need money, you want to do something in your field, you teach.

Tales from the war zone: My Top Ten reasons not to teach children dance at Community Centres.

  1. Mental Illness. Almost every parent puts their two-year old in dance classes, so these classes are always full. However, two-year olds can only walk, run, march and gallop. They can’t skip. Also they learn from repetition. Walk, run, march, gallop, repeat, repeat, repeat.
  2. Disease. Children are petri dishes of all existing strains of the common cold. They can sneeze an amount of snot that matches the volume of their proportionately large heads, and you need to clean that up. You, like them, always be sick.
  3. Pee. Little children will pee on the floor. And other children will, despite valiant herding attempts, promptly stumble into the puddle.
  4. Pink Tutus. I’ve never seen a behavioural difference between girls and boys in classes. But once boys hit four, they start to realize that dance is, for some reason, for girls. I blame the tutu. The useless, inappropriate and unstoppable tutu. The Indomitable Pink Tutu
  5. Occupational Hazards. Teaching on cement floors. (See my previous post). Play equipment, escape hatches, floors that have the dirt from the senior Chinese ballroom dancers shoes on them. (These seniors have also been known to thrust children out of the way as they push, chairs first, into the room.)
  6. Restraining Orders. Parents and grandparents are unreasonable. Some think you should be preparing their two-year old for the Kirov. Others scream at you when you say parent-participation doesn’t include their entire family of ten.
  7. Mental Illness part II. Kid’s music, see #1.
  8. Tantrums. Best to place screaming child at the side of the room and ignore it.
  9. Blood. As one parent consoled me once “kids bleed like stuffed stuck pigs.” One kid fell on her face and split her lip so badly, that she left a trail of blood on the floor and a bloody hand print on her mother’s back as the mom ran for the bathroom, clutching the child.
  10. Depression. Knowing, after training your whole life as a dancer, that you are now marching, galloping and – if you’re lucky – skipping, for a living.

+ Making a difference. The trump card of dance teaching: children will love you, some parents will appreciate you and some community centres will pay you well. If you find this, it will keep you going a bit longer. Otherwise, if you are willing to go full-time, inflexible and for the long-haul, apply at a studio. Although then you can add politics to the list.

P.S. As trained dancers, we are mostly not trained to teach. I wanted to mention this, but it’s the subject of a whole other post.

Feb. 8, 2008:  Thanks to Catherine for pointing out that it’s actually a stuck pig.   I obviously don’t understand the metaphor.  That’s a true story by the way.  Also, Catherine (see her comment below), does win.  She taught me to teach preschool (and beyond) and has been teaching for over ten years.  And yes, the work has infinite importance, but unless its teachers are supported, none but the truly masochistic will make it a life’s work.


  • Oh…you just summed up my life in a nutshell. My life for the past four years. God, I’ve had enough of being a rec centre preschool dance teacher. I can’t wait to close that chapter of my life for good.

    The sad thing is that I’m damned good at it. Kids like me, programmers like me, parents like me…and part of me really does love it. Sometimes. By which I mean every once in a while. But no, I was not made to be a rec centre teacher. No, this is not my calling.

    When I started teaching I thought it would be a good parallel career to dancing and making art. I was so wrong. The concrete floors damage my feet, ankles and knees, the kids make me sick, the parents get on my nerves and are sometimes downright insulting, the work is draining mentally, physically and emotionally and leaves me ill-prepared to create my art.

    Yes it pays well (although not so well as I’d like) and the hours mean that I can usually fit in a dance class or rehearsal in the mornings – but I’m never performing at my best because I’m exhausted from classes the evening before. I’m teaching 5-7 classes a day, three days a week right now just to make rent (in addition to working in an office three days a week) and it leaves me precious little creative energy to spend on my own artistic endeavors.

    Methinks I need a new parallel career. I am sick of marching, galloping and sometimes skipping. If I’m lucky.

    PS I linked to this post on my blog.

  • Nope, I win. I am the winner on this one. Sorry gals, I know you’ve put in your time, but I know you are both using my cassette tapes of kinderdance music…and that means, I WIN.

    At the tender age of 16, when I barely knew how to dance myself, I was thrust head-first into the world of toddlers and tutus. How was I to know what I was getting myself into? Who knew that parents would camp outside recreation centres at 4 AM just like woodstock, only to enroll their children in ridiculously gender-specific titled courses called “Baby Ballerinas” or “Tiny tutus for twos”. Why don’t they just dress their kids up, stick them in a music box and make them twirl in circles while fake sparkly snow falls all over them? I mean, that’s what all my years of dancing has taught me, right? That’s what my degree is good for, right? I always dress up like a fairy princess and dance around to music from The Little Mermaid.

    I have seen everything. Blood, pee, vomit, and children dancing in or around the blood, pee and/or vomit. I have been screamed at in multiple languages while desperately trying to explain to a parent that their child is only a year old, isn’t enrolled in the class, and in fact, can hardly walk so really isn’t permitted to participate. I once had an autistic child who no one informed me was autistic, who ended up repeatedly bashing her head against the mirror while her alleged “aide” sat in the corner watching me, not even intervening to at least inform me that the child was autistic.

    Parents standing in the middle of the floor, without permission, shooting videos of the children while I am trying to teach. Parents lecturing me about closing the blinds to the studio because they can’t sit by the windows and stare at their children like they are in a fish bowl. What is WITH THAT? Do you go to preschool with your children and watch them play with blocks through the window? NO! Guess why? Because it is inappropriate and distracting. Apparently your entertainment is more important than your child being able to learn.

    I am an advocate for dance, and I LOVE teaching pre-school children. Honest to goodness, I do. I’m fantastic at it, and I have put in over a decade of research and seen thousands of children of all behavioral types. I have been in high demand as a pre-school teacher for a number of years, but I now refuse to teach pre-school (except in the summer), because this job BURNED ME OUT. I passed the torch onto others. I trained them, I told them how important this job was. How dearly I loved it. They understood, they learned, they mastered the craft, and now they are burned out too.

    One thing that will make ANYONE’s life easier as a pre-school teacher is BOUNDARIES. Parents are bad with boundaries these days. They think boundaries are abuse. This is so very wrong, and what I’ve discovered is that parents and children are just CRAVING boundaries. They don’t know that they are, but once they get them, they are delighted. The result is a focused, productive, and joyful classroom of both kids AND satisfied parents. Just because we don’t have a masters in education, doesn’t mean we can’t have the same boundaries that kindergarten teachers have in their classrooms! Just because we are dance teachers doesn’t mean we are not educators! Our classroom deserves every bit as much respect as any other classroom.

    Here are just a few of my rules and discoveries:

    1) No parents in the room unless there is SEVERE separation anxiety. Kids with separation anxiety CAN get over this with a bit of commitment from both teacher and parent. Work together to slowly get children comfortable on their own. It IS possible. Remember, they have to go to school one day ALL BY THEMSELVES. Don’t enable their clingy behaviour. Have a parent day when they can come in and watch and remind the parents that they can watch to their heart’s content on this day.

    2) Parents MUST be in the room for ages 2-3 yrs, and they MUST dance along with their children. They can’t sit on the floor and expect their child to dance, nor can they hang on the side and take photos and expect their child to dance. Dance along with your child! Show them that it’s fun! If they don’t dance on day 1,2, or 3, don’t give up! I’ve seen children start dancing on DAY 10!! It’s still a remarkable achievement and both you and the child will be very excited about the progress.

    3) Teachers, know when to change your tune. Pay attention to how your class is feeling. If they’re restless, do a running exercise. If they’re out of breath, do a sitting exercise. If they’re un-focussed, sing a song that brings the group together. Pace your class like you would any other dance class. Warm up, exercises, cool down, reverence! Children may only be able to gallop, run, and jump, but there are a lot of fine and gross motor skills that can be learned in a pre-school class. A child can most certainly have a physical, creative dance work-out AND learn some very very basic elements of alignment and technique. Don’t under-value these basic locomotor skills, they ARE part of learning to dance.

    4) Children always have a choice whether or not to dance. It is impossible to force a child to do anything. Do not get angry with a child if they wont dance. Calmly and firmly explain to them that they always have a choice, but if they are not dancing, they must sit off to the side, on their bottom, quietly watching the class. They may not run around the room, they may not play with the piano, they may not sit on mommy’s lap. Remind them that this is the only other option. Most kids will get sick of this option really quickly and will jump right back in with the class. If the child sits out for a long time, remember to remind them that they are welcome to join in at any time. If they join in and seem excited to be back, praise them. If they join in and seem a bit hesitant, they are needing space. Make them feel included but don’t pay too much attention to the fact that they came back. Some kids get embaressed by too much attention and will promptly run back over to their watching spot. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR STUDENTS PERSONALITIES. They truly are just little people.

    5) In a half hour long 2-3 yr old group, you don’t have time for discipline. Children this age are too used to mommy or daddy and these boundaries don’t work in the same way as a 3-4 yr old group. When mom or dad is in the room, your authority is challenged, so it is your job to remind the parents how to motivate the kids and give them boundaries. You provide the structure for the class and have fun with the kids, and if you feel a child is not responding to your structure, work with the parent to help the child understand the boundaries, and help them feel safe to participate and enjoy themselves.

    Oh God, I could go on forever. We are REAL teachers, and the sooner people realize this, the less we will have to tolerate concrete floors, patronizing parents, gender-specific/Anne Geddes-esque course titles, low pay for low hours, no breaks, etc.

    It’s worth it in moderation. When I see a child transform before my eyes into a confident individual who loves to move, I could cry. It is magic. All the other bullshit is worth it just for that.

    I will stop now.

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