Tuesday, December 22, 2009


My first two years of teaching I taught completely by myself. Although this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, once you have had an assistant in class you will never want to go back.

Assistant teachers are usually, but not always, students at the dance studio. Assistants typically help with supervising bathroom visits, handing out newsletters, props and stickers, demonstrating exercises and choreography, assist in changing student’s shoes, taking the roll, starting & stopping music and lining up dancers. During recitals or concerts assistants can line up the dancers and give a little TLC to anxious dancers.

How do you choose your assistants?
Some teachers recruit straight out of class based on the student’s qualities and skills. I have heard of prospective candidates being asked to write an essay on why they would make a good assistant. Students may be chosen based on their attendance and dedication to dance. The best dancers don’t necessarily make the best assistants. Do try to choose someone with a liberal dose of common sense – it goes a long way in the classroom. A love of being with young children also helps. A few requirements that will assist in making the best choice are asking the students to sign an assistant’s contract, completing a trial period and undertaking training by the studio.

Assistants should attend a meeting at which duties and responsibilities are discussed. A group meeting before every class, explaining what will happen in the lesson and what will be required of the assistants is useful. That way, you're not expecting them to jump in and guess what's going on. Make an effort to explain what you expect the assistant to do as each lesson progresses. New assistants can be very apprehensive and things an experienced teacher does automatically must be explained-for example, standing at the front of the room and mirroring the students' movements. When I leave the room, I always say, 'The following things must be done...,'. With time, good assistants should be able to offer assistance to a struggling child without being prompted by the teacher. But until then, training is an ongoing process.

At the studio, requirements can include conforming to the school's dress code, helping with vacuuming and other chores and following rules of proper etiquette: smiling, keeping a positive attitude, being polite and respectful to parents, and never arguing with an instructor.

To pay or not to pay
Many studios do not pay their assistants but reward them in some other manner. This may be in the form of lessons, costume deductions or free merchandise. Payment in monetary terms is usually minimal or even as much as a McDonalds pay scheme. I have used a monetary pay system and the alternative system of discounting their dance fees. Both systems have worked well. There are, of course, other benefits to assisting: it looks good on a resume, they learn the discipline of holding down a job and they learn first hand the trials and tribulations of dance teaching.

A good dance assistant is really worth the investment in training them well. The benefit for the studio is that they will understand the aims of not only the studio but the senior teacher as well. Hopefully the outcome will be that you get through more material in class and therefore the benefits roll over to the younger students.

Good Luck!


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