15 Signs of a Bad Dance Teacher You Must Be Aware Of!

I have been an adjudicator at dance competitions for a while now and I regularly get asked by parents and students if I believe their studio’s teacher is ‘a bad dance teacher’ especially when they don’t do so well at the competition. I would never come out and intentionally defame anyone, so I usually explain there are signs of bad dance teaching they should look out for instead. As it is a question I am asked quite often, I thought I would write an article to direct them to and to help other parents and dancers determine if they have a ‘bad dance teacher’

Some clear signs your child is learning from a ‘Bad’ dance teacher are: your dance teacher constantly yells, criticizes student’s bodies rather than critiques their dancing, has little or no qualifications to teach or manipulates or humiliates their students.

Dance teachers are some of the most hardworking, underpaid, and passionate people on this planet. And in general, each and every one of them wants to do what is best for their students. I should know – I teach dance!

But unfortunately, you will always find a few who for various reasons have either: developed bad habits and skills that manipulate, scare or humiliate their students into compliance to get results; who use unsafe techniques because that is how they were taught; are passionate but unskilled dancers themselves; or who teach dance because after years and years of giving themselves to the craft they feel they do not know how to do anyting else, even when teaching gives them no joy.

But how do you know, especially if you are new to dance if your teacher is really going to be helpful and develop your child into the dancer they want to become – whether they dance just as a hobby and for fitness and enjoyment or whether they want to take on dance as a career. Here are 15 Signs of a Bad Dance Teacher You should look out for:

The Qualities of a Bad Dance Teacher

One or two of these things on occasion may be unavoidable – no one is perfect but if your child’s teacher is doing most of the things on this list – it is probably time to say goodbye and look for a new studio. This is important for wellbeing and safety. The BEST school isn’t always the best for your child!

If you are uncertain if your dance teacher is actually doing any of these things read on further as I break each one down, to help you identify the factors and behaviours and whether they are affecting your child and their dance development.

1. Your dance teacher is not experienced or qualified

To open a dance school you need money! – not a qualification or experience! You need to be able to rent a space, promote your lessons and get people in the door. Unlike schoolteachers who after studying a degree at university where they learn about the psychological aspects of teaching and who are then required to go through full background checks, some dance studios have little to no requirements when hiring their staff, and immediately hand these teachers full classrooms of children to see how they go. Inexperienced and mentally unfit teachers do exist, and it can be difficult to immediately recognize a bad teacher because the route to becoming a dance teacher can be so ambiguous.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
A question you should first ask is – when dropping your dancer off at their dance studio is, are you completely sure that they’re spending their time with a dance instructor that is safe, supportive, knowledgeable, and who always has your child’s best interest in mind? Has your teacher after a year of studying dance decided they want to teach? Or has your teacher after years of professional employed work as a dancer become an instructor. Alternatively, did your teacher take ballet lessons at their local school their whole life, or did they do yearly examinations which culminated in a teacher’s certificate to teach a syllabus of dance? Or maybe your teacher did a degree majoring or minoring in dance and or education or went to a pre-professional dance school?

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2. No Knowledge About Injuries or Safe Dance Practices

Dance teachers should have adequate knowledge about the steps to take when a student gets injured under their watch. Many teachers have extensive knowledge and a studio protocol in place, but frighteningly, others may just be guessing. Dancers are athletes so injuries are inevitable but imagine what could happen if the wrong protocol is taken and an injury becomes more serious than it could have been. Obviously, dance teachers aren’t doctors, but knowing whether to elevate, ice, compress, or just band-aid can be easily researched. Any adult who is instructing exercise with children should have this basic knowledge.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Prolonged pain and injuries can also be signs of a dancer being taught improper technique. An example being that extensive knee pain can be caused by the knees repeatedly buckling to the sides and not bending correctly over the foot, which is something that should be corrected by a teacher. If your dancer is experiencing constant pain or being injured too regularly, talk to a sports doctor or physiotherapist about what potentially could have caused these issues. Such as if they were from continuous strain or from one specific incident. If your teacher was never aware of certain technique issues being injury-inducing, that teacher may not have enough experience.

One of the scariest problems I’ve seen is the teachers who push dancers to return to the studio before they have had adequate time to recover from an injury. Returning to dance before a dancer’s body is ready leads to more serious injuries, some affecting dancers for the rest of their lives. While it can be hard for the dancer to grasp, a dance teacher should never be upset that a student has to sit-out of a recital or competition due to an injury. It is extremely dangerous for a teacher to have the attitude that a rehearsal or performance is more important than a child’s health and safety.

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3. They Pressure their Dancers into Excessive Practice

A line exists between pushing students to achieve and working them entirely too hard. If a child is afraid of their teacher or thinks their teacher “doesn’t like them,” that is not a healthy environment. Phrases like “that’s just how ballet is,” “you should be in pain” are toxic statements that don’t allow your child’s feelings to be validated. Dancing shouldn’t be painful and working students to their absolute limit can cause serious injuries. Dancers should instead feel comfortable to ask questions and make mistakes. Going to dance class, or any other extracurricular activity, should never feel like a punishment.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Different levels of dance training exist, and different teachers have different strengths within these. A gymnast who is trying to go to the Olympics versus a gymnast who just wants to learn a back-handspring requires a very different training regimen for example. If a student has the intention of reaching professional feats and wants to be given that specific attention, that should have been a conversation between the teacher, parent, and dancer. Treating every student like they want to be professional dancers will only take the fun out of dance class for those who aren’t as serious.

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4. Stealing Choreography

Stealing another choreographer’s work is 100% a no-no in the dance world. Choreography theft isn’t always recognized as a crime, which is why everyone in the dance industry should hold themselves to a standard. While it’s acceptable to use other work for inspiration, such as the style or an individual step, if a dance teacher needs to steal an entire routine step-by-step, they should not have taken the job and may not be knowledgeable enough about the industry to realize it’s wrong.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
If they know it’s wrong and does it anyway, that’s obviously a red flag! Dance teachers are getting paid to not only teach by to choreograph – does a writer get paid for their work if it is plagiarized? There are many fantastic teachers who know choreography isn’t their strong suit and therefore pay another choreographer to create dances. That is perfectly fine! I’ve unfortunately heard of instances where a teacher showed a video of another troupe performing a routine and had their class learn it directly off of the video. This demonstrates to students that stealing is acceptable, and winning the competition is more important than being honest.

5. The Dance Teacher that Gossips

Disagreements are inevitable in every community, but how a dance teacher handles the small “studio drama” shows worlds about their professionalism. No teacher should be talking ill on other students or parents who attend the studio, specifically to other students and parents! This creates a toxic environment because not only does it put the listeners in an awkward position but sharing information that isn’t meant to be shared can create more drama that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. While the occasional comment typically happens, begin to notice if a teacher is fully committed to and somewhat enjoying the studio drama. The students are the ones who lose in this situation, because giving energy to gossiping means less energy on what matters most: dance.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Dance teachers grow very close to families and inevitably learn private information, such as illnesses, family situations, and financial struggles. My first dance teacher knew everything about my family’s finances, as my mother began working for the studio to help pay for classes. My studio owner kept my family’s struggles incredibly private. It worries me to think that in a toxic studio setting, this information may have been spread and I can imagine myself as a teenager being very hurt and embarrassed. Unfortunately, an individual who is willing to tell you secretive information about other families, maybe doing the exact same about your family.

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6. They are Never Wrong and won’t change

An instructor who puts themselves on a pedestal and doesn’t believe they make mistakes doesn’t create an open environment for students to grow. This is a tricky personality that I have gotten very accustomed to with some of my previous teachers, but it’s a very outdated form of instruction and one that the dance industry is trying to move away from. From my experience, teachers that believe they know everything are never the best teachers because they don’t believe they have anything else to learn.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Dance is an ever-evolving field, therefore dance teachers should always be continuing their education and learning new methods. Not admitting you don’t know something, not taking responsibility, and not apologizing are signs of insecurity and someone trying to cover-up for inexperience or lack of motivation to keep up with best teaching practices. You will want to find a dance teacher who has the ability to have open discussions and admit when an action or statement may have not been correct. You also want a teacher who is willing to try different ways of teaching their students as each student learns differently and a one for all approach won’t work with everyone!

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7. They Purposely Embarrass Students to Prove a Point

I’ve sadly witnessed one of my dance teachers call out an individual to make them perform a combination alone when they were fully aware the child didn’t know the choreography and was about to feel very embarrassed. The teacher tried to make the humiliating incident seem acceptable by following it with, “in an audition, you may have to do a combination alone,” which doesn’t make it a suitable treatment for that young, non-professional dancer.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
This time we are looking for good signs that your teacher is able to use effective ways to solve problems that don’t humiliate or create a stressful environment for the student. They should be talking to students privately and finding out exactly why they aren’t picking up the choreography, offering tips on helping with memory, encouraging them to practice the dance at home, providing a video copy of the choreography for the student to watch: look for the healthy solutions your teacher provides that avoid making a student feel inadequate. No good teacher would ever want to make a child feel humiliated on purpose so if you are not seeing any of this healthy behavior in your teacher’s actions only actions that humiliate students you may wish to think about whether that is the kind of environment you want your dancer to continue learning in.

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8. They prevent your dancer taking on other opportunities

If your child wants to cut-back on dance classes because they also want to play volleyball or act in a school play, that is your child’s decision, and their dance studio shouldn’t feel like they have a say in the matter. Branching out into other activities is important in a child’s life because it can teach a child about themselves and which activity is the most meaningful to them. Some teachers may be sad to see your child less, but it’s your child’s life and not theirs no matter how talented or how much effort they have put into your child. Dropping out of a promised obligation, such as a competition team, is a trickier situation because I believe dancers should try their best to adhere to commitments. I had a case where a dancer was extremely unhappy on a competition team, and after learning about how she felt it was more important to me that the dancer not be forced to do something she didn’t enjoy, and at the end more simple to change the formations in the competition dance.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Some teachers are convinced that their dance studio offers everything a dancer could ever want, which is rarely the truth, and not always in a bad way. If a child wants to learn hip hop and their studio doesn’t offer hip hop, they should take a hip hop class somewhere else. The idea that dancers should only take classes at one studio or from one teacher is extremely limiting and they can miss out on incredible experiences. Serious dancers should branch out in other dance ventures, such as summer programs and master classes. I’ve learned from countless teachers, and each one has given me knowledge I otherwise wouldn’t have. Having said that, taking classes from many teachers also helped me learn which traits I prefer in a teacher. Noticing these toxic behaviors I’ve been discussing can be impossible if you’ve only been taught by one teacher, so it sometimes can be crucial for students to experience an array of instructors.

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9. Bad Communication and Little Feedback

Some studios have excellent communication systems set in place such as a website where you can get all the studio handbooks, a forum or group app where they relay messages and they might send you emails or newsletters. I find dance schools that have good communication setups for parents and dancers also have good communication systems in the classroom for feedback and corrections. Some studios have student journals and ask their students to write down specific corrections they received in class to go over at home before their next class. But what if your teacher doesn’t do any or only does some of this? How do you know what is going on?

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
When your child comes home from dance class and you ask them what they need to work on or practice and they can rarely give you an answer, it might mean that the teacher is not giving your child any specific feedback in class. Some teachers walk around making broad statements that they expect the whole class to apply rather than attend to students individually. This is fine when doing a one-off masterclass for example where the teacher does not know the students very well, but if this is your child’s ongoing teaching style your child is not going to benefit very much from the impersonal instruction.

Another is if a parent asks an instructor about their child’s class and receives the response, “Hannah was fantastic today!” but Hannah says she sat in time-out half the class for misbehaving: that’s a red flag. Teachers should not be hiding classroom occurrences, especially ones that keep the child from learning. Not sharing class information can sometimes be a small oversight but you could have potentially found an instructor that isn’t honest, or an instructor that doesn’t realize the importance of communicating with parents. Children acting out in class is inevitable, even for experienced teachers, but lying is a bigger problem because the teacher and parent are a team with the shared goal of helping the child succeed. Dance teachers cannot communicate every single detail about every class, but teachers should regularly have feedback or suggestions that a parent can also discuss with their child.

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10. Displaying Toxic Favoritism

To start, treating students differently exists for certain reasons, and is not necessarily due to favoritism. Every dancer learns differently, so treating them all exactly the same is a disservice to them. Some dancers learn just from watching a combination, but others need it to be broken down and repeated. Some love the attention of being put on the spot, but others have nightmares about that! An experienced teacher knows this fact, knows their students, and makes sure to teach in multiple ways that will be beneficial to everyone in their class.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Unfortunately, a toxic form of favoritism does exist in the dance studio. It’s hard to pinpoint because the word can be thrown around every time a dancer has a disappointment. Dancers are going to have disappointments, and not every child can always be the lead. But there’s a difference between your child being placed in the back of the formation once versus your child being consistently ignored in class because other students are more talented. If something of the sort is bothering your child, talk to their teacher specifically about what they can do to improve. Your teacher should have aspects they can work on, but if this conversation is met with anger, excuses, or complete denial you may have found a teacher who is well-versed in favoritism.

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11. Acting as a Friend, Instead of a Mentor

It’s very common to see dancers develop much closer relationships with their dance instructors than those with their teachers at school. After my parents, my dance teachers were the adults that I felt closest to and were the role-models who shaped my future. With close relationships, one should still hold the boundary of it being a professional adult/child relationship.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Being a “friend” to the dance teacher may seem like you’re a favorite who has gained their trust but can be a slippery slope. A dance teacher who is using their older students as venting outlets, hang-out buddies, or even mature-material therapists diminishes the professionalism and introduces children to issues they may not be ready to handle. A dance teacher is an adult that you are trusting to have the best intentions and shouldn’t be breaking that trust.

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12. They are Overly Competitive

Every dance studio desires to house talented students, be well-known in their community, and leave victorious at competitions. There aren’t shortcuts to these feats, they come once the work has been put into providing excellent classes to their students. A dance teacher who is only focused on winning competitions, or being the best dance studio in the area, is probably giving their energy to those goals, instead of making sure their current students are becoming healthy, happy, and well-rounded dancers. The obvious goal at competitions is winning, but attending competitions holds so much more purpose than just racking up trophies and bragging rights. Dancers should be able focus on dancing their best, having fun, watching other fantastic dancers, and making memories; instead of only worrying about pleasing their competitive teacher. A teacher who gets very upset when losing, especially in front of those competing students, is a horrible example to students.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Teachers who focus on training “tricks” to perform at competitions, while they can be impressive, can lead to injury if a teacher hasn’t already taught proper technique and conditioning for a dancer’s body to handle them. I’ve seen a serious, surgery-required injury where a dancer had an impressive tilt on her right leg and was always encouraged to train that right-legged tilt, because it was the more impressive side for competitions. Her teacher didn’t realize that only training a trick on her right side, and not her left, was going to lead to hip surgery by the time she was eighteen.

Another example is instructors creating an environment where students are competitive with each other, instead of being each other’s biggest fans. Children are typically naturally competitive, and an occasional fun game in class is a method I use to highlight my students’ strengths. Afterward, a competition should be followed by complimenting and clapping for every other student in the class. Students wanting other students to fail should never be encouraged or tolerated.

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13. They Body Shame

Dancers come in all shapes and sizes. It is never the job of a dance teacher to shame a student if their body does not look a certain way. Having a ‘ballet body’ which by the way can be explained by different people as being a different thing is not the goal of many dancers, especially at a studio level, where instead the purposes and focus should be to learn to dance, have fun and to get to perform in front of an audience.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
If your teacher specifically excludes your child because of their weight this is a big sign that perhaps they are not the best teacher for your child. When giving feedback they should be giving tips on how your dancer can improve rather than critiquing their body size. Another sign is if they shame or make demeaning comments about your child’s body that make them feel uncomfortable or have no relation to the aesthetics of dance. If your teacher complains and whines about having to find costumes that fit certain members of the class in front of other students or parents this is another sign that they are not doing the best job. If they try to put your child on a diet rather than speak with you about getting professional help through a qualified nutritionist or doctor – this can be a sign of bad teaching as they are not experts in this area and possibly have their own issues with weight and food that could influence the advice they give you.

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14. No Concern for Personal Boundaries

As a teacher, I know that a quick way for a child to find the correct foot placement, is for me to place their foot there. Touching and moving students to help them feel the correct body position is a common practice in dance classes but must be done 100% respectfully. In today’s standards, I choose to announce what I’m doing such as “you can hold my hand for balance” or ask, “may I move your leg?” I learn each student’s boundaries and have reached points where certain students don’t want to me to ask anymore, but that comes after building a layer of trust. When it goes beyond moving an arm, leg, or foot, such as moving a pelvis in the correct alignment, there certainly needs to be a conversation of comfortability.

SIGNS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Tell your child that they should speak up for themselves if they are touched in a way that makes them uncomfortable, and teachers must respect if a student is not comfortable with contact. If a teacher claims, “this is how dance is” and ignores your child’s boundaries, run away! There are other methods of correcting a student, and if a teacher is unwilling to figure that out, keep running!

If any contact from the teacher to your dancer is of an aggressive manner, run away faster! Dance training in many years past used to be much different. My teacher recalled being smacked with her instructor’s cane every time she didn’t point her foot. Obviously, that kind of teaching should not exist today and has no place in current society. This seems like a no-brainer, but dance teachers somehow keep getting away with this behavior by stating the overused “this is how dance is.” The dance industry has worked very hard to progress in the other direction and doesn’t need to be a community where inappropriate behaviors are accepted.

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15. Working with Children Clearance

Some countries such as Australia have what is called a ‘Working with Children’ program, through which all adults working with children even on a volunteer basis need to obtain to be able to work with children. If you live in a country or state that has a similar program and are concerned with the teaching occurring at your studio, contact the working with children organization to see if your teacher is registered with them and cleared to work with children. If not, ask your teacher to go through the process of becoming approved and if they decline, then you know this is a sign that you are perhaps not at the dance studio you want to be at!

You Now know the Signs- What Next?

Dance instruction is undoubtedly one of the hardest jobs on the market, though it not appear as such. One has to have knowledge in dance technique, child development, kinesiology, choreography, first aid as well as knowledge of how to run a business, market their school, do the books and admin… the list goes on! You may, unfortunately, have a teacher who is lacking in certain areas and is not willing to outsource their shortcomings to others or just believes their methods are what it takes to develop their students into dancers.

Now you have the tools to identify these shortcomings being able to name and label them is the first step in solving the problem. The good news is dance studios are becoming increasingly aware of the problems that arise in the industry. Many are encouraging continuing dance education, implementing training, requiring background checks, and some have installed live-feed cameras that play on TVs in their lobby or install windows and class viewing areas. There are countless incredibly talented, knowledgeable, creative, and supportive instructors who know how to avoid toxic behaviors, and the bad ones are truly only a small portion.

Depending on the problem, many teachers may not realize their behaviors can be very damaging, and for some, it just comes down to inexperience. Similar-sounding behaviors could potentially be misunderstandings, therefore talking to your child’s dance teacher is always an important step to take when solving a problem. Being involved in your child’s studio life is of the utmost importance, and also being fully knowledgeable about the standards they set for their teachers. The most vital key to identifying a bad dance teacher is listening to your child. If your child feels their teacher makes them uncomfortable in any way, take action!

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About the Author

Samantha Bellerose

Samantha is a wife and mother of four kids aged 1-9. She danced and acted from the age of 5 and performed in film clips, on television, and in musical theatre professionally. She also taught dance, but after leaving the profession to backpack through Europe, Canada and the USA with her husband for three years, she then completed an Education Degree and taught within primary schools in Australia. Today she is a business owner with her husband and the creator and writer for Dance Parent 101 where she hopes her previous experience as a dancer, current experience as a dance parent and the research and writing skills she gained completing her education degree will help enlighten parents on their journey with their child through the world of dance.