Using Teaching to Supplement Your Salary

Teaching a contemporary class
Most dancers that identify themselves as independent dance artists need to have some type of backup plan to sustain themselves during off times, supplement their income, or throw some extra spending money in their pockets. While a handful of dancers choose to make some of their income working at a restaurant, as a barista, and at other non-dance jobs, I wouldn't be afraid to make the claim that a majority of freelancers use teaching dance classes to supplement their dancer salary.

Some dancers teach because it seems like the most obvious and practical way to work in their field when they aren't dancing in a studio themselves. Whether they are or aren't passionate about passing on our art, it is much more lucrative to teach an hour and a half dance class than it often is to work in other fields. Luckily, for me, teaching has never been an unfortunate necessity to help supplement my income. I have always known that I wanted to teach and freelancing has only allowed me to incorporate this aspect of dance into my schedule.

My interest in teaching didn't come naturally. In my earlier training years, I was more focused on the number of pirouettes I could execute than sharing my knowledge of dance with those younger than me. It wasn't until the age of 16 that I really took notice in the importance of having a passionate, caring instructor. Kimberly Martin, or Ms. Kim, was the first teacher that I had that went way out of her way to help me along my path towards becoming a professional dancer. I had many instructors that worked their asses off to get me to where I did, but Ms. Kim was a bit different. When she realized how passionate I was about dancing, she took me under her wing, coached me, inspired me, and even let me live with her on the weekends to extend my training as far as she could. Beyond that, I had incredible experiences with Claudio Munoz during my summers at the Houston Ballet Academy, Jock Soto and Peter Boal at the School of American Ballet, Paul Gibson as a Ballet Master with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Bob Rizzo of Riz-Biz Productions. As teachers and mentors, these people showed me how giving and unselfish the art of teaching can be. Existing in the somewhat selfish profession of ballet, where you spend countless hours staring in the mirror and working on yourself, I knew I had to find a way to pull myself out of the narcissism involved in self-correcting and instruct those that had similar dreams.

The first time I tried to gain teaching experience was when Peter Boal took over PNB. Sitting in my first evaluation with my new boss and former teacher, I vocalized my interest in developing my chops as an instructor. I assumed that we would quickly bond over this since his teaching had inspired me only a few years prior. It was a bit surprising when he responded, "I think you should really focus on your dancing right now." Nearly, a decade later, I don't necessarily disagree with his opinion. But I still wish that he had given me the opportunity to develop my skills under his tutelage.

It wasn't until a summer layoff a handful of years into my career that I got my first true opportunity to conduct a classroom. I was visiting home for a few weeks between seasons when the director of my home studio called to see if I wanted to teach a few ballet classes for their week-long intensive. I jumped at the chance and nervously developed a lesson plan for the class. Secretly, I hoped that I would show up, leave the paper sitting in the corner, and prove the genius of a teacher that I was on my first try. But in reality, having a written lesson plan helped me out a great deal, as I was no prodigy. Where I think I lacked in experience, I made up for in blind passion.

I didn't have many opportunities to teach outside of, maybe, three more individual classes at home until I began working as a freelancer. The closest I got to working with students would be the three years I choreographed new works on the Professional Division students for PNB's annual Next Step Choreographer's Showcase. While I didn't get to work with this young talent in a classroom setting, I still had the gratification of helping these kids along their path.

Once I started freelancing, I realized how important it was that I find ways to supplement my income. I googled Philadelphia Ballet School, came up with a contact list of training facilities in the region, and started sending my information out in search for work. Only a few schools responded and, of those, only one ended up working out. I was extremely excited to get in the studio, but I was also a bit nervous for my classes. My nerves had gotten the best of me and when the school director asked how much teaching experience I had, I lied and told them that I had three years. The honest truth was that the number three was just a little less than the number of classes I had taught. My untruth meant that I would have to show up with undeniable confidence and avoid any errors in instruction. Luckily, things worked out well. Perhaps, I was kind of a natural.

Adv. Ballet class w/Alaska Dance Theatre (My Students & Pianist)
Over the past 3 1/2 years, I have taught everywhere from local schools to pre-professional training academies and for companies that hold drop-in classes. Recently, I have added professional dancers to the mix; teaching company class for Eugene Ballet, the National Choreographers Initiative, and Koresh Dance Company. All of these have been incredible, but the most rewarding experience I have had in my short teaching career has been working for nearly four months as Interim Artistic Director for Alaska Dance Theatre.

Getting to spend so much time working with my students at ADT, I was able to see the fruits of our labor in working towards perfection. In almost four months of classes, the students that I worked with had exploded technically and grew a great deal as artists. My passion for dance and their trust in my instruction created this incredible atmosphere where you could feel a tingling energy the moment that each class started.

One of my students at Alaska Dance Theatre - When I arrived, her leg was at 90 degrees, knee was bent, & foot wasn't fully extended. This was taken two months later.
I always knew in my heart that I had talent as a teacher. Dance isn't just my vocation. It is my ultimate passion. I immerse nearly every moment of my day in the dance world. My approach to teaching is essentially my own version of (and a way better version than) No Child Left Behind. No matter talent, body-type, or level, I always try my best to make sure that every student receives a handful of corrections throughout class. The schools that I have taught at have ranged from recreational dance schools to academies that only work to train professional dancers. Here and there, I have heard recreational school owners tell me that the kids just want to have fun. My instant reaction to this is, "Dancing is a lot more fun when you can do it well." I am tough, but I am honest and I don't let dancers get away with wanting anything less than the best for themselves.

It is very sad that I will not be returning to Alaska for the upcoming semester (though I will be returning to teach at their summer intensive in June). But lost opportunities can lead to new ones, sometimes instantly. The last few weeks I was in Alaska, I learned that the famous Millennium Dance Complex franchise was opening a new school in Philadelphia. Not only is this institution bringing commercial dance classes to my city, it opened its' doors a block away from my apartment. It seemed too good to be true. So, I sent my information to the owners, was hired on the spot, and solidified my place on the faculty at Millennium. After returning home from Alaska to a week of Nutcracker and another week to adjust to being home, this Saturday I begin teaching an Advanced/Professional Ballet class and an Advanced Contemporary class at this renowned institution. I am very excited to have the opportunity to continue having a regular place to continue teaching and look forward to gaining more teaching opportunities in the near future! Cheers!

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