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How to Motivate your Dance Students

Updated on March 15, 2016

Teaching Techniques with Lai Rupe


Often times, knowing how to correctly critique or encourage students can be hard. In today's society many parents blame teachers for fault and not their childre

In this article, I will share with you some personal stories, so together we can learn how to correctly motivate and critique our students, as we help mold them into better dancers.

Last week in an open-level ballet technique class I stopped the dancers to make a general announcement, which I felt was important to that exact moment. There are constantly points like this in classes, where dance teachers have choices about how they can motivate their group of students. It is a moment where a teacher could let loose some yelling, or prowling around the space, showing physically absurd caricatures of corrections required or mistakes made. It is a moment where questions and comfort can be given and taken: Are the students lost? Sick? Tired? Stressed? Operating without an understanding? Over it?

How are they feeling, and what can WE do to help them?

In this moment, I tried my best to relate the importance of accuracy and efficiency of thought and movement. I urged as kindly as possible for the kids to dance ballet technique properly, to show me that they can shape a dégagé when asked, and not let a full combination pass by having danced the wrong step. As I think back to what I said, I remember that the students affirmed their comprehension; they answered “Yes” when I inquired if “any of this is landing in your minds.”

However, with full reflection I believe I mis-stated my meaning, and I did not adequately emphasize my perspective.


My GOAL was that: I want them to dance with purpose, on purpose.

I need them to readjust their focus on ballet technique, as ancient as it seems, and make that technique relevant to their own bodies by interpreting movement mechanics and patterns they are shown. I want their fullest possible understanding to come to life in their every body part. Maybe not every body part every time, but with an increasing degree of accuracy and stamina over time.

I want them to envision the system ballet technique teaches, how every tiny, infuriating detail, once learned, will allow your body to blast off into space with complete control and total abandon.

I want them to like themselves, to be positive about reaching their goals. I want them to feel okay about acting vulnerable, powerful, light or strong depending on which ballet actions are requested.

I want them to feel secure knowing that I am constantly chasing and crafting my own purpose of teaching, that I am forever adapting and reorganizing so that they are able to maximize their short classes into meaningful, thoughtful and successful sessions.

None of these items I want for my students are related to how serious they are about dance, how physically gifted, or how hardworking they may be. I want them to perceive dance as a lens which can focus the bonkers world they live in, and that they can surpass expectations if they find their purposes, and learn with purpose. And then dance with purpose.

Emotional Choreography to embody the purpose of dance

But HOW do you portray that in a way that will inspire your Dance Students?!

  • Having a pow-wow where you can talk and discuss the honest required in dance, is often a great way to do this. My advice, is to NEVER raise your voice, speak calmly and quietly always. Make them listen. Make them focus.
  • Another tip is to lead by example. I have noticed that if I show my dancers a combo, and I do it full out or with emotion, they will too. They WANT to be like me, so they will mirror my example. This is an amazing tool to use as a teacher.
  • Always show-off those students who "get it." In class, you know there is always at least one dancer who is all in and right there with you. Well, spotlight them. Have their classmates see what they are doing right. This will engage a friendly competition within the class friends, and also help the dancers paying attention, feel rewarded and successful.


What Techniques Do You Use, to Help Inspire Your Dancers?

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Lai Rupe - Photography by Tim Pumphrey with Insulated Light Photography


As you go through out class, find ways that motivate YOUR Students. Ask them what they want and how they feel about dance. Get to know them on a personal level.

With any personal tips or advice, don't hesitate to message me! I love taking care of you and other dancers.

Thanks a million!


Lai Rupe



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