The dance teacher: the ideal case and daily realityAuteur: Dr. Jacques H.A. van Rossum
Dit artikel is eerder verschenen in: Linden, M. van der, L. Wildschut, J. Zeijlemaker (eds.) (2006), Danswetenschap in Nederland – Deel 4. Vereniging voor Dansonderzoek, pp.60-75.
This article originally appeared in: Journal for the Education of the Gifted (Prufrock Press; Waco, TX, USA), 2004, 28 (1), 36-55
The dance teacher is a central figure in the world of dance; the impact of the
dance teacher on the career of a young dancer can be decisive. A dance teacher
is more often than not described as authoritarian. The present study investigated
the various dimensions of the dance teacher’s behavior. To map the teacher’s
behavior, a dance-adapted version of the Leadership Scale for Sport (LSS;
Chelladurai & Saleh, 1980) was constructed as the Leadership Scale for Dance
(LSD). The LSD was administered to both teachers and students of the dance
department of the Amsterdam Theatre School. In addition, dance teachers were
asked to rate daily class behaviors of themselves as teachers, and dance
students were asked to rate their current dance teacher. While the
characteristics of the ideal teacher were very similar for both teachers and
students, large differences appeared in the rating of daily class activities. Ratings
of the teachers and dance classes are interpreted within the frame given by the
LSD scales, that is as indications of the behavior characteristics of the ideal
Professional dancers usually start their training for a professional career early,
often at the age of 8 or 9 years. Over the following 10 years, increasingly
amounts of energy, time, and attention are invested in the dance career (Van
Rossum, 2001a). During this period, the role of the dance teacher is of great
importance and cannot be underestimated. In the domain of sports, parents are
about as important in the career of a talented athlete as is a coach (Van Rossum,
1995); within the domain of dance, the role of the dance teacher (comparable to
the sports coach) is of much more importance when compared to that of the
dancer’s parents (Van Rossum, 2001a). As an illustration: athletes have
indicated often that their family is a ‘sports family’, but only a small minority of
young (12-17 years old) pre-professional dance students considered their family a
‘dance family’ (Van Rossum, 2000). Of older preprofessional dance students (1723
years of age), only 40% stated that their home climate can be described as a
real dance climate (Van Rossum, 2001b). Therefore, the impact of the dance
teacher can hardly be underestimated, while the influence of the parents of a
young dancer can often not act as a balance to the dominance of the dance
teacher. Nevertheless, research on the effectiveness of the dance teacher’s
behavior is scarce. This article describes the characteristics of the ideal dance
teacher and sketches the everyday behavior of the teacher by taking two
perspectives into account: that of dance teachers and that of their dance
The dance teacher
In 1998, Dutch television broadcasted a documentary on the dance education in
Russia. Under the title ‘Caught on Point Shoes’, a sketch was presented in which
key words such as hard and disciplined appeared. One was left with the impression that the dance teacher, a woman, was relentless and authoritarian.
This picture is not restricted to the Russian dance world. In a page long article in
a Dutch national newspaper (Korteweg, 1989), George Balanchine’s School of
American Ballet was described in an article, ‘The West Point of Dance’, that
makes clear that strict discipline is a primary value. While one might discard
these examples as pictures of the old days, even today a dance education is
easily associated with a demanding and authoritarian leadership style. A more
recent example can be found in Hamilton’s (1997) The Person Behind the Mask:
A Guide to Performing Arts Psychology. Being a former dancer with New York
City Ballet and now a clinical psychologist specializing in guiding performers, she
wrote that ‘Dancers often see a master teacher as an omnipotent authority figure
who is both admired and feared’ (p. 7). Hamilton sketched a destructive teacher,
who humiliates dancers in public, who seems only focused on errors and
mistakes, and presents dancers with vague, poorly described goals. As another
example of a portrait of a dance teacher, Hamilton reported on 30 dancers of the
New York City Ballet who were asked about their experiences with the artistic
leader of that dance company, George Balanchine, 2 years after his death. One
third of the group remarked, ‘His critical comments were cruel and basically
damaging to their selfesteem’ (p. 11). Hamilton was most surprised to find that
the relationship between the dancers and Balanchine was often childlike.
They made themselves dependent on him and put their fate in his hands. However,
the dancers did not describe Balanchine only in negative terms. Nearly half of the
dancers stated that he had freed them from their personal inhibitions, while
others indicated that he had inspired them with his high standards and helped
them exceed their own limits.
For purposes of illustrating the pros and cons in the role of the dance
teacher, one last example is taken from a lengthy interview with Alexandra
Radius, a former solo dancer of the Dutch National Ballet. The interview was 7
years after her farewell in 1990 (Van Soest, 1997). She recalled Benjamin
Harkarvy as someone who was fantastic in his role as dance teacher:
He was able to get the best out of everybody. When he became my teacher at
the National Ballet, I was still young, only 15 years of age. He recognized my
dance talent and he really protected me, letting me do every time a little bit
more than before. He always said that I have time, don’t push yourself. Dancers
have more time than they think. I am an example, I danced until I was 48 years
of age. (p.44)
Dance teachers evoke various, even contradictory feelings. As teachers of
talented or gifted individuals, their impact is sometimes underestimated, possibly
in the first place by the teachers themselves. The role of the teacher of gifted
individuals is nicely sketched in Streznewski’s (1999) book, Gifted Grownups:
The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential. She discussed the fact that many
of the gifted people she interviewed reported serious problems in school: ‘What
seems to have made a crucial difference for many students is understanding,
supportive teachers’ (p. 74). Such teacher behavior is helpful in that it limits
both the number and seriousness of such problems and it prevents dropping out
of school. Therefore, as Streznewski found, a good teacher does make a
difference: ‘Many of the students expressed gratitude to those special teachers
who allowed them to see larger worlds, to try more sophisticated work, to play
over their heads’ (p. 87).
The purpose of the present study was to understand the general picture of dance
teachers from the perspective of teachers and dance students. In addition to the
characteristics of the ideal teacher, the way teachers behave in everyday life
(i.e., while teaching a dance class) is addressed. In particular, differences
between teachers’ and students’ opinions are explored.
Dance students. The subjects attended a school for higher education in the
Netherlands and formally studied dance with the aim of becoming professional
dancers. In general, children start taking dance classes while in elementary
school, become committed in their adolescent years, and start professional dance
studies. In the Netherlands, a professional dance course (as one of the branches
of Dutch higher education) generally takes 4 years and usually starts directly
after secondary school at the age of 18 or 19. Candidates must audition prior to
enrollment in a dance department of a school of the arts.
Each of the subjects in the present investigation was a student at the
Amsterdam School of the Arts. The dance department offers five study routes.
There are three routes for those who aspire to a professional dance career
(classical ballet, modern dance, and jazz dance), one route for those who intend
to become an independent dance artist (choreographer), and one route for those
who want to become a dance teacher. It is selfevident that, in the three routes toward a professional dance career many dance classes are on the daily schedule; a similar high number of dance classes are on the schedule of the choreographerstobe
and the dance-teachers-to-be.
For the students in the present study, a mean number of 13 dance classes per week equaled 24 hours per week in taking dance classes. This illustrates that, within each of the different routes, a strong emphasis was placed on active dance involvement.
Two groups took part in the study: 157 dance students (65% of 234 students) and 39 dance teachers. Twenty-eight of the dance students were in preparatory education, 28 in dance teacher education, 21 in choreography and 80 in performing dance education (ballet, jazz, modern). Of the 157 students, 127 were female (81%) and 30 were male (19%). The average age of the subjects was 21, with the oldest subject being 35 years and the youngest 15.
The majority of the subjects were 20 or 21 years old. The mean age at which
they started to take dance classes is 9.3 years, while the mean age at which they
started to practice seriously was 14.0 years. The student group was considered
to be a highly experienced and talented group of preprofessional dancers.
A Normal Week. A dance student spends an average of about 24 hours per week
in the studio, while taking dance classes. Those hours do not include theory class
time, general physical preparation before dance classes, travel to and from
school, or other things related to school education, such as preparations and
rehearsal for performances. The dance hours are spent on an average of 13
sessions throughout the week. Further, a student needs time for necessary
marginal activities such as travel to and from school, injury treatment, and short
breaks. According to the dance students, such activities take on average
somewhat more than 9 hours per week. Nearly all students live in the Amsterdam vicinity. Most live on their own and prepare their own meals since there is no campus or housing facility for them. To complete the sketch of a normal week, that is, a week without performances, many of the students also do activities that demand physical activity or physical effort, in addition to their activities and practice in school. About half of the student sample indicated that they were involved in additional activities for an average of about 5 hours per week. Sometimes such activities were necessary to earn money (waiting on tables, dancing as a gogo girl in a disco), while, for most others, it constituted supportive practice for dance (as cardiovascular or fitness exercise at the gym, jogging, and sports activities), and special dance classes such as the Alexander-technique. Therefore, for most students, a workload of more than 30 hours of being physically active is considered normal in a week without performances and rehearsals.
The students filled in a questionnaire during the early spring. Two versions
were available. Foreign students were offered an English version of the
questionnaire. The Dutch version of the questionnaire was completed by 68% of
the subjects. As no significant differences were found in preliminary analyses
that compared answers from the Dutch and English versions of the
questionnaire, the data of the two versions were pooled.
Dance Teachers. Each teacher in the dance department was invited to take part
in the study. Of the 74 teachers, 39 filled in the questionnaire (53%), with 30
being female and 9 male. Mean age of the teachers group was 44 years, ranging
from 29 to 60 years of age. Among the 39, 21 teachers (53%) were teaching
dance technique classes, 8 (21%) were teaching theory classes, and 10 (27%)
had other roles within the dance department, such as artistic director or another
managerial function. Notwithstanding their various present jobs within the dance
department, each of the 39 persons had experience as a dance teacher. Of the
total sample of 39 teachers 31 (79%) have been active as a dancer, 43% at the
international level. For 28 teachers (72%) dance plays a role in their life apart
from their work at the dance department (e.g., as a choreographer, performer,
coach or repetiteur; in freelance activities; or at the managerial level).
Three kinds of measures were used: a leadership scale, rating scales and a
questionnaire. A leadership scale was adopted for this study from the domain of
athletics, where research on coach’s behavior has used the Leadership Scale for
Sport (LSS; Chelladurai, 1990; Chelladurai & Saleh, 1980). The original scale
consists of 5 scales: training and instruction (13 items), positive feedback
behavior (5 items), social support behavior (8 items), democratic behavior (9
items), and autocratic behavior (5 items). The 40 items are answered by
crossing one of five alternatives: ‘always’, ‘often (75% of the time)’, ‘occasionally
(50% of the time)’, ‘seldom (25% of the time)’, ‘never’. Table 1 presents an
summary description of the content of each of the five scales. One of the
features of the LSS is that three versions are available: (a) the athletes’
preferences for coach behavior (the ideal coach), (b) the athletes’ perceptions of
actual coach behavior (the actual coach), and (c) the coach’s perceptions of his
or her own behavior.
The LSS has been translated into at least 8 languages (Chelladurai, 1993). Most
translations are restricted to the ideal coach version, as assessed by the athlete.
Across studies and various language versions of the LSS, autocratic behavior has
appeared to be somewhat problematic, since its internal consistency values have
been lower than values of the other four scales (cf. Chelladurai & Riemer, 1998,
Leadership Scale for Dance. Each of the 40 LSS items (ideal coach version) was
translated into Dutch, and, if necessary, adapted to the dance context. As an
index of reliability (internal consistency), Cronbach’s alpha was calculated for
each of the scales of the LSD. For the total sample of dance students and dance
teachers (N = 194), the values indicated that four scales could be considered
reasonably reliable (values varying from .63 to .76) and similar to those of
original English samples (cf. Chelladurai & Saleh, 1980), as well as to a Dutch
translation of the LSS for the sport context (Van Rossum, 1997). The LSD scale
of autocratic behavior appeared to be unreliable (Cronbach’s alpha, .07) and was
eliminated from further analysis. Data analysis was therefore restricted to four
scales. Intercorrelations among LSD scales were low (ranging from .05 to .34),
indicating independence among scales.
Rating of Current Dance Teacher and Current Dance Class. A w measurement
format was employed in an attempt to have characteristics revealed about the
dance teacher and the dance class. The rating scale for the dance teacher
consisted of 22 items, such as supportive, inspiring, authoritarian, strict, and
took interest in me as a person (see Table 2 for the complete set of items). The
scale for the dance class had 18 items, such as structured, cosy, playful,
disciplined, noisy, and motivating (see Table 3). The contents of the items were
inspired and shaped by the findings Bloom (1985) reported in his study on
talented individuals and were checked with experts in the dance field (dance
teachers, artistic directors, dance faculty) to yield the two sets of items.
The student was instructed to rate each item that, in her or his view,
characterised the teacher or the class. At the bottom of the list, room was
reserved for the student to add one or two features that she or he considered
relevant, but this option was rarely used. The expectation was that the ticked-off
items would give an appropriate description of both the teacher and her or his
classes, and the percentage of students that ticked a particular item was taken
to indicate the relevance of the particular item.
For the dance teachers, identical rating scales were included. Teachers
were asked to assess themselves and their dance class on ‘How do you describe
yourself as a dance teacher?’ and ‘How would you describe the typical dance
class you are presently teaching at the dance department?’. As with the student
questionnaire, there were 22 items to rate themselves and 18 items to rate their
dance class. Teachers, too, were given the opportunity to add one or two items
they deemed relevant. In an introductory question to these two rating questions,
each of the respondents was asked about his or her actual involvement with
teaching dance classes. Only those respondents who were, at the time of the
study, actually teaching dance technique classes responded to these questions
about rating themselves and their dance classes (i.e., ratings were obtained from
21 of the 39 teachers).
For the dance students, the LSD questions and the ratings of dance teacher and
dance class were included in a 21-page questionnaire in which also information
was gathered about their personal dance history (cf. Van Rossum, 2001a). The
questionnaire was completed by the dance students in my presence during a
regular 60-minute theory-oriented class.
With respect to the dance teachers’ sample, questionnaires were put into
his or her personal mail box. Questionnaires were completed and anonymously
returned in an envelope. Data gathering from the teachers took place at about
the same time as the student questionnaire sessions were held.
The data were analyzed using an analysis of variance (ANOVA) for the
comparison of mean scores. Effect size (ES) was estimated as the etasquared
value as computed by the statistical package SPSS 10, GLM module. The etasquared
statistic describes the proportion of the total variance attributable to a
factor (cf. Cohen, 1988). In order to compare frequencies statistically, chisquare
analysis is used. In all analyses, a p value of .05 was taken to indicate statistical
Leadership Scale for Dance
Mean scores on each of the four LSD scales of students and teachers are
presented in Figure 1. In agreement with findings in the sport context, both
dance students and dance teachers considered training and instruction and
positive feedback the most important dimensions of the ideal dance teacher.
Teachers regarded two dimensions as more important than students: A twoway
ANOVA showed a significant difference (p < .05) on training and instruction
(means: 4.08 for teachers, 3.69 for students; F = 23.46, ES: .11) and on
positive feedback (means: 4.20 for teachers, 3.65 for students; F = 27.35, ES:
.12). No significant differences were found on the LSD scales for social support
(means: 2.65 for teachers, 2.67 for students; F = 0.06, ES: .00) and democratic
behavior (means: 3.40 for teachers, 3.30 for students; F = 0.89, ES: .01).
Figure 1. Leadership Scale for Dance: Mean score on four leadership scales of two
samples: dance students (n = 157) and dance teachers (n = 39). The four scales are:
training and instruction (instruc), positive feedback (posfbk), social support (socsup) and democratic behavior (democr). See Table 1 for more detailed information as to the
contents of each scale. Statistically significant differences between students and teachers are indicated with an asterisk.
Rating of Dance Teacher. Students were asked to characterize the dance teacher
‘with whom you take the most classes.’ Note that only dance teachers who were
presently teaching dance technique classes were involved in the statistical
analysis; therefore, as indicated earlier, data of only 21 of the 39 teachers who
filled in the questionnaire are presented. In Table 2, the percentages for the
items are given for each of the two samples.
Note. Responses of all dance students, both preparatory dance and HBO education, on ‘the teacher with whom you take the most classes’ and of those teachers who are currently teaching dance technique classes. The table gives the percentage of respondents of each group that crossed the answer in the question (see Figure 2). Order of items is same as in the questionnaire.
Figure 2 presents graphically a selection of the choices of the two groups
(criterion: crossed by at least 40% of one of the groups). The bars are to be read
as follows: While nearly 70% of the students characterized the teacher as geared
toward later profession, more than 90% of the teachers did so. In the graph, significant differences between the two groups are indicated with an asterisk.
Figure 2. Rating of current dance teacher: Sketch of characteristics of teacher according to dance students (n = 157) and dance teachers (n = 21). Of a total list of 22 items, 10 are presented. See Table 2 for a complete list of items: profession = geared toward future profession; dancer = took interest in me as a dancer; person = took interest in me as a person; pleasure = geared toward pleasure in dancing. Statistically significant differences between students and teachers are indicated with an asterisk. As is apparent from both the figures and the tables, teachers appeared to
present a more positive sketch of their characteristic behavior than students did.
Using chisquare to test the difference between student and teacher
percentages, significant differences (p < .05) were found on five characteristics:
geared toward future profession, supportive, took interest in me as a person,
positive, and passionate. It should be added that the item authoritarian was
crossed by none of the teachers and by only 11% of the dance students, and ‘it’s
never any good’ also did not surface as a characteristic of dance teacher
behavior (crossed by 10% of the teachers and 7% of the students; see Table 2).
Although, taken together, the characterization of the dance teacher is
possibly best done by using various items, two items stand out as being most
relevant to students, as well as to teachers. These two items appeared to be
fundamental in characterizing the dance teacher: geared toward future
profession and interest in student as a dancer (crossed by more than 68% of the
students and 90% of the teachers). To these, one should add the following
qualifications: supportive, interest in student as a person, positive, motivating,
geared toward pleasure in dancing, passionate, and very critical. With respect to
the mean number of characteristics crossed, teachers and students did differ
significantly (F = 6.42, p = .01, ES: .04): Teachers crossed an average of 8.10
items, and students crossed a mean number of 6.30.
Rating of Dance Class. Dance students, as well as dance teachers, were also
asked to characterize the dance class. For students, it was the class that was
taught by the dance teacher with whom the student took the most classes, while
the teacher was assessing an ordinary class he or she taught. Both students and
teachers used a list of 18 items. Table 3 gives the percentages for each of the
groups for each item.
Note. Responses of all dance students, both preparatory dance and HBO education,
about ‘the classes as taught by the dance teacher with whom you take the most
classes’, and of the teachers who currently teach dance classes, describing their own
classes. The table gives the percentage of respondents who crossed the item in the
question (see Figure 3). Order of items is same as in the questionnaire.
In Figure 3, the most remarkable choices are depicted. For example, structured
was chosen by 95% of the teachers and by 60% of the students. The chisquare
test was used to test differences in percentages between groups. On two items, a
significant difference (p < .05) was found: structured and motivating. These
significant differences between the two groups are indicated in Figure 3 by an
Figure 3. Rating of current dance class: Sketch of characteristics of the dance class
according to dance students (n = 157) and dance teachers (n = 21). Of a total list of 18 items, 7 are presented. See Table 3 for a complete list of items: improvement = geared toward improvement; yourself = working for yourself. Statistically significant differences between students and teachers are indicated with an asterisk.
With respect to the characteristics of the dance class, teachers and students had
a similar view. For one thing, they did not differ in the average number of items
crossed (teachers, 6.14 and students, 5.41; F = 1.87, p > .05, ES: .01).
Students and teachers agreed that first and foremost a dance class is geared
toward improvement. Further, they agreed that it is hard work, disciplined, and
motivating. While they also agreed that a dance class is structured, teachers
were more convinced of this quality than students appeared to be (see Table 3).
Teachers also claimed that a dance class is inspiring (students did not), while
many students went to a dance class in accordance with the motto of working for
Discussion and Conclusions
As a first conclusion to be drawn from the results, it can be said that, in general,
the dance findings are in agreement with those from other domains, and that,
within the dance sample, more likeness than dissimilarity was found between
subgroups. This was confirmed by the effect sizes of the significant statistical
effects, which were all small (ES < .15).
With respect to the ideal dance teacher, teachers and students held similar
views: A dance teacher should first and foremost be knowledgeable and know
how to best teach and train dance students who opt for a professional career.
Both teachers and students indicated that positive feedback is an important tool.
As said before, these findings are highly similar to the characteristics of the ideal
sports coach (e.g., Terry, 1992, Fig. 34, p. 114). The dance data, therefore,
seem to suggest that one could generalize findings across domains: A teacher, a
coach, a trainer or a mentor (by whatever word the person is called within
various domains who is offering deliberate practice) will probably be experienced
as the ideal person by the pupil, student, athlete, and so forth if behavior is, first
of all, based on expertise (i.e., behavior that demonstrates quality in terms of
training and instruction), and, secondly, if teacher behavior is offering plenty of
positive feedback (i.e., not just indicating what went wrong, but showing ways to
prevent earlier mistakes and improve earlier performance).
This finding is based on the data of all dance students (n = 157). With
respect to the student sample, it is recalled that the students were mostly female
(81%), as well as originating from one of five dance routes: classical ballet,
modern dance, jazz dance, dance teaching, and choreography. Statistical
analysis revealed no significant gender effects on any of the LSD scales (p >
.05). Further, regarding the five dance routes, one significant effect was found
on one of the LSD scales: the mean score on training and instruction was
significantly lower for the subgroup of choreography students (n = 21; mean
score, 3.33) compared to that of any of the other routes, with mean scores
varying between 3.58 and 3.87) (F = 4.37, ES: .12); post hoc analysis (Student
Newman Keuls; p < .05) indicated the latter subgroups not to be statistically
Within the teacher sample, a statistical analysis was carried out to explore
differences between ‘real’ dance teachers (those who are presently teaching
dance technique classes, n = 21) versus ‘other’ teachers (those who were
teaching theory classes or had other roles within the dance department; n = 18).
A significant difference (p < .05) was found on one of the LSD scales: Real
teachers had a lower mean score on democratic behavior than other teachers
(means 3.04 and 3.81, respectively; F = 21.26, ES: .37). On each of the other
three scales (training and instruction, positive feedback behavior, and social
support behavior), no significant differences between the two subgroups were
found (p > .05).
A second conclusion is that the findings of both LSD and ratings point to
two key qualities in teachers: expertise and providing positive feedback. In the
reality of daily life, the ideal teacher will probably not be present most of the
time. The current teacher is possibly best described by two characteristics:
geared toward future profession and interest in student as a dancer (see Table
2). Each of these characteristics might be classified as examples of training and
instruction behavior within the LSD framework (see Table 1). Other
characteristics that were mentioned relatively often by teachers or students were
motivating and positive; these could be viewed as examples of the LSD category
of positive feedback.
A third conclusion that forces itself is that the commonly sketched image of the
dance teacher (as was illustrated in the introduction of this article) is an unjust
judgment. Almost no support has been found for the image of the authoritarian,
strict dance teacher for whom ‘it’s never any good.’ According to both teachers
and students, the ideal teacher favors democratic behavior. Within the context of
a dance class, democratic behavior should probably be interpreted to indicate the
need for consultation on matters that occur during class or are highly related to
dance performance in class. Democratic behavior might be shown by the teacher
in asking the students about the effectiveness of various ways to communicate
certain messages. Democratic behavior might also appear in such issues as
healthful eating & drinking habits, measures regarding injury prevention, or ways
to deal with class instructions while in a process of injury rehabilitation. In
general, democratic behavior is shown in teacher behavior that allows greater
participation by the students in decisions pertaining to class goals, practice
methods, and matters related to (the preparation for) rehearsals and stage
performances (see Table 1).
When asked about daily practice, both teachers and students did not give
any indication that authoritarian was a key characteristic of the dance teacher.
These findings would certainly bring some to discard the notion of the
authoritarian dance teacher, since it is not recognized by either teachers or
students. Onlookers might not be convinced this easily: They might point to this
intriguing phenomenon that dance students are so dependent upon their teacher
that they interpret the teacher’s behavior in a positive manner, and, therefore,
might not be the best judge of the authoritarian teacher. In an essay ‘On
Authoritarianism in the Dance Classroom,’ Smith (1998) claimed, ‘Although
authoritarian behavior appears to be imposed upon the students, often the
students themselves expect and accept such treatment’ (p. 123). The findings
obtained in the present study cannot be decisive on the issue, but they do point
to an interesting gap between the outsider’s opinion and the insider’s perception.
In Ten 20th Century Masters (Warren, 1996), 10 portraits were presented
on internationally famous dance teachers, 6 of whom were women. Within the
world of the dance, women hold the majority. In the present study, 81% of the
student sample, as well as 77% of the teachers sample, were women. In the
questionnaire presented in this study, both dance students and dance teachers
were asked the following question: ‘For me the ideal dance teacher is…?’. Four
alternatives to answer the question were offered: (a) a man, (b) a woman, (c)
dependent on student’s gender, or (d) teacher’s gender makes no difference’. For
75% of the dance students and 90% of the dance teachers, gender made no
difference. Only 12% of the students and 5% of the dance teachers indicated
that the ideal dance teacher is a man, 6% of the students and none of the
teachers indicated that it is a woman, while for 5% of both the students and
teachers felt that it depends on the gender of the student. Finally, therefore, it is
suggested that the ideal teacher characteristics and the ratings of dance teacher
and his or her class appear to be valid for both male and female dance teachers.
The present study did not asses the dance teacher’s effectiveness in
promoting the students’ dance qualities (e.g., in terms of grades in ballet
technique). Since many teachers are involved in the teaching process, it would
not have been possible to assess effectiveness in terms of the number of
students which are placed in excellent professional dance companies. The
present study was simply concerned with the process of teaching. It remains to
be determined how changes in teacher’s behavior might produce effects in terms
of career outcomes. In this context, it is of interest to point to findings of large73
scale studies done with young athletes. After having been trained in creating a
healthy psychological environment in which positive feedback by the coach is a
key element, coaches of these young athletes did not have an improved wonlost
record. Other changes, particularly in psychosocial measures, were striking.
Athletes of trained coaches were different from those of untrained coaches:
Athletes liked their trained coaches more, had more fun, liked their teammates
more, demonstrated lower levels of performance anxiety, had higher selfconfidence,
and had lower dropout rates (Smoll & Smith, 2001). Therefore,
further research should be conducted regarding the dance teacher’s behavior by
taking its effects in terms of outcomes into consideration.
When summarizing the findings, I am tempted to say that the dance teachers are
described as highly knowledgeable. This quality is recognized by students. On the
other hand, there also appears much room for improvement in the area of
positive feedback, at least if teachers would want to become more of an ideal
The description of the dance classes by teachers and dance students
underlines a task orientation: Dance classes are geared toward improvement and
hard work, in which structure and discipline are highly valued. As findings
indicate, both students and teachers emphasized the task orientation of dance
teachers. Students indicated, however, that they also wanted their teachers to
relate to them more in terms of positive feedback and social support.
As the results of this study show, teachers have a more positive image of
their behavior than students have. This discrepancy between teacher and pupil is
not limited to the domain of dance. In their research on coaching effectiveness in
sports, Smith and Smoll (1996) concluded that young athletes demonstrate a
more valid perception of coach behavior than both the coach himself and the
parents of the athletes: ‘The only significant correlation [between the
observation of the coach’s behavior and the coach’s rating of his or her own
behavior] occurred for punishment’ (Smith & Smoll, 1996, p. 130). In a
continuation of their research, Smoll and Smith (2001) have devised a special
course (Coaching Effectiveness Training; CET) that, among other things, intends
to offer coaches the means to calibrate their behavior. From the present results,
one might be inclined to take the idea of a dance CET as an interesting
suggestion. At the very least, teachers should not take their view on daily reality
for granted. This study should be taken as a sign that students sometimes do
perceive things differently!
A further point to be taken from the results of this study is that
authoritarian can hardly qualify as a valid descriptor of the behavior of dance
teachers. While these results should certainly be replicated before one can come
to firm conclusions, one might doubt whether such objective, empirical findings
are indeed effective in changing the existing image of the dance teacher. From
social psychological research, it is well known that information or knowledge will
not suffice here (cf. Smith & Mackie, 2000). Nevertheless, not only would more
research be helpful regarding the role and behavior of the dance teacher, it
would also be of interest to replicate this study with dance teachers in other
segments of the dance world. The present study focused on dance teachers of
preprofessional students. Further research might take either the dance teacher of
the local dance school or the teacher of the professional dancer as an appropriate
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