What to Do When You’re Intimidated by Your Dance Teacher


September 26, 2013 by Nicole

The “mean dance teacher” and/or the “scary artistic director” are prevailing figures that we associate – and sometimes celebrate, in the case of the Lifetime hit show Dance Moms – with dance. We’ve seen them in movies and TV shows and perhaps encountered them in our past. It’s not uncommon for students of any age to be intimidated by the dance professionals around them, but it’s frustrating and counterproductive.

In my own experience, I had an Artistic Director who I desperately wanted to please and was more than a little nervous around, in part because of a bad dress rehearsal experience. My costume had been sent for alterations and was not ready yet. The Ballet Mistress instructed me to take my place on stage anyway – she wanted me to get the benefit of the rehearsal. However, a third of the way through my first number, I heard what sounded like an angry voice screaming at me to get off the stage. It was the Artistic Director yelling from his spot in the audience. I was incredibly embarrassed, my mom was furious and my Ballet Mistress was frustrated. It was not a positive experience for any of us.

In other words, I’ve been there. I’ve also now had the benefit of time and perspective to help process that experience and have a few words of wisdom to pass along to help your student or yourself work through these kinds of situations. In no particular order….

Listen to the Message, Not the Medium
In my story, what I heard was this person who I admired and wanted to please, screaming angrily at me in front of a giant group of people. In reality, he was giving a simple direction: leave the stage. I was the one who added my own emotion into the message – I perceived the anger and added my own embarrassment in. For all I know, he was having promotional photographs taken or found a non-costumed dancer distracting. For whatever reason, he needed me to exit the stage, and in the environment – a large auditorium with very loud music and a technical crew trying to work out all the cues – yelling was probably the easiest and quickest available method of communication. Instead of focusing on the direction I was being given, I focused on the way it was said & how it came across, which contributed to making it an uncomfortable situation for me.

If you’re wondering, that Artistic Director did come find me during rehearsal to sincerely apologize. He was never angry with me and was of course actually just trying to communicate with – not embarrass – me.

In a more day-to-day classroom setting, the same sentiment still applies. Try to focus on what’s being said, more than how it’s being said. Some teachers “shout” more than others. It’s probably not personally directed at you and is more of a communication habit for them. Try (and/or encourage your student) to hear the content of the message and ignore how it’s delivered.

Getting Corrections Doesn’t Mean You’re a Bad Dancer
Sometimes getting corrections can feel like you’re being singled out or your teacher can only see the things that aren’t quite right yet. Most of the time, the reason you’re getting corrections is because your teachers are paying attention to you, they see your potential to improve and want to help. Remember, just because other students aren’t getting corrections doesn’t mean they’re doing everything perfectly. One teacher can’t watch every single student for every second on every exercise. And every dancer, regardless of the level, has room for improvement. Even professionals have things to work on and things they aren’t 100% satisfied with. Again, your teachers aren’t correcting you to embarrass you, they want you to dance your best. It’s actually more troublesome if you’re never getting corrections – that means they aren’t monitoring your progress or feel that you aren’t ready/able to address their concerns.

Remember Why You’re There
If you are a serious student of dance – someone who may want to pursue a career in dance – the reason you take class is to learn dance technique, correct the things you’re doing incorrectly and push the limits of what you’re able to do as a dancer and as an artist. These things are usually best achieved with the close attention and feedback from a dance educator. Also, part of your dance education is learning how to collaborate with others whose style of movement, communication, etc may be different from yours. Learning how to partner and be creative with others is paramount to your dance education and is a skill you’ll draw upon for your entire professional career. Remember, what challenges you, changes you. It’s up to you to make that challenge result in a positive change.

However, if dance is something you do just for fun or for fitness, you can take that into account as you evaluate your student-teacher relationship. It’s true that what’s best for one student can be less than ideal for another. Evaluate what’s important to you and know that it’s ok to find a class/teacher relationship that you respond to. Dance should bring you joy – not create stress for you.

But Some Things Are Unacceptable
One caveat to everything I’ve said here is that there is behavior that is absolutely unacceptable. If your dance professional is disrespectful, disparaging or generally discouraging, don’t ignore that. A dance educator should never be abusive, in word or deed, to you or your student (if you’re a parent). If you feel that is the situation, it’s appropriate to approach the educator about their behavior and explain your concerns. Say exactly what you thought was inappropriate and why. If they are dismissive, express a “my way or the highway” philosophy or get defensive or aggressive about their actions, walk away. They are demonstrating to you an unwillingness to change or modify their behavior and those kinds of attitudes are rarely the ideal environment for you or your student. You will find another that will be a better match for your needs and expectations.

I hope you find this helpful. My relationships with my dance teachers were by & large, some of the most inspirational and meaningful ones in my life and they should be in yours. Good luck in overcoming intimidation and challenging your perspective!

Share your story with me – how did you change the dynamic when you were intimidated by an instructor or director?

About the author: I’m a professional communicator with a love of dance, entertainment and constant improvement. You can find me on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.


4 thoughts on “What to Do When You’re Intimidated by Your Dance Teacher

  1. Jordan k. says:

    I constantly get corrections and feel as if im no hood compared to others today in ballet mh teacher told me that I need to know the combinations better and work harder….. during bare I was facing a wall I had to know the combination. During adagio he said jordan show me a carte I was flustered I didnt know which jordan he wanted and I ended up showing the wrong position doubting myself ani new it! Im mad at myself mostly but I want to keep dancing this article helped me to think differnetly about dealing with my artistic director thank you

    • Nicole says:

      I’m so glad you found this helpful – that’s exactly why I wanted to share it! I totally understand what you’re going through – different people have different styles and comfort levels. I’m not always great “on the spot” either…but I’ve gotten better as I’ve gotten older and learned how to talk to myself and prepare for class, as well as how to better approach those I’m intimidated by. I hope you always continue to dance and remember to be kind to yourself when you’re evaluating your corrections/critiques. Take the good and apply it the best way you can. Good luck and thank you for reading Dance Orlando!

  2. D says:

    Thank you for this article! I found it really helpful especially the “listen to the message not the medium” part. My situation right now is a little different from what this article is talking about but I take dance and I love it so much especially ballet. My ballet teacher I have known her for about 3 years and she’s very strict and is always giving corrections I was a little scared when I first met her but now I enjoy going to her class and I don’t mind the corrections. Recently she asked me if I would like to be a teaching assistant in the dance classes that she teaches for the younger kids. I was really excited and happy to do it. I was also really nervous because I know she can be strict. So I started helping her out with the classes and in exchange for helping her out I get free classes but recently I don’t want to help any more because it seems that the way she corrects me in teaching is a lot harsher and scarier than the way she corrects me in class. She is also inconsistent she will tell me to teach one way and when I do it that way I get yelled at and have to do it a different way. I have gotten so scared about going to these classes I help with that I don’t want to do it any more it just seems like she is always frustrated and mad at me. I have been coming back from those classes crying because it feels like I’m not doing anything right. I have even been missing the classes I take because I’m scared to see her. I don’t want to keep feeling this way but I have no idea what to do. I like her a lot and thinks she’s awesome but I don’t want to be so scared of her that I don’t want to go there anymore. Thank you for this article.

    • Nicole says:

      I’m so glad you found it helpful. And it sounds like you’re in a tough situation! As a friendly suggestion, have you considered talking to your teacher about the way you’re feeling? You obviously respect and appreciate your teacher’s expertise and it sounds like you’re really trying to figure out how to best help her. That might be a good way to start the conversation. Let her know that you want to exceed her expectations and assist in ways that would be most helpful to her, but you feel like you’re falling short. Remember, dance teachers are also human (and not mind readers). She may be unaware of the learning environment she is creating for you and I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to skip class because of the way you’re feeling! I’m wishing you the best of luck and hope you return to your dance studies soon! Thank you for reading Dance Orlando!

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