How To Become a Pk-12 Dance Teacher

Dance Ed Tips | 27 April, 2022

            How To Become a Pk-12 Dance Teacher

Let’s get specific about the different sectors of dance education. You’re ready to enter your local school system and start teaching dance curriculum. Regardless of the experience you have had teaching dance, the environment you’re teaching in will require some specifics from you! Let’s first talk about some important skills you need as a dance teacher, and then how to position yourself well inside your school system as a Pk-12 Dance Teacher!

What do you need to become a dance teacher?

In order to be a dance teacher you need to have two types of knowledge: content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge.

Content knowledge is knowledge about the thing that you are teaching. In this case, it’s dance. As a dance teacher you should know the movement practices, the terminology, the cultural and historical context, and the anatomical function of the dance style you are teaching.

Pedagogical knowledge is knowledge about how to teach. This means understanding how people learn at various developmental stages and being able to implement strategies that help them gain skills and understanding.

When teaching dance both these worlds come together to form Pedagogical Content Knowledge: this is specific educational strategies to teach a particular content area. For us, it’s becoming experts on how to teach dance specifically.

No matter where you teach dance (a studio, a PK-12 school, or a university) you will need to have pedagogical content knowledge, but the qualifications, degrees, and work experience you have will also determine which kind of jobs you can apply for. 

In addition to this, dance teachers are expected to:

  • Teach and perform a variety of dance styles
  • Create sequential and developmentally-appropriate lesson plans in those dance styles
  • Choreograph in those dance styles
  • Guide students safely through a warm up, conditioning, stretching, exercises, choreography and cool down
  • Provide historical, cultural, artistic, and pedagogical context to their dance teaching
  • Put on a performance with music, costumes, and lighting 
  • Implement classroommanagement strategies 
  • Differentiate their teaching for varying learners’ needs
  • Create an emotionally safe space where students can grow and learn
  • Continue their own education
  • And much more

What qualifications do you need to become a PK-12 dance teacher?

To become a PK-12 dance teacherin a school, you usually need to have a bachelor’s degree in dance and also a teaching certificate in your state. Some states or school districts even require that you get your master’s degree within a certain amount of time that you are hired. (I’m looking at you New York!) There are many undergraduate and graduate level university programs in the United States that will help you get the degree and certificate that you need to become a dance educator. University dance teacher preparation programs are a great option because they provide you a holistic education where you will grow in your content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and pedagogical content knowledge. This means you’ll not only learn about dance, but you’ll also learn about:

  • Theory & philosophy of dance education
  • The Dance Standards
  • How to write a dance curriculum 
  • How to create lesson plans and assessments 
  • Technologytools for dance teachers 
  • Culturally relevant and responsible teaching strategies 
  • How to teach students with diverse learning needs
  • Classroommanagement 

You are also required to do:

  • Observations of dance educators in the field 
  • A student teaching placement where you shadow a full-time PK-12 dance educators 

When picking a university program make sure to look at what courses they are requiring for completion of the degree and make sure that these topics are being covered. But the bottom line is to teach in a PK-12 school you need a degree with a certain amount of credits in the field that you’re going to teach, which is dance, and you also need a certificate in your state that allows you to teach there.

Alternate paths in Pk-12 Dance Education

Now, there is a way to start teaching in public schools WITHOUT a teaching certificate and that way is called alternate route. (Some states have a different name for it. You’ll have to check to see what it’s called near you.) Many people don’t know about this option. It doesn’t apply to everyone, but I know quite a few dance educators who have been hired this way.

Alternate route is designed for professionals who’ve had an extensive career (10-20 years) as a professional dancer, choreographer, and/or teacher and want to transition into the PK-12 teaching profession. In order to go alternate route, a public school must first hire you based off your work experience. You must get offered the job first WITHOUT the teaching certificate, which can be challenging. Then, your school will register you to the state as an alternate route teacher. This means that you must earn your teaching certificate as you work in that school for the first year. You will most likely be required to have a mentor at your school and will have to attend additional classes outside of your work day to learn about the teaching side of the job. In these classes, they’ll cover more of the pedagogical knowledge to help you understand how to write a curriculum, write lesson plans, grade assessments and more. Once you have finished your first year of teaching and completed all the state’s requirements you will officially have a teaching certificate and will be able to apply to other jobs as a certified teacher instead of an alternate route teacher. These requirements for alternate route are different depending where you live, so be sure to check on your state’s website to understand the full scope. 

I do want to say that most schools look for dance teachers who are already certified, which is why most dance teachers attend a university teacher training program. Going through the alternate route process is more work for the school hiring you and they don’t always want to deal with it, but I still know of quite a few schools and dance teachers who have been hired this way, so it’s definitely possible. 

The final thing we want to mention when it comes to being a PK-12 teacher is private schools. Private schools have more flexibility on who they hire, because they don’t have to follow the same state requirements as public schools. Some private schools require all their teachers to have a teaching certificate. Others do not. I know of several dance teachers who have been hired based on their professional work experience, so it is an option if you do not have a teaching certificate; however, we must warn you that private school dance teaching jobs are rare and competitive.

Overall, doing a dance teacher preparation program where you will earn a dance education teaching certificate in your state will make it easier for you to apply to jobs and become a PK-12 dance teacher. It does require an investment in your own education, but in my experience as the former Director of Dance Education at Hofstra University, dance teachers are often more prepared to meet the different demands of a PK-12 setting if they’ve completed a dance educator preparation training program.

What are you expected to teach as a PK-12 dance teacher?

When you teach dance in a PK-12 school you are expected to follow your state’s dance standards and/or thenational dance standards . What are dance standards? They are benchmarks of skills and knowledge that dancers are expected to reach by certain grade levels. This means that you, as the dance teacher, are expected to teach the standards so that your students can achieve these milestones. The standards are broken into 4 artistic processes: perform, create, respond, and connect. All of the teaching materials we offer can be filtered and searched for by theseartistic processes.

Most teachers who transition from being a studio teacher to a Pk-12 teacher, feel comfortable meeting the “performing” standards, but are new to teaching how to create, respond, and connect in dance. Using materials and resources that are focused on these artistic processes are a great way to get more comfortable teaching these concepts. You also might want to consider taking some professional development courses to help you get ideas on how to teach these concepts in a way that is appropriate for various age groups. 

As Pk-12 dance teacher you will be required to teach:

  • Technique
  • Dance history
  • Choreography 
  • Improvisation 
  • Anatomical principles 
  • Responding to dance through writing, speaking, and moving 
  • Connecting ideas in dance and outside of dance

You will also be required to create and administer formal assessments (diagnostic, formative, and summative) in order to show growth in dance. In studios, most dance teachers are not asked to quantify their students’ learning in this way; however, in a PK-12 school you will be expected to give assignments and grades to all students. 

Lastly and most importantly, remember you are there to teach children. It’s easy to get roped up in standards, objectives, and curriculum, but above all else, you’re there to teach dance to young minds. Keep things engaging, fun, and exciting. This may be many of your students’ first and only exposure to dance; meet them where they are and help them grow! 

In closing

If you’re reading all this and thinking “Being a dance teacher is a lot of work,” that’s great! Dance Ed Tips has products and resources, like this blog, developed specifically for YOU in this transition! Dance education as a profession, calling, or job is often under-appreciated and much of the work that goes on behind the scenes is unrecognized. Unfortunately, many individuals believe that just because they are a talented dancer that automatically makes them agreat dance teacher and that just isn’t true. Teaching dance in all settings requires a commitment and understanding of dance as an artform AND commitment and understanding of how people learn. The PK-12 setting for teaching dance can be incredibly rewarding. Seeing students explore and discover through movement keeps dance passion alive!