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H. Leon Raper



Teaching Techniques & Problem Solving
Dance Teachers

Teaching Techniques

General Problem Solving

General Movement Problems

Turn Technique Problem Solving

Be Considerate

The teacher must take extreme care to be gentle and highly considerate of the feelings of their students. The teacher must always be positive and make the student genuinely feel like you are there to help them through their problems. The teacher should always be on the lookout for any little thing from which they can compliment the students - positive reinforcement builds confidence. Most basic level students are frightened of many things. One of their biggest fears is that they will embarrass themselves in front of others. Another big fear is the "fear of failure". The more confidence the teacher can instill in their students, the better their students will perform.

Detective Dancer

To be a good dance teacher, you must also learn how to become a good detective - "Detective Dancer". Any good dance instructor that has received their Detective Dancer badge will tell you that they spend most of their time studying basic dance techniques - not advanced techniques as one would expect of a good dance teacher. All advanced dance techniques are dependent on a good understanding of basics. There is no school of dance that issues a Detective Dancer badge. You will know when you have earned it as an instructor. The day your major interests in dancing shift from learning and teaching advanced material to that of really studying the intricacies of dance basics such as the mechanics of movement and the science of dance, then you are on the right road to earning your Detective Dancer badge.

Problem Analysis

Don't jump to conclusions. If you spend a little time trying to define a problem, many times the solution will jump out and bite you. This is where you really have to be a good detective. Look over everything the student is doing. Breakdown each element of their movement in your mind - comparing each to a proper rule of movement. Many times will find you have a compound problem wherein there is more than one problem area to solve. Start with the most basic of the problems and correct that one first, then move on to the next.

Lesson Method - Class vs Private

As with almost any type of instruction, a small class is more beneficial to the student than a large class. If the class is small enough, and the instructor has the time to devote, then the student can get some hands-on help from the instructor. In that case, or for private lessons then most of the techniques described here will work. If the class is large and there is no time for individual help, then the instructor may suggest that the student take a private lesson to get them past their problem area.

Correct Problems Immediately

Try to correct student problems quickly before they become bad habits. It is much easier to correct something in the beginning than it is after a bad habit has been formed.

Verbal Instructions

I have all students repeat whatever verbal I am giving out loud while they are developing new material. This will greatly speed up the learning time for many students. If they can get it to come out of their mouth, then they can normally get it to come out of their feet.

Watching Feet

This must be stopped immediately. In dance we are trying to develop a Brain to Feet Connection - Not an Eye to Brain to Feet connection. Make sure the students are not watching their feet.

Weight On Both Feet

Many beginning students will shift their weight to both feet after taking a step. The result is that they promptly forget which foot they were standing on and which foot is supposed to be free for the next step. One Solution is to tell them to keep their unweighted heel off of the floor at all times.

Locking onto the Rhythm Pattern

This is for students who just can't seem to lock onto the rhythm pattern and get their feet to go up and down correctly. First, if they are chewing gum, have them get rid of it. They can't train muscle memory to lock onto the rhythm pattern if their jaw is going up and down out of synch.

When it comes to training students to lock onto a rhythm pattern, one solution I have found to be quite successful is to have the student focus on marching instead of stepping. Example (2-Step): instead of [quick quick] [slow ] [slow ] you might have them repeat out loud [march march] [march brush] [march brush] lifting their feet high off the floor. Example (West Coast Swing): Instead of using numbers like [1 2] [3 & 4] [5 & 6] or [step step] [step three times] [step three times], have the student say [march march] [march march march] [march march march] lifting their feet high off the floor. After a few minutes using this technique, the student will have just about solved their problem. If it recurs have them do the same thing over again.

Hand On Shoulder Technique

This technique should only be used only as a last resort. You must be very gentle and take extra care not to focus class attention on, or embarrass the student. I use this technique when everything else has failed and a student still steps on every beat instead of on the correct counts. 2-Step is a good example: For a man teaching a man, the instructor stands beside the student with the instructor's hand on the student's shoulder and gently leads the student down the line of dance holding the student slightly off balance when necessary so the student can only step on the proper counts.

Not Shifting Weight To Foot

This is a very common occurrence for students attempting their first Right Wrap in Rhythm 2-Step. The student does a [quick quick] [slow] and steps on the "quick quicks", but does not shift their weight on the "slow". This is very frustrating to the student since they think they have taken 3 steps, but in actuality they have only taken 2 steps. This problem can normally be solved by leading the student into whatever pattern and stopping on the problem point such as the "slow" allowing them to shift their weight properly. After a few tries the student usually corrects the problem.

Is The Student Following Instructions

Is the student actually following your instructions, or because it doesn't feel right, are they trying to convert your instructions to something else they think might work better. You must impress on the students in the very beginning that very little will feel right at first. But if they will follow your instructions, things will start to feel right - then real good.

Balance Problems

One main cause of balance problems is that the student has not learned the process of centering which involves their CPB. Instead of thinking about moving their feet, they should be thinking about moving their CPB -- their feet will follow. Another example is in turns the dancer will start the turn with their legs or feet and expect their body to follow into the turn. This doesn't work and throws people off balance. They should have originated the turn with their torso with the turn centered through their CPB.

OTHER CAUSES: There are many possible causes of balance problems some of which are as follows: (1) The man may not understand connection and be trying to lead the lady all the way through her pattern - giving her no freedom to work under her own power. (2) The man may be cranking the woman in her turns. (3) The woman may be squeezing the man's hand trying to use him to help keep her balance. SOLUTIONS: (1) The man must follow the principles of connection, give a gentle lead, and then let the woman complete the step pattern under her own power - with no help from the man. (2) In Slotted dances such as West Coast Swing or in dances that progress in LOD (Line of Dance or Line of Direction), in most cases, the man's lead hand should remain in line with the Slot or LOD and not crank or vear to either side of the Slot or LOD.

Also see posture, frame, centering, connection, CPB.

General Turn Problems

When it comes to executing proper turn technique, if the student has not yet perfected other basic techniques of movement then those problems will all come home to roost. Solving these problems will probably require the instructor to break down compound problems. That is, dealing with more than one overall problem and being able to analyze the order in which the problems must be solved - examples, posture, frame, centering, connection, CPB, feet, eyes, etc.

Walking Turns (Damaging the knees)

In teaching turns, you will find many students doing what is called a "walking turn". That is, they stand flat-footed on their weighted foot and attempt to turn without moving the weighted foot. This severely limits how far the student can turn, makes a lousy turn, and can create problems, pain and damage to the knees. This will not work. A good method of breaking this habit is to have the students do 1/2 turn (180 degree) Pivots down a straight line transferring weight from one foot to the other -- keeping their inner thighs together during turns. Make sure they are pressing their weighted foot into the floor allowing it to rise slightly to execute a turn. Turn technique is broken down in much greater detail elsewhere on this web site.

Center Point of Balance (CPB)

As dancers progress on beyond basic, many will find they have turn problems that they can't seem to solve. Many of these problems relate to their misuse of centering which involves their CPB. . Read the description of Balance Problems described earlier for a general description of some problems. The old saying that "FEET FOLLOW FRAME" definitely applies. Due to most dancers haste to move on to fancy looking material, many overlook and do not develop the techniques of posture, frame, centering, connection, CPB.. Now comes the hard work of unlearning bad habits and retraining muscle memory.

Spotting (Turn Technique)

The dancer must be centered prior to beginning a turn and must remain centered throughout the turn to its completion. Also, spotting is essential to good turn technique.  Most techniques tell the student to focus on some spot, start turning, holding on the spot as long as possible, then snapping the head around in the direction of the turn to look at the spot again. That is just too complicated in the early stages and most people never perfect the technique. 

What you really want to do is focus on a spot, start turning your body slowly, making sure you don't move your head from concentrating on the spot.  When you have turned far enough you will be forced to allow you head to turn.  In the early stages, don't worry about snapping your head around to refocus on the spot.  Your prime concentration should be on starting the turn and holding your concentration on the spot.  If you can accomplish that part then the rest will probably come automatically. 

For most people in the beginning, when they turn their body, their head follows.  That is a habit you have to break.  It is an "isolation" of the head that allows body to turn without the head following.  That is, until you have turned far enough that your head must follow or break off.  After mastering this "isolation" then you can start thinking about snapping the head around to refocus on the spot.

Where to spot is the next question.  If executing a traveling turn, then you should focus on a spot in the direction of the line of travel.  If you find yourself drifting out of the line of travel,  then you are not spotting in the direction of travel.

When executing a stationary turn, then it is a good idea to focus on a spot in the direction of the completion of the turn (normally on your partner).

Foot Positioning

This is one great source of errors in turn technique.  In West Coast Swing, with the exception of a "cross-slot" step in the "tuck" of a "tuck-turn," all steps should be in LOD, or directly in line with the partner for stationary turns.  If you are spotting correctly, this will probably happen automatically.  However, if you are not spotting correctly, then lord only knows which direction your feet are pointing.


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H. Leon Raper