Off the screen and on to the stage: How to engage your students in this digital world
As dance schools start moving classes, rehearsals and even performances online, we decided to chat with teachers who’ve been doing this whole “digital dance” thing for a while now. Justin Boccitto, Ginger Cox and Steve Sirico (also a dance studio owner) tell us how they connect with their students digitally.
How do you use social media or online resources to engage with your students?
“I think right now, Instagram is the biggest and easiest way to connect with students outside of the studio. It gives my students a glimpse at who I am as a person outside of the classroom, as well as what other projects I may be working on. Aside from my Instagram and website, I have a Facebook group where I post about upcoming classes, masterclasses and so on.”
“My dance studio has a dance journal on our social media. Angela, my wife, puts ballet terms up there for the kids to look up, make sure they know what they mean. We have things like movie trivia, typically about dance movies, trying to steer them in the direction of that. I think if you can do things to get them thinking, it’s a great learning tool.”
“As someone who is not actively engaged on social media, this occurrence has forced me to dive in and learn a whole new set of skills. I use Zoom (which is now a household name!), FlipGrid and Blackboard to teach remotely for Pace University. My Instagram out-put still needs a lot of attention, as do several other of my social media platforms, but I am working on it!”
What are some of the benefits of that kind of online connection?
“I can share other elements of my career and lifestyle with my audience. Germaine Salsberg and I recently started a new class environment for tap dancers called Common Ground. My Instagram page was a huge component for spreading the news about the classes. I'm also able to share my perspective on living sustainably, which is a large part of my everyday life. It's amazing how many people share your interests and you can only discover them by taking a leap of faith and talking about your convictions.”
“I think the benefit right now is for the students. It’s giving them an opportunity to do something that they are invested in, something that makes them feel good. Especially kids who take a lot of classes, that’s just been cut out of their lives. At least this is a way for them to continue to have some normalcy in their lives during this abnormal time. This is kind of strange territory for everyone.”
Aaron Tolson, Só Dança Ambassador, teaching a live class via Instagram.
Some of the drawbacks?
“Instagram is an incredibly saturated platform, so if your students are following a lot of people, it can sometimes be hard just to have your post seen in the first place. I also find that social media can give you a false sense of people and their intentions.”
“The challenge with live-streaming is maybe not everybody can do it at the time you want to hold that class.”
“Too many portals, notifications and sites to maintain, check up on and reply to! Many of the sites I mentioned above are connected to my email, which is another online resource to monitor. Even with a schedule, it takes up a lot of time. Other difficulties -- posting 'different' content and being too connected at all times.”
How do you work around those difficulties?
“I've been really trying to create content that is eye-catching. I've also learned that writing a lot of text to accompany a photo seems to draw more attention. I strive to keep my posts and content as honest as possible. I try to find that balance of being earnest but not taking myself too seriously.”
“My Dance Teacher Online is all videos, instead of live-streaming. We’ve invested time, capital and resources. We did some more filming this past week. So we’re going to be having more class content. We also just created a 30-minute young children’s class as well, for ages three to four, and it’s all absolutely free for any teacher or studio owner who wants to do it. Being studio owners and teacher ourselves, we know that this is a stressful time, and we want to take some of that stress off. You can register at the bottom of the homepage, and then you’ll receive instructions on how you can send it out to your students.”
“Try to be consistent, check often, follow up, reach out to and check in with people via text or a phone call, too. But also take a break from the constant checking.”
“I think what's great about social media is that it not only allows for connection, but it also allows artists to share their other interests as well. I've been really into writing and producing my own music lately, and through social media, I've been able to share it and connect with other artists who are doing the same.”
“Content is King. This isn’t my idea; this is from another teacher. But they have trivia content, and they give a $20 gift certificate to a local restaurant to the winner. It’s a way to help other businesses in your community, I think that’s a fantastic idea.”
“This has been a good reminder not to wait to learn a new skill or to take part in something that may be uncomfortable! It's so natural and easy to go to the studio and dance together. Had I investigated other ways to hold class online, I would have been more prepared for these unforeseen circumstances. If social media is a new skill, be patient and kind to yourself if you get frustrated. Be mindful as to the content that one is putting out there. Is it useful, positive, sincere?”