On the Job: Being a dance teacher is like being on Dancing with the Stars - but harder

By Ben Young

For the next instalment of our ‘On The Job’ series, we find out what it takes to become a professional dancer

By Ben Young |

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Flexibility is not one of Ben's strong points, even though he is big and strong.

Let me start off by saying this: I consider myself a fairly athletic person. I go to the gym, play basketball, and box on a regular basis. So when I was told I would be shadowing a dance instructor for young girls, I didn’t think it would be anything I couldn’t handle.

How wrong I was.

My first problem was that, even though I have some athletic traits, flexibility is not one of them. So doing warm-up stretches wasn’t just difficult, it was seriously painful.

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The instructor – Vivian Chan, artistic director of Les Danseurs Dance & Art Academy – showed no mercy. “Bend over and touch your toes” was as easy as it would get. At one point, she pushed down on my back and pressed my body forward, forcing it to contort in ways it never had before. At another point I attempted, and failed miserably, to do the splits. I think I tore a muscle in my bum. Chan also made a point to remind me that big muscles do not help when it comes to dancing, at all.

Then there was the actual dancing bit – wow. Just wow. The class – which was of the “jazz funk” genre – involved moves which required a ridiculous amount of balance, grace, and flexibility to pull off.

Is he helping to teach, or being schooled?
Photo: Alejo Rodriguez Lo

I had to learn a variety of spins, high kicks, jumps, and twists, all combined neatly together into one dance routine. But while it was hard enough to do the moves individually, it was even more difficult doing them together, smoothly, in sync with very fast-paced music.

For me, the hardest part about dancing was memorising the choreography. “Do I spin left or right this time? Do I kick my leg up? Am I supposed to jump now? Why is this song so fast?” These questions seemed to be constantly running through my head.

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I then had to teach the other students and, suffice to say, I was not much help. I was easily the worst student in the class, and a complete laughing stock. I have to say, it was odd seeing little girls about three times smaller than me jump around effortlessly whilst I struggled mightily. At one point I was helping the girls stretch and I felt way out of my element. They were so small that I felt like a big clumsy gorilla who could break them in two if I wasn’t careful.

I was impressed with Chan’s command of the classroom, and her ability to pay attention to her students and help them find ways to improve. To me, they already looked like mini ballerinas – dancing and prancing about with impeccable elegance. But Chan would notice little things that they could be doing better. She cares about her students and is passionate about what she does – which is what makes her a great dance instructor.

The worst part of the experience was looking like a giant buffoon trying to imitate the other dancers without knowing the steps. To be fair, I didn’t know the choreography at all. What exactly was I supposed to do?

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Overall, dancing is difficult. I didn’t expect it to be easy, but a part of me thought: “If these little girls can do it, why can’t I?”

I was wrong. Dancing requires a lot of time, practice, and dedication. Don’t expect to be any good even if you are somewhat coordinated and athletic. You have to be smooth and good at memorising choreography. Oh, and it helps to be more flexible than I am. It helps a lot.

Still, the experience was super fun, and I could actually see myself being a decent dancer if I had started learning as a kid. Dancing is great way to exercise, relieve stress, enjoy music and really, it’s an awesome way to master your own body.

Despite the humiliation of having an entire room of little girls laughing at me, I could see myself doing that again.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge