How to Retain Beginner Dance Students
Great instruction. Awesome venue. Good music. Friendly people. Fair and reasonable prices. These are all important aspects when it comes to attracting and retaining beginner dance students. But even if you have all these aspects in the bag, you may still be having a hard time retaining new dancers. There is a reason why, and that reason has nothing to do with the quality of service you provide. It’s far more personal than that.
Types of Beginner Dance Students
When I say “new dance student,” what I mean is someone who has no experience dancing. These people have no experience and have no idea what they are getting themselves into. By “new dance student,” I am not referring to the person who just moved to town, has enjoyed dancing for some time and is looking for a place to continue their dancing. I’m not referring to the dancers in town who have danced for years, but are new to your instruction/venue/dance party. No, I’m referring to someone else entirely:
- The husband who decided to try out dance just to make his wife happy.
- The recent widow/widower/divorcee who is looking for a new healthy physical and social activity as they start a new chapter of life.
- The empty nesters who finally have some time for themselves and want to at long last partake in an activity they have always been interested in.
- The person who is tired of standing on the sidelines during social activities and is finally taking the bold steps towards making a change.
- The person who has a special event coming up (wedding, high school reunion, etc.) that they desperately don’t want to look stupid at because they KNOW there will be dancing.
And the list goes on…
But the one common denominator they have is that they are new to the dance scene. And they ALL have the WRONG expectations!!!
My opinion, which has developed over the last 3 years of operating our studio, is simple. It’s that the most important thing we can do as a dance community to help retain new dancers is to properly manage their expectations. In short, protect them from feeling like they are failing.
It’s too easy to let new dancers walk away feeling as though they are not cut out for dancing. Don’t let them! Below are a few tips to help protect you from losing new students.
Tip 1: Don’t let them think learning to dance is easy
Learning to dance is not easy. It takes work and consistency with classes and practice. That doesn’t mean they have to work REALLY hard at it! They just have to work consistently enough to develop some core skill sets and feel comfortable with basic concepts. Once they feel comfortable, they will start believing that they CAN learn to dance. Once that happens, they will stick with it. Allowing beginner dance students to believe dancing is easy is the best way for them to get discouraged to the point of quitting.
Tip 2: Celebrate even the smallest successes
As experienced dancers, we sometimes take for granted the skills we have developed over time. It is important to recall that you were a beginner once. Try to remember the challenges you faced when starting out. When you do this, you will be able to put yourself in their shoes. As a beginner dance student, they get excited about the seemingly small accomplishments. Get excited with them! Let your new dancers know that they are EXACTLY where they should be in their skill development.
Tip 3: Don’t let new dancers compare themselves to experienced dancers
What many of us experienced dancers forget is that new dancers often look to us as a metric as to whether or not they are doing well. Don’t let them! It’s a TERRIBLE way to measure progress! Also, beginner dance students have no idea how long other dancers have been working at their craft. As far as they know, you are new as well. In their mind, compared to you, they just SUCK! But the reality is, they are measuring their abilities horribly! They should only be measuring their progress based on how well they did last week compared to how well they are doing today…which leads me to tip #4…
Tip 4: Tell them SPECIFICALLY where they have improved
Seriously, be specific. Beginner dance students typically don’t know enough to see their own progress. Therefore, it should be ALL of our jobs as instructors and experienced dancers to point it out. But keep it real… don’t hyper inflate your compliments. I often say something like “You have really improved on your timing. There’s still improvement to be had, but I see serious improvement so far. Great job!”
Tip 5: Dance within their abilities
One of the quickest ways to make a new dancer feel inadequate is to dance with them beyond their abilities. Keep it simple. Be attentive. Always smile and be supportive. If they do something great, tell them! And ALWAYS thank them for the dance enthusiastically and come back for seconds. This will build their confidence and help them truly learn the basics.
Tip 6: Help them laugh often… and at themselves
I’m not sure who coined this phrase, but I believe I heard it from the great Robert Royston:
“You have to be willing to go through stupid to get to cool.”
Isn’t this SOOOO true? Unfortunately, many people, including beginner dance students, take themselves too seriously. They can’t laugh at themselves. They take their mistakes way too seriously and too personal. Don’t let them!!! If they feel stupid because they think they are awful, let them know that we ALL feel that way sometimes when learning something new. Ensure they know that it’s perfectly normal… so let us all feel stupid together as we traverse through that dark, scary forest of awkward, clumsy, and yes, stupid. Because on the other end of that forest is great things, and we need to help our beginners get there.
[bctt tweet=”“You have to be willing to go through stupid to get to cool.” ” username=”DancePensacola”]
What’s in it for you?
Today’s beginner dance student, if handled with love, compassion, and care, could very well be one of your FAVORITE people to dance with a year from now. Think you enjoy dancing now? Just wait until you have two or three times as many people in your community you LOVE to dance with! Keep encouraging them to attend their lessons and follow the recommendations above… you will be far more fulfilled in your dancing as a result.
Until next time… DANCE ONWARD!!!
“Live Well. Dance Often”