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Tips and Tricks for Dance Teachers

Katherine Davies

Notes to go with class/discussion at St Vitus (SCA dance and music event), held in Canberra in September 2016.

There are three components to being an awesome dance-teacher:

  1. effectively conveying practical information - telling or showing people how to dance, in a way that makes sense to them
  2. looking after your students while you do it - keeping them physically and emotionally safe, making it fun
  3. looking after yourself - it must bring joy and fulfillment to the teacher too, or you will not keep doing it over the long term

Then, some practical tools I use:

  • Dance-games
  • Advice on how to structure a class, a syllabus, a ball
  • Help from technology

1. Practical Teaching - getting the information across


Preparing to teach a new dance


Good preparation can make the difference between students who come out stoked at how much they've learned and feeling like they're brilliant dancers, and students who are confused and disheartened. I rarely have time to do as much as I'd like, but every bit helps. Any preparation you do is an investment - you'll use it every time you teach that material again, so it gets easier and faster as you do more. 

  1. learn - learn to dance it yourself
  2. describe- plan and practice how to explain it to others, without music
  3. call - plan a practice what you'll say while you're dancing to the music

(If you are a dance-geek there might be "0. reconstruct dance and music from primary sources".)

1. Learn. Thoroughly. Use notes if you need to, but don't be confused about the dance. If you are, say so up front (e.g. "I have never danced this with a group, so there are some parts I don't understand fully - please bear with me while I work them out"). Know the rhythm, know the steps - no hesitations! Know the steps well so you can do them while talking (calling) and watching others. Understand the structure thoroughly so you can make it easier for others to learn.

2. Explain.  Do you need to teach some steps first? Will people know what all the words mean? Are there unfamiliar figures (e.g. a hey - only easy if you know it!). Can your students learn this dance in one go, or do you need to break it into sections? Does it have a structure that will make it easier to remember (e.g. verse-chorus? obvious sections with different music?)? If you can't see something obvious (e.g verses and a repeating chorus), try to break it up into manageable chunks anyway, and find some structure, mnemonic, or idea, that you can hang on it to help your students remember. If it's a sheer feat of memory, acknowledge that!

Would it help to split out sections of music - e.g. practice only one section of a ballo at a time? Would it help to practice with slower music?

3. Calling. Practice, practice practice! I often spend quite a bit of time on this stage. I practise the words I'm going to say, in time to the music. I check how many words I can fit in that sweet spot of "just before you need it - late enough that it's clear which beat I mean, early enough you can hear and understand before you have to start moving". I also practice including a bit less information with every repeat - think about what I'm going to leave out each time.

Things to watch for in calling:

Information-dense points

When there's a lot of information to be conveyed at one moment (e.g. the Volta del Gioioso in Rostiboli Gioioso, any time that different people need to do different things) you will need to spend more time teaching that section in advance, before you try it with music. After you've taught your students what to do, tell them how you're going to call so they can respond accurately to whatever words you've chosen.

Similar movements - choose distinct words

Sometimes you have several distinct-but-similar movements and you'll need a way to rapidly and reliably tell your students which you mean (e.g. a galliard sequence that contains passi in ariabalzetti and cadenze, all of which could be called "jump"). You'll need to find a unique one-word description for each action, and make a consistent phrase that is a useful mnemonic for that particular set of moves.

Sometimes that means using the accurate period terms for movements. Sometimes you have to abbreviate (Italian terms are often long): "spezz" or "trab". You can also come up with short, distinctive English terms that will do the job in context: e.g. "kick kick boing boing JUMP land" for a galliard that goes "2 passi in aria, 2 balzetticadenza". Whatever the choice, make sure your students understand your mnemonic, and remind them what it stands for (that "trab" is short for trabuchetto, for instance).

When you actually teach - check it's working, and to change things on the spot as needed. Watch how people are doing, listen to what they tell you. If things aren't clicking, ask for advice ("is the way I'm calling useful for you?", "it looks like the way I've explained that is confusing, can I try again another way?", "it looks like this part is giving you some trouble, can I help, or is it just a matter of practicing until your feet catch up with your head?", "would it help if I used [these other words]?").


Teaching people with different styles for learning

These are some approaches that I've found work very well teaching dance to some, and poorly with others (either ineffective, or intimidating). It's worth including a range, and paying close attention to what works for different people.

  • some learn by demonstration / imitation - mirrors can really help - you need to show as well as describe, position yourself so you can be seen
    • some will learn best by watching you, some by dancing with you, and taking physical cues (small push or pull with your hand, matching your rise and fall, etc) - pair with experienced dancers who lead well
    • some who learn best by imitation won't take much in from your words, at least until they've tried it themselves
    • always dance with the best style you can - your students will show you what you look like
  • some like to read notes (they don't have to be your own - a print-out from a website is fine), or see new words written down (a white-board is handy)
  • some struggle with words but love diagrams - a white-board is great - for floor-patterns, but can also be used for explaining rhythms, showing body movement in ornament, etc
  • gestures can substitute for drawn diagrams - e.g. "15thC Italian doubles have a slow rise and quick fall [trace 'shape' of the double with your hand]" or "when you change places with someone in a hey, go round them [hands change places with large circular gesture] rather than past them [hands change places with much flatter curves]" 
  • verbal descriptions - describe and explain what you are doing in words, as well as showing it
  • analytic - like things broken down into small pieces which can be learned separately - series of small movements (e.g. "to do a spezzato, first move your left foot 3-5 inches forwards, and about 2 inches to the left, then transfer your weight ...")
  • overview, then build up details - prefer the outline first, then add detail/ornament/subtelty as required (e.g. "a spezzato is basically a single, with an up-and-down ornament at the end - we'll look at the details later..." or "next week we'll do the steps in detail, but for now let's we'll skip through the pattern")
  • musically oriented - may not take much in until there is music - singing as you call the dance may help - try clapping rhythms
  • musician - you can express timing in musical terms - e.g. "bassadanza is usually slow compound-duple: 6 beats to the bar and you step on 1, 3 and 4, like this: 'step, pause, step, step, pause, pause' ".
  • attracted to a challenge / vs need reassurance - some people love nothing more than to be told that what they're doing is really hard, some need to be reassured that it's attainable

A challenge almost everyone faces: people learn dances long before they learn dance-names. It's incredibly common, and an incredibly common source of worry. Reassure people that it's quite normal to spend several years saying "no, I don't know that one" until the music comes on, only to find you know it quite well, all but the name.


Clothing for teaching

This is about teaching generally: teaching people to dance in specific period-appropriate clothes is another thing altogether.

Ideally, clothes should be

  • comfortable
  • easy to dance in
  • make it easy for your students to see what you're doing

For me, the ideal dance-teaching clothes are flexible and snuglt-fitting enough that you can see what my muscles are doing. Tights and above-the-knee skirt, and a fitted knit top work for me.

Other options that can work equally well:


  • closer-fitting (don't have to be tight, just not baggy)
  • not too long - if the cuff falls down over your foot, your students can't see - consider turning it up to the ankle


  • not too long - this is harder at events, of course! It's easier to imitate someone's footwork if you can see their feet, ankles and calves clearly. Knees can help too! Consider a knee-length skirt. At events - consider shorter clothing (e.g. most male clothes), hitching long skirts to the knee when you demonstrate a step; or getting someone else in your class (in short clothing) to demonstrate with you. 


  • socks or soft, light shoes - useful for your dancing, really helpful in letting your students see what your feet are doing. Bulky shoes (e.g. sneakers) don't allow your students to see the detail of what you're doing with your feet.
  • mismatched socks! really! - some students find demonstrations easier to follow if your feet are visually distinctive. Brightly-coloured, non-matching socks is one  easy way to achieve that. I danced in red-for-right and yellow-or-green-for-left for years. 

In my classes, I focus a lot on exactly how feet and legs move, so it's important that my students can see my feet and legs move. If you teach a style where your floor-pattern is more important, a flowing skirt might be just perfect. 


Useful skills:

  • dance any role in dance
  • lead clearly, but receptive to partner's preferences
  • *not* lead - let your partner lead you
  • dance without partner, or in partial set
  • call different steps to those you're dancing (e.g. call Rostiboli for three while dancing version for 2)
  • call for whole class, but still connect with your own partner
  • watch everyone, know when to jump back in with calling
  • slow-fade on calling - a bit less info each time, just as much as they need

2. Looking after your students


Keeping your students safe - emotions

There are many possibilities for people to feel vulnerable in a dance class - it's practicing a difficult physical skill, where success is in part measured by how you look while doing it, in public. People will keep coming back only if they feel safe and supported, and have fun. 

I like to remind people regularly that "I'm going to sit this one out" is ALWAYS a courteous and acceptable thing to say. When my students use it, I don't question it (though I might check in to see that they're ok, and ask what's going on with them). Give your students room to politely decline to participate when they're not feeling it, and you'll be able to push much further, knowing that they will keep themselves safe and comfortable. 

If you know some of your students have particular buttons (e.g. improvisation, trust-games, rehearsal for public performance, a rough day at work or another student in the class) issue extra reminders. E.g. "Next, we're going to practice canary variations. I'm going to get you all to make up a variation to teach the class. As always, if this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, it's fine to excuse yourself at any time - maybe make an actual cuppa". 

Feeling like you're "bottom of the class". I often have a group of very experienced dancers, who've been learning from me and performing with me for years, and one or two beginners. Being that beginner is hard. Remind them regularly of the good progress they're making, talk about how long it took you to learn things, where you were at their level of experience. Tell them how long your advanced students have been doing this -  "they started before me but I've been coming for 6 months and I STILL haven't caught up" can sting, until you realise that those others have been doing this at a semi-professional level for 10 years ...

Which mostly comes down to: make sure they know how experienced the rest of the class is (are you catching up on six months or 15 years?), tell them where you were / others were at their level of experience (I do a lot of “this thing you’re doing - it took me about six months of practice before it stopped feeling clumsy”), and make sure you present attainable challenges and genuine praise for success. Remind them of what they’ve accomplished - e.g. “cool, you’ve had six lessons and you’ve already memorised these four dances”, or “you couldn’t have done that last term”.

Give accurate information about the difficulty level of what you’re asking “you’re finding this hard because it is hard” vs. “you’re finding this hard because you’re a clumsy idiot”. Which is pretty easy really - anything someone is finding hard is, actually, hard. Hearing the beat in music is bloody-near-impossible if you’re an adult who doesn’t already know how to do that.

Find the places each student shines, if you can, make sure they DO shine from time to time, and tell them about it. It might be the one dance that the new person happens to remember the steps to really well, or the one form where a quiet person really blossoms. A night when a lot of people are away can be an opportunity to teach a few newer people something the other experienced dancers don't know, so that the following week they get to be the ones who know more, for a change.

Attainable challenges - students need to know they're attainable. You might see progress, but if they feel they're always floundering they'll feel bad.

I'm a huge fan of asking before criticising. "Do you mind if I offer some advice about X?" or "I have an idea that might help with Y ...?" gives the opportunity to say "not tonight, thanks" or "yeah, I know, it's just that I'm focussing on something else right now". Usually people say yes, almost everyone appreciates being asked. 

Raising the bar:

If you teach dance to a high level, there are going to be things that you simply can't get beginners to do. There will be times when you teach people a simplified version, then raise the bar (or add detail, or refine things) later on. 

Some people find that disconcerting: if you know that's coming, it's well to warn your students from the start. "Here's what we're focussing on today - we'll add some refinements later on, once this part is really solid" or "tonight, we're just going to get the right steps in the right order - next week we're going to really drill the timing". 

Have fun.

Your students will pick up on your mood. If you sound tired and bored they won't find dancing inspiring. If you sound passionate, enthusiastic, and full of joy there's a good chance they'll have a good time too, and think of dancing as the fun sort of challenge.

Keeping your students safe - physical issues

Many of us have physical issues.

For me, rule 1 is - look after yourself! No matter what I ask you to do, each instruction has an implicit "if you think that's a sensible thing for you to do at this time". Make sure that's explicit occasionally.

I remind people of this before any more physically-challenging dances (anything athletic, like galliard; anything high-impact, like cascarde or canaries) and any time I see someone who looks pained or struggling. E.g. "We're going to galliard for the next 10 minutes. If you don't think jumping would be healthy for you right now, feel free to take a break, or practice low-impact versions". Or "I'm going to talk now about how to do a trabuchetto in a very correct fashion. It's a high-impact step, not forgiving to ankles, calves or knees. If that's not a good idea for you, please feel free to do it more gently." I usually demonstrate low-impact, low-injury-risk variants at the same time, if possible.

Ask your students about their physical strengths, and their physical limitations.

Quite a few people find the side-to-side motion in branles hurts their hips - consider alternating branles up with other low-impact dances (e.g. almains) or warning new dancers if you already know they have hip problems.

Have a mental list ready of low-impact dances - no jumps, no kicks that require jumps. Have variants on steps if necessary.

Know which particular steps and dance styles are especially likely to cause injuries, and warn people. 

E.g. 16thC Italian needs strong stable feet, ankles, calves and knees. I recommend skipping as cross-training. But 15thC Italian you can do striaght away - it's hard on the muscles, but not likely to injure.

For everyone, it's well-worth spending some time on warming up, warming down, and stretching. 

A warm-up can be as simple as starting with a familiar, low-impact dance (like an almain), and preparing for higher-impact stuff by rising onto your toes repeatedly, running on the spot, and gentle-but-increasing jumps for a couple of minutes.

A warm-down can mean finishing a vigorous session with a few gentler dances that keep people moving while they physically cool off - e.g. Amoroso, Anello, Almains. Stretching is especially important if you've been doing things that have lots of time up on the toes (15th and 16thC Italian dances) or lots of jumps (galliards). The ones I find most important are: calves, feet, thighs, bum, in that order. At the very least, spend five minutes on your calves!


3. Looking after yourself

This is perhaps the most important part! If you don't find teaching rewarding and fulfilling, sooner or later you'll stop doing it. No-one gains from you being a martyr.

So: make a priority of looking after yourself, and make a priority of your own in enjoyment, for your own sake and everyone else's.

Things you can do to avoid frustration and burnout:

Take regular breaks

Don't try to teach every week or fortnight for eternity.  
I now teach for 10-ish weeks, then have a 2-week break in the school holidays. Previously, I've taught all year, then taken 2 months off over summer. 

Choose your times : if you get frustrated at certain time every year, because attendance dies off - e.g. winter, Christmas, around a big event - cancel classes in advance and take a planned break. People feel better about an intentional break and a happy new start than about lots of cancellations or dwindling attendance

Know who and what you're aiming at

Pursuing your own goals is good. There is nothing wrong with teaching what you like, and aiming your classes at people who have similar tastes to your own.

My joy in dancing comes from learning new stuff - so I expect my students to keep up with a pretty constant flow of new things - and in polishing and refining things, in dancing as technically well as I can - so I spend a lot of time in class on drills and details of footwork. Some people don't really enjoy that, and that's ok: by focussing on what I like (and being upfront about what I'm doing) I end up with a classful of people who want similar things, who feel good about doing the things I want to be doing.

Other dance-teachers prefer inclusive social dance, hate drills, and want to enjoy moving to the music without too much fuss about detail or the hassle of constantly finding new material. That's fine too - do what's fun for you, what brings you joy, and you'll attract students who want those things too. 

It's always a balance - compromise enough to be inclusive, but not so much you don't find it rewarding any more. There are times when you simply can't please everyone (and you won't keep all the possible dancers in your group): when faced with those choices, choose to please the people whose joy is similar to your own. You can't be effective in teaching stuff that doesn't inspire you at all, so you don't do anyone a service when you try (but if you're lucky you'll be able to recommend another teacher, or make space for another teacher youself). 

Split sessions

A lot of dance-teachers burn out after years of teaching beginner material, with not enough opportunity to do things that challenge them. 

I heartily recommend split sessions: e.g. first hour beginner, second hour advanced (that's what I do). Or first hour is for learning new material and drilling technique and the second hour for relaxed social dance. 

Be clear in your advertising, let people come to the part that suits them. 

Keep challenging yourself (if you enjoy that) and find ways to challenge your more experienced dancers (or they'll get bored and leave). 

Performances are a great excuse to get everyone to raise the bar (and rehearsals are a good opportunity for a focussed, advanced-level practice that doesn't generally leave anyone feeling excluded). 

Special or themed sessions

If there's stuff you really want to try, that you don't think will suit all your regulars, consider doing it as a one-off event. 

Things I've done that have worked for me:

  • half my students love galliard, half hate it: announce I'm focussing on galliard for a single term - some are happy, some take a break (and come back feeling good the next term)
  • teach a single-day workshop on one style (e.g. canaries, cascarde)
  • take a break from "regular" teaching to do something special, that students commit to in advance, for a set period of time - e.g. I sometimes do advanced summer workshops, where we choose some really hard material and 2-4 students commit to 2 classes a week and daily personal practice for 6 weeks. It's hard to keep up, but it's a blast - we all come out feeling we've learned heaps and improved rapidly
  • dance alone - hire a studio with mirrors, and treat myself to an evening focussing on myself - direct all my "teacher brain" to my own performance

Keep finding the fun in simple dances

Things I do, to keep beginner material fresh:

  • rotate which dances I teach - each year I teach a slightly different set
  • challenge myself to work on something while doing simple dances - e.g. teaching an Almain while quietly, privately, working on my own arm movements
  • get my students to teach (with support) - challenges them, gives me a break
  • try new music
  • play games, use dances that can work at multiple levels - e.g. I'll teach Ballo del Fiore for beginners, but challenge myself and my more experienced students to use different steps to ornament the seguiti (fioretti, trangati, puntate ...) 
  • make a point of thinking of new dancers as exciting opportunities - these are the people who can become the exciting dance-partners of my future!

Your voice

Cultivate dance-teacher voice. Clear, not shouty, but designed to carry. Tones that indicate the difference between "chatting, socialising" and "teacher speaking: attention please". Calm, friendly, in-charge. Like a good school-teacher.

Speak from the diaphragm. Use a tone you can keep up without becoming hoarse or sore. 

Get others to help you, as needed:

  • get another student to start talking through a dance while you find music (and a glass of water)
  • ask someone else to try calling, maybe the second time through
  • at a ball,  you can ask a herald to announce the sets and dances (and any other announcements), and save your own voice for calling


Dance games

In all that follows, the aim is for us dancers to challenge ourselves and improve our skills. There should be no way to "fail" these "tests" - anything we learn, any tiny skill we acquire or improve, makes the exercise a success. Emphasise that to your students - that it's not about winning or losing, that there is no way to "fail", that it's about exploring ways to learn and expanding skills, on a personal level, and in very personal ways. 

1. Dance with your eyes closed. 

This tests spatial awareness based on non-visual cues, and trust, in the group and your partner. Some people love it, some find it very uncomfortable and challenging - it's worth being careful with the latter group, making sure you don't push too far, give options for sitting out.

Spatial awareness.

"Knowing where you are, where you are going, and how you can get there" is a foundational skill in dancing [insert ref to 15thC masters - partire de terreno]. Mostly we do it by looking. But we can get lots of cues by:

  • listening
    • the music is coming from one direction
    • the music is louder when you're closer to the source
    • the footfalls of other dancers tell you where they are and what direction they're moving in
  • feeling
    • brushing past another dancer (e.g. in in-line siding)
    • the proximity-sense - that slight tingling and air-movement that tells you you've not-quite-touched something
    • small movements in your partner's hand and arm - focus on what they're trying to communicate
  • knowing your body
    • know how far you move with a given step
    • make consistent steps so that "double forwards, turn around, double again" must take you back to the same place, or "quarter turn x 4" reliably equals "full turn"
    • balance: a lot of people find that balance is harder without vision: learning to kick, or stand on one leg, with your eyes closed forces you to train yourself to rely on your internal sense of balance, not just on visual orientation


It's a huge act of trust to let someone else lead you - trust in their good intentions, but also trust in their competence. Don't under-estimate it! It's ok that this can be challenging.

Group version:

The group version: doing a branle in which you hold hands throughout, with everyone having their eyes closed, is rather lower-stakes. Get everyone dancing something like Pinagay, or the Simple Branle, then ask everyone to close their eyes. It's less challenging, because everyone is vulnerable to the same degree, and because - being in a circle - everyone is supported on both sides.

Partnered version:

Choose a dance for couples, and have one person in each pair close their eyes and the other lead them. Then swap.

I often use the music for Amoroso, or Rostiboli Gioioso, but I have the couple stay together throughout - both people dance all the steps, no gaps, side-by-side and holding hands all the time.

This is an excellent exercise for learning to:

  • lead clearly - communicate with your partner, ideally using only your hand, making your intentions as clear as possible
  • lead gently - those intentions should still be requests, not orders
  • lead receptively - focus on whether your partner is understanding you, feeling confident or flustered, what you can do to make this experience good for them
  • follow attentively - focus on what your partner is trying to tell you, revisit your assuptions if you seem to be mistaken
  • follow receptively - some people have real trouble giving up control in a dance and allowing someone else to lead; this exercise forces you to follow; that's a useful skill, but be gentle where it is a real emotional challenge
  • follow with trust - there is no way around the fact that this requires you to choose to put a lot of trust into your partner. That can be very hard. Don't force it if people don't want to. Don't insist on certain pairings. Do insist on equity - you can sit the exercise out, but you it's not fair to do only one half (only lead or only follow). 
  • calculate and use space - the leader has a much harder job than usual, making sure their partner avoids running into things, including other people, when they make take a while to understand "instructions" (as may other eyes-closed dancers) as they're not aware of why you're trying to do the thing you're doing. There is real skill in this.

All these are skills that are valuable in eyes-open dancing: this exercise is a good way to heighten the need for those skills and really focus on them and think about them. 


Sharking games

Good dances - Petit Riens, La Caccia d'Amore, Amoroso; anything where a couple (or set) separate temporarily then come together again

Teaches you to:

  • watch others, predict what they're likely to do, incorporate that in your planning
  • deal gracefully and creatively when someone does something unexpected

Messing with the music

  • change tempo, or vary the tempo during the dance 
  • speed challenge - how fast can we go?
  • stop the music, dancers keep going (extra challenge: re-start after a while - see if dancers are still in time - how good is your internal metronome?)
  • a familiar dance to a different recording then usual - and alter the dance to suit the tone of the music
  • a familiar dance to different music (the music for a different dance, or something else entirely, e.g. a modern piece)
  • dancers sing tune
  • live music - ask musicians to vary the music in various ways (e.g. Pinagay with variable numbers of kicks; jump between branles with no warning)

Learn which cues in the music you rely on; listen really hard to music, not just set internal metronome and ignore; training your internal metronome, etc etc.


  • clap the rhythm for a type of dance (galliard, canary, bassadanza - doesn't have to be complicated, tests dancers' knowledge of what the normal speed and rhythm is for a dance) - can go both ways - "I clap, you identify" and "can you clap X for me?"
  • clap the rhythm for a particular dance or section - esp. good in syncopated sections 
  • I name a dance, you tell me the first three steps, as fast as possible
  • I name a dance, you tell me when and where it's from
  • I name a time and place, you name a dance from that era (e.g. "15thC Italian" - "Gelosia"; "Elizabethan" - "The Old Measures")
  • try to dance something for every letter of the alphabet

In all these, students can take turns asking questions - it doens't have to be one-sided, with the teacher always quizzing the students.

These can be really fun, but as with most of this, what some people find invigorating others can find emotionally challenging - pay close attention to how people seem to be feeling, and don't overdo it. 


Knowing the music

Put music on, get dancers to just start dancing. Possibilities:

  • can your recognise the tune?
  • can you name and/or dance the dance?
  • will your feet start doing right dance even if you can't name it, or don't consciously remember it?
  • can you recognise genre and improvise in that style?
  • can you recognise genre or period, and do a few steps in that style?
  • can you dance something, anything, whatever feels good (easy and fun for some, very challenging for others - be gentle)

Imitation games 

In circle or pairs - add one movement at a time - toss it around / back and forth

  • memory, improvisation, learning-by-watching
  • can use cards or lucky-dip to remove "creativity" if that is a challenge - do this at a manageable rate

Each make up (or use cards to invent) a mutanza - teach to others.

A favourite game for me is this:

  1. I choose a genre we're working on (e.g. canaries, or Italian bassadanza)
  2. I give a short list of options - 4 to 10 - from that genre (and usually tell people they can add more if they want to - judge your crowd)
  3. We stand in a circle. The first person does a step - A
  4. Everyone does A
  5. The second person does A, then adds a step, B
  6. We all do A-then-B
  7. The third person does A-B-C
  8. We all do C
  9. ... and so on

At first, I use a restricted vocabularly, and keep the game short - we might stop the first round when there are only 4 elements in it. It helps to have your less-confident dancers go earlier, as they have less to remember. Once dancers are more confident you can allow a wider vocabularly, and let things go until they break (usually after 8-12 movements, for us). 

Other challenges I've tried, once people are comfortable:

  • play this game to music
  • play it without music, but use it to develop a sequence 8 or more measures long, and try dancing the results to suitable music

Varying known dances

  • Spend a session ornamenting a well-known dance - e.g. Rostiboli, but use contrapassi, turns under the arm, phantasmata (momentary pauses), creative floor-patterns, and so on. 
  • Spend some time polishing a single aspect of a well-known dance - e.g. posture, interaction between people, really tidy floor-pattern, executing the steps perfectly, timing, 
  • Make up a three-person version of a two-person dance, as a group exercise. (Compare with period variation, if one exists).
  • Group reconstruction session, either of a new dance or something familiar: go through source, discuss each instruction, come up with a reconstruction (or reconsider a reconstruction) as a group.
  • Read aloud the original source (or translation) for well-known but ambiguous dance (e.g. Horses' Branle) but without title - challenge dancers to identify which dance it is. Feeds into group reconstruction/revision/discussion session.


Structuring a class; structuring a syllabus


Keep notes

Keep notes on what you've done, even just a list of dances: 

  • tells you (and students) what you've achieved at the end of a term/year/period
  • inspiration when you're stuck - old favourites you haven't done for a while, or things you tried and moved on without really nailing, dances you can polish up quickly (because they're already known), dances to fit a particular constraint (set number of people, or suitable for a tiny space, or no-jumps, or in keeping with the theme of a particular reign)
  • potential ball-lists
  • tells you if you're getting a bit stale, need to look for new material
  • helps people learn names of dances
  • gaps - dances that "everyone knows" that, actually, you might not have taught in the year that newish person has been attending
  • gaps - "hey, I hadn't noticed before, but we hardly do any 15thC stuff - let's branch out!"

Plan for specific numbers

Planning classes for specific numbers of people. Generally, even numbers are handy. 6 and 12 are particularly good (easy sets of 2, 3, 4 and 6; 5, 8 and 10 are possible). Be prepared to dance with invisible Fred and/or Georgina. Dances that have versions for different numbers of people are your friend. Esp 2 or 3 people, especially if the steps are the same or related, so it's easy to learn both


  • Rostiboli / Gioioso in tre
  • Lioncello vecchio / nuovo
  • Spagnoletta in due / in tre

That allows for odd-numbered groups. 5 and 7 are perhaps the worst! Verceppe is the only one! 

But: a couple dance + a three-person version (also can keep more experienced dancers challenged)

Also: solo-based dances (e.g. galliards), which can be done in groups. Dance games which don't require set numbers or couples. Making up 3- person versions of couple dances (or other multi-person variants). 

Also: unpartnered round dances - branles, gavottes, etc.

Be realistic about your numbers: planning dances that need 8+ people is an exercise in frustration if you have 8 dancers altogether often only 5 turn up on a given night - better to focus on dances for 2, 3, and 4.

Group similar material

Renaissance dance is heavy on unfamiliar vocabulary. You reduce the burden if you cluster several dances (or a whole term of dances) in one genre together. Start with the easiest (both for what you do and what language you learn) and build on what's been learned already.

So, good progression:

  • a series of 15thC Italian dances:
  1. Anello (small number of steps, people to follow, fun and easy)
  2. Gelosia (similar steps to Anello, a bit more complex, quite distinctive - won't be confused)
  3. Rostibolli (a bit harder and more refined, but there is room to teach a lot about style)
  4.  ... almost any harder 15thC dance - Spero, Verceppe, Prixonera, ??? - the vocabulary is there, the style has become a bit familiar

Not so good:

  • a series of dances, not ordered for increasing difficultly, with new vocabulary for every one
    1. Rostibolli
    2. Contenezza d'Amore (not only is there new vocab, but it cotradicts the stuff above - both dances are full of "ripresa", but it means something different)
    3. Black Almain (not hard, but it's more new vocab, with no overlap, no building on what's been learned)
    4. Cut branles (often thought of as easy, but really a big memory exercise at first - more new words and movements)

I've taught the second set: I got students who were disheartened and confused, though they were bad at dance, and thought they'd never be able to keep up. The problem was not with them! I've also taught the first set: it tends to get students who're learning rapidly, learning more than they realise, and feel like they're good at what they're doing.


Digital Tools

Speedshifter - an app that allows you to vary the speed of a track at will (and even while it's playing). Great for slow versions for learning. Great for "fixing" not quite right recordings. A fun challenge if you make things really fast, or vary the speed while dancing.

Remote - a remote control so you don't have to scurry in an out of the set to press play and pause is great. I use a tiny bluetooth remote. There are lots of versions out there.

Sound editing software - I most often use Garage Band at the moment, but there are lots of options. Altering the repeat structure of a recording is making much longer or shorter versions is not longer a difficult task. Well worth doing at times.