Leadership Tips From Directors In The Dance Community

Training Tips

Leadership Tips From Directors In The Dance Community

Jessie Ma
January 23, 2024
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Remember our previous article on leading a team effectively? We know that there is no one right way to lead a team or be a leader in general, but we also know that you can never have enough tips on leadership. What better way to get more insight than to pick the brains of actual team leaders in the community? We reached out to a few (of the many) directors of teams in the community and asked them to share a few pieces of advice on how to be a great leader. Here's what they had to say:

Branlee Querubin, Kaba Modern

Play to the strengths of your dancers, particularly when building sets. Learn about what your dancers excel at, and create a set based off of those strengths.

Franklin Yu, ACA Hip-Hop

  1. Always Be Prepared- As a leader, your job is to make sure practice runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible, and that means you should always have a game plan. Plan out every minute detail, i.e. what you’re going to say, how long you’ll spend cleaning this, etc; leave as little room for error as possible, because indecision on your part will lead to wasted time and confused dancers.
  2. Be Ready to Make the Tough Calls- As the director of a dance team, you have to love your dancers and cater to their needs, but sometimes that means telling your team what they don’t want to hear. Always know the difference between being mean and being strict, but whether it be a dirty run-through or excessive chatter, your job as a leader is to end anything that prevents the team from getting from point A to point B. There will be times where your dancers will likely be displeased with what you have to say, but always remember that your bad-cop routine is essential to the efficiency of practice.

Kelvin Tran, Ascension

What really helped me is connecting to the individuals on the team on a personal level. We're all more than just dancers, we're all people with our own strengths, weaknesses, personal struggles, and experiences. By knowing everyone more personally, it provides me with a stronger sense of communication and trust with my family. This trust, in my opinion, is what helps me lead confidently.

Jeffrey Liang, NSU Modern

As it's beautifully said in the article, being a leader puts you in a vulnerable place where criticism is likely to come. I think it's a leader's responsibility to take the criticism and apply it as necessary without the attachment of emotion or ego. An openness to communication and honesty as well as the ability to view criticism as a chance to grow and not a personal attack is key to growing as a leader and creating a better experience for all the members.

Once a team sees that a leader is open to criticism and change, they'll be more open to voicing their qualms instead of holding it inside themselves, and thus, a happier team! Creating spaces for members to voice their concerns through evaluations, a position dedicated to being a liaison between members and leadership, or even anonymous online input boxes is also important for an open channel of communication!

Austin Fernando, SGBM

Consistency. Efficiency.
And sometimes, you have to stop taking yourself so seriously.

Leary Salupen, Common Ground

Know when to ask for help and when not to. Recognizing that you are struggling is key to being a leader and acknowledging help is the next best thing. Asking for too much help, however, can make a leader look lazy or bossy. Moderation and trust in the end is most important.

Karl Flores, Hall of Fame Dance Team

  1. People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  2. The most effective way to lead is to lead by example.
  3. Be decisive and follow your heart.
  4. The bond you create with your teammates is just as important as the set you put together.
  5. It's when things seem dire that you must not quit.
  6. Realize the bigger picture and always remind yourself why you're doing what you do.
  7. The team always comes first, and you come second.

Janelle Wen, Chaotic 3

  1. Don’t be afraid be vulnerable to help to ask for advice or critiques, whether it is from past directors or alumni! Being a leader doesn’t mean you are no longer able to grow. Your hunger to better yourself as a dancer and as a person can inspire your teammates to step up and follow suit.
  2. It’s better to resolve conflict with your members than letting anything build up and fester as the season goes on. With that said, personal confrontation is everything! When bad vibes spread, take the initiative to find out what is really happening and personally resolve the issue.
  3. Personally invest in your team, individually. It’s difficult to lead a team when you don’t know your team. Take time to grab lunch with or catch up with your dancers outside of practice!
  4. Learn to reconcile friendship with leadership. This has been really difficult for me, but be aware of your conversations and actions with your members. It’s hard to not be able to confide in the people that you want to, but sometimes you have to keep things to yourself/your other directors

Natalia Garcia, Common Ground

Everyone has made it onto your respective dance team for a reason, so there is a whole lot of talent ready at your disposal. Don't hesitate to give team members an opportunity to take the helm, whether it be choreographing, assisting with costumes, cleaning, etc. You have to remember that you can't do it all, and that you have an arsenal of 40 or so eager dancers willing to learn.

Nathaniel Navarro, SGBM

Being a leader encompasses many things, especially within a dance team/community. Of course there's always lead by example, patience, communication etc which are all viable traits. Although, one thing you can't teach is how to make relationships & care. Being a leader really goes beyond dance and starts with caring for people and their well-being/growth. A leader that executes that combined with their knowledge of dance will find the byproduct of amazing dancers with a heart full of passion. At the end of the day do your best to create great dancers but better people.

Julian Talens & Robin Ching, GOOD Project

  1. Set Specific Goals – Every rehearsal has a purpose. At the beginning of rehearsal, we make sure that our goal and expectation for that rehearsal is clearly communicated to the team. For example, “We’re cleaning piece one and we want it to be clean by the end of rehearsal. If you’re not in the piece go to the other room and catch people up. Break will be at 10:30, no phones or food until then.” Etc. At the end of rehearsal, we make sure we give feedback on how we did that rehearsal. Did we reach our goal? Do we need to put more time into the piece next week? Did we do a good job at following through with choreographer instructions? Etc. We also make sure we communicate what we liked about that rehearsal first and genuinely compliment them on a job well done, AND THEN say, “Here’s what we can do better….”
  2. Make it personal – We give our dancers plenty of freedom and choice. For example, if they miss rehearsal, we don’t yell at them or give them the cold shoulder when they come back. Instead, we tell them, “This is what you missed or will miss next week, you’re accountable for it." You can meet up with someone to catch you up OR come early next rehearsal, I’ll help you. If not then you also have a CHOICE of not being in the piece if it’s too stressful.” Or another example would be if we didn’t do a good job learning a piece at a rehearsal, we tell them “We need to get this down at the beginning of next rehearsal (specific goal). We’ll be here early next rehearsal and you can review with us OR watch the video and work on it at your own time.” When we set goals, we make sure we allow them to decide how they want to reach it. Everyone’s approach is different.
  3. Have fun – We have a lot of fun during rehearsals (probably too much) but never lose sight of the goal. Okay maybe not all the time but when you’re not having fun as a leader, the team can definitely tell and is infectious. You want to make sure rehearsal is a fun learning environment. You spend 99% of your time preparing at rehearsals together. Make sure the journey is memorable when you reach the destination aka the stage.

These three things separate us from being leaders at rehearsal and friends outside. It’s definitely possible being both by putting the betterment of the team as a whole at rehearsal and an individual outside. Also, never stop learning.

Jeffrey Calimbas, Culture Shock LA, Diamond Bar All-Male

I think to be a successful leader, you genuinely have to care about the people you lead, about their well being, about their life, about their growth. If they know you respect and care about them, the more likely they are to follow. One thing that sticks out to me is the leadership of Culture Shock. I've been on many teams where if I miss a rehearsal it's like "where were you? what kept you from being at practice. Now you wont be in a piece."

When I miss rehearsals on Culture shock, they tell me "Oh man, we missed you at rehearsal! Its just not the same without you". To me that spoke volumes. I'm on a team where the leaders genuinely care about me and miss me when I'm gone. That is everything.

David Lim, GRV

This may sound obvious, but you have to work harder and way more intensely than everyone else on the team. Countless hours need to be put in outside of rehearsals to fully prepare every step taken, in building a set and running rehearsals. The director controls the vibe of rehearsals so when you are fully prepared and confident before you step into rehearsal, everyone will feel calm and ready to follow your every direction. Hours of work is done in the background, and most of the time the team will not know. But you gotta put in that work!

What piece of advice spoke out to you the most? Leave a comment to share with us below! Another important thing to remember about leadership is to take care of yourself and make sure YOU are happy. We learned this from Anna Sarao and Arnel Calvario at H4 - check out more of their tools for leadership here!