Student to Student
Teach Dance Around the World
Earn Money While You’re Making Friends
By Laura Higgins Florand
In the November/December 2001 issue of Transitions Abroad I wrote about the wonderful experience of learning dance around the world. If you are interested in dance, you might be ready to pursue this exceptional means of making contact with the local culture while you make a little money at the same time. Teaching dance can be a convenient supplement to your income. Although this article is specific to dance, as it is based on my experience, many of the ideas can be applied to other sports and skills (music lessons, for example). I know of a woman who moved to the Bahamas two years ago and is making a living as an aerobics and yoga instructor. An inspiration to us all!
Teaching a class or two a week can easily bring in the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a month. Since you are often paid in cash you usually won’t need a work visa. Perhaps more importantly, this physical sharing of culture usually leads to a friendly and relaxed rapport between instructor and classmates, making it easy to form friendships.
First some general advice based upon my own experience:
It makes sense to go to Spain to study flamenco, but it will take you at least 10 years of intense study to get away with teaching it there. You would do better to spend your time there, training intensively and then teach classes once you are back in your home town.
Creating a niche is often easier than competing for an already established one. In large cities there always seems to be room for one more, but a small town might have room for only one or two Middle Eastern dance teachers. Again, perhaps you would do better to take lessons from these better-qualified teachers and pass on what you learn from them later, when you are living somewhere else. Try your best not to feed into any rivalry. If you can make friends with local dance teachers, they can help you.
Fair or not, "native" dance teachers have the edge. So while swing or salsa might seem ordinary where you live now, people where you’re going might love to study these dances with you.
My own dance teaching experience is in Europe and European-influenced parts of the world. Other regions can be much more conservative. Before you start teaching Tahitian dance in a small town in Yemen, consider whether this will earn you a reputation that could be uncomfortable.
How to Get Started
Contact all the local dance studios, gyms, and arts centers or the local equivalents and compare times and offers. Some studios pay only an hourly rate (which may be fine, if you expect very few students); others offer a percentage of student fees; others ask you to pay a set rate for renting the studio space but any fees you can bring in are yours. The times available will affect how much money you earn (the best start time is generally about a half hour after most people get off work).
• Think creatively in terms of venues for your classes. Schools and student residences often let their space be used for classes when they don’t need it, and many are actually eager to offer this type of extracurricular activity. I’ve taught classes in a university residence in Paris, where I was given the space for free, and I’ve attended classes taught in restaurants on nights when the restaurant was closed. But if it’s not a dance studio, it’s up to you to talk them into it and to publicize your course.
• Print up flyers and business cards and post them or pass them out every chance you get, even in unlikely places. Obvious places include gyms, dance clubs, arts and sports centers, universities, artsy cafés.
• Keep alert for events or restaurants at which you can perform. Even if you perform for free, as is often the case at small festivals, it’s your best means of advertising. Restaurants should pay you a set fee as well as allow you to keep all tips, but that depends on your negotiation skills. Remember that just because a restaurant already has dancers every weekend doesn’t mean it might not need more.
• Don’t forget other dance teachers as a resource. People who study one dance are likely to be interested in others. Many Tahitian dance students have been referred to me by Middle Eastern dance teachers who know me because I have taken their classes.
• Send press releases to the local newspapers, which often are hungry for colorful local interest pieces. And make sure to include some eye-catching photos.
Finally, do not count on dance instruction as your only source of income. How much you will earn is hard to predict. Above all, you’re doing it because you love it and love meeting new people in the culture in which you have chosen to live and explore.
LAURA HIGGINS FLORAND trained in Tahitian and Hawaiian dance while a Fulbright scholar in French Polynesia. She has taught these dance forms in Spain, France, and the U.S. She now teaches French at Duke Univ. but continues to give classes in Polynesian dance as well.