CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Gotta dance ...

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to the Toronto Sun

Maybe you can shake your thang like Britney. Or perhaps you fancy yourself picking up where Rex Harrington, former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, left off. Maybe you're harbouring dreams of starring in Dirty Dancing 3: Patrick Swayze's Last Chance. Maybe not.
Ballroom dancing is a breeze when dance instructor Jason Ng, left, runs the class

Even if you've got the moves, most dance instructors worth their salt will tell you that it takes a whole lot more than that.

"Teaching and performing are two completely different things," says Jason Ng, a Toronto-based salsa and ballroom dancing instructor. "When you're a competitor, it's all about you. With teaching, you have to know not only how to dance, but how to get the students to understand how to dance. You have to want to see your students develop."

Ng, 23, has spent more than half his life on dance floors across the city. Since the age of 12 he has trained himself in ballroom, Latin and salsa dancing, and now teaches three nights a week at William G. Pollock Dancesport and one night a week at Dance to Live.

You have to be good with people, he says, to make it in this profession.

"You need to be a people person, and you have to be comfortable teaching in a group setting, and be able to take control of your class," he says. "You have to have a lot of confidence."
Twin sisters Rena and Marnie Schwartz (back row), owners of Vibe Dance Studio in Thornhill, pose with some of their young students.

That's something that's in abundant supply in the case of Rena and Marnie Schwartz, co-founders of Vibe Dance Studio in Thornhill. After years of competitive dancing, some stints on the professional concert tour and jobs as Argos and Raptors dancers, the 26-year-old twin sisters decided they wanted to share their love of dance with children.

At their studio (, they and their crew of 25 dance instructors teach jazz, acrobatics, ballet, hip hop, jazz and tap.

Their high-energy attitudes are complemented by educations well-suited to their profession: they each obtained degrees in kinesiology and in teaching at York University.

They are also strong believers in continuing education, travelling three to four times a year to New York City to take different classes.

"The truth is, it's like any additional qualification in any profession, the same way doctors need to learn about a new product or drug. We have to learn the new dance styles and the new styles of teaching," Rena says.

The two sisters keep a hectic pace, teaching at least 35 hours of dance a week. That alone keeps them in good shape, but they still do an additional 30 to 45 minutes of cardio and up to an hour of weight training three times a week to stay in optimum condition.
What does it take to be a dance instructor? Ann Romeril, interim president of the Canadian Dance Teachers Association, says the following qualities are needed to make it in the profession:
  • LA strong passion for dance.
  • Extensive knowledge about the style of dance you want to teach.
  • An earnest desire to teach others.
  • Physical stamina.
  • Understanding of physiology.
  • Patience.
  • Confidence.
  • An acceptance that you probably won't get rich in this profession.

  • "Our belief is that your body is your instrument, and if you don't train, you don't perform well," Rena says.

    As interim president of the Canadian Dance Teachers Association (CDTA) - Ontario, ensuring that instructors perform well is something Ann Romeril takes very seriously. The CDTA (, which has a membership of about 1,000 to 1,500 nationally, certifies those interested in teaching ballet, tap, acrobatics and ballroom dancing. Applicants must pass exams that require them to successfully teach a class and to correctly perform a series of dance moves. Lifelong dancers typically spend a year studying for the intense exams, and novices, up to three years.

    In addition to testing and certifying, the CDTA also offers regular workshops, holds competitions and offers a number of different learning initiatives for dance instructors.

    Romeril says that there is always work to be had in dance instruction, but like most professions, you can expect to start off by working for someone else, and at less than stellar wages ("You're not going to make a fortune in this profession.") If you stick with it long enough and prove yourself to be good enough, you can earn a fair salary, or start your own studio.

    For the most part, though, people enter the profession, Romeril says, because of something much more personal.

    "You have a very close relationship with your students, and it's very satisfying to pass knowledge on to them," she says. "If you love what you're doing and your heart is in it, it's a very rewarding career."

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