It’s quite clear that the digital and social media landscape has expanded over the past few years. With new platforms and features like TikTok and Instagram Reels, the younger generation has been exposed to content creation and entertainment throughout most of their lives. This newest generation is called Gen Z, and in 2021, they range from ages 6 through 24. But who are they exactly? What are their interests? And how can we, as dance educators, make sure that we are getting through to them in an engaging way?
Gen Z? Who are they?
Gen Z is the post-Millennial generation, consisting of those who were born in the year 1997 and on. They have been raised with the internet and social media as a normalized forefront of their daily lives, and it shows. This generation is home to some of the most creative, unique, and digitally outspoken individuals who aren’t afraid to use their platforms. They are more focused on genuine content, staying away from anything that could seem overly-produced. Oh, and they have a ton of entrepreneurial spirit.
Engaging Your Gen Z Dancers
So, what does this new generation mean for studio owners and dance teachers who are trying to facilitate connection and learning? One thing’s for sure, it means having a strong sense of what’s trending and what’s important to them–not only with top songs or styles but with career interests and masterclasses.
Gen Z isn’t afraid of creating–in fact, they love it. Don’t be afraid to give them an opportunity to create their own choreography or concept video for an assignment, and always encourage them to record themselves. Helping them express their creativity and learn how to edit their work with video tools will help them get in the right mindset for a professional career.
With social media platforms taking on the role of a resume, it’s all about being able to record yourself and promote your work. Most teen dancers have cellphones, so there should be easy access to a camera. Bonus points if it’s something they can share on their own social media pages!
Use social media to your advantage
Take a look at your studio’s social media page. Are you posting about what’s going on at the studio? Are you following top dancers, music artists, conventions, etc? Social media is a great way to keep an eye on pop culture, which will help you understand what your dancers are interested in.
If you have an Instagram account, are there ways you can get your dancers more involved? Feature Fridays? Instagram Takeovers? See what the pulse is at your studio and what your dancers are excited about when it comes to social media. If they love TikTok and IG Reels, can you work that into a lesson plan?
Also, make sure you’re following your dancers and interacting with them via social media! They’ll love that you’re engaging with their accounts, and it encourages them to positively interact with their dance peers as well.
Create a safe space for sharing
A huge characteristic of Gen Z is that they are individualistic. They’re not afraid to be themselves and don’t mind taking assignments on their own. At your studio, it’s important to create a safe space for your students to share their ideas, choreography, and more.
Self-expression is crucial for Gen Z-ers, and the studio should be a space where they feel more than comfortable expressing themselves. Holding brainstorms for video shoots or having an anonymous box to submit class ideas are great ways to make sure your dancers feel like they can speak up.
Hosting improvisation or choreography nights and setting ground rules to make sure everyone is on the same page will help take away some of the nerves around sharing choreography. Whatever you choose to do, letting your dancers own the space and run with ideas will only develop more trust between the studio and the students.
Teaching Strategies for Gen Z Dancers
With a generation that has grown up in such a digital age, there are a few teaching strategies that you should consider to best suit their interests and needs.
Acknowledge their attention spans and learning types
Let’s face it–the newest generation doesn’t have the longest attention span. They’re used to quickly scrolling through information online or watching short-form videos. They may not want to read articles or long-form text about the history of ballet, but if there’s a short video from a famous ballet dancer they look up to, they’re more likely to be engaged. Try finding types of informational media posts that not only excite your dancers but push them to dig deeper and learn.
Use technology within assignments and class
We can’t say it enough: use technology to your advantage! In terms of assignments, think content-creation and project-based learning. Have them work on developing their own choreography or creating a music video for a song they love. When they’re finished, have them share their content with each other and facilitate feedback! Gen Z wants to have a say among the sea of digital voices out there, and starting in the studio is a perfect introduction to producing content.
When planning your masterclass schedule, see if you can bring in choreographers that your dancers truly look up to. If you can’t get these choreographers to come in person, explore the virtual options that are available. With CLI, our live interactive masterclasses are a great way to access some of the industry’s best choreographers and connect with other studios across the globe.
Teaching Gen Z From A Studio Owner’s Perspective
We sat down with one of our Studio Partners, Nicole Webb, at Imperium House of Dance in Illinois to see how she connects with her younger, digital-minded dancers. From assignments that involve creating content dancers can share directly to their social media, to masterclasses and career-focused workshops, Nicole has developed an engaged group of students. Her goal? Creating a professional experience providing unique training opportunities that can be hard to find in the midwest.
Q: Do you find teaching this era of dancers is different from generations before?
A: Teaching Gen Zers is much different than generations before because they have access to a massive digital platform. Even though the pressures of social media can be overwhelming, the inspiration these young dancers experience can catapult them to a whole new arena if they choose to use it in a constructive way. Even though TikTok dancing is usually part of my soapbox, I love the opportunity they have to share their love of dance. Whether it is recreating intricate dance routines in their bedrooms or dancing with their friends out in public spaces.
Q: Can you share any tips on how you engage your Gen Z dancers?
A: You have to monitor the trends and have a feel for what is important to them – then use it. Our dancers love creating content for a social media post, so we try to do that regularly. We also bring in experts on their career interests – acting workshops, photoshoots, and industry nights with talent agencies.
Q: Have you found anything that’s particularly engaging or exciting for your teen dancers?
A: Our dancers love concept videos! We brought in Marcea Lane to teach the original Thriller dance one October and then created a video. We aired it on Halloween and everyone shared it on their social media. The families got a kick out of it too.
Q: Do your dancers interact with each other online? What about with the studio?
A: We encourage our dancers to support one another on all social media platforms. We know how tough it can be growing up in the eye of social media, so we have to have each other’s backs. We also try to respond to everything we are tagged in so that the studio is part of each dancer’s journey. I don’t spend too much time on social media simply because of time restraints of running a business (and I am a dance mom), so if I tell the dancers – if we’re not tagged we probably won’t see it.
Q: How do you keep up-to-date with trending styles, songs, choreographers, etc?
A: When I take my dancers to conventions I observe all of the classes to pick up on teaching techniques and I Soundhound the songs to see what music is trending. CLI features the industry’s top instructors, so I love to see new and old faces featured there. Conventions also have some of the best instructors and choreographers and I keep an eye out for new upcoming choreographers through social media.