Teaching as Performance

Episode 32: 

The role of teaching is both an art and a science. It encompasses many different aspects and skills, all put together to create an atmosphere conducive to learning, engagement, motivation, and inspiration!

It’s important that we understand what skills we need, to do just that. Join Hannah as she dives deep into why aspects of teaching have some element of performance, without the ‘big show’ and hear her explain why, and how, she incorporates humour into her teaching.

She expresses the importance of understanding that the more you engage your audience, the better the learning experience, and shares key tips regarding room placement, how to use your voice, and include your body through gestures in your communication. Don’t miss out on this insightful episode, start listening now!

Key Points From This Episode:

  • Hannah shares the background for today’s topic of discussion.
  • Why aspects of teaching have something to do with performance, without putting on a big show.
  • How Hannah uses humour as a tool to temper down frustrations (and why).
  • Understanding that the more you engage your audience, the better that learning experience.
  • Thinking about the placement of where you are placed in the room.
  • The volume, speed, and tempo of your voice.
  • Communicating by using your body, through gesture.
  • Using your face as part of the way you show up to command the audience.
  • Hannah recaps the different skills you can utilize to help create an atmosphere of learning, engagement, motivation, and inspiration!





[0:00:05] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We will be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity.


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and yoga for over two decades. What I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all, together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay, everyone, let’s dive in exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange.




[0:01:02] HT: Recently, I had a discussion with my friend Rebecca Sebastian on her podcast called Working in Yoga. We were talking about an interesting subject, which you’ve heard me talk about a little bit before my podcast, about the aspect of performance in teaching a class, whether it be Pilates, yoga, dance, whatever it is, really any movement class, and how much of that needs to be have a performance aspect of it.


Sometimes I use the word performative. Rebecca, let me know that actually can have a negative connotation. I haven’t lived in an English-speaking country in a long time. So, sometimes I lose some of the subtleties of words. If that was offensive for you that I used the word performative, I didn’t mean it to be negative. It’s not like I learned later like there’s performative allyship. It’s where there’s something superficial about it. That is definitely not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the aspect of performance within a teaching situation. And I don’t think that I mean, like a show and a dance. I think that can be used something very, very different than just understanding what skills we need actually to have a teaching experience, a teaching atmosphere.


I do believe that some of those are really based on understanding the aspect of theatre. Maybe, I think I’m bringing this up, because talking with Rebecca was really interesting. We both have teacher training programs, and we are more taking teachers that have gone through some sort of teacher training program, and really up levelling their skills, because these are the types of skills that are being taught in the normal teacher training aspect. And Rebecca, she’s doing amazing work. She is just like tearing down this whole industry and building it back up to really question some of the things that we’ve been doing as an industry in teacher training, and whether that’s from the Yoga Alliance, or even PMA, for us. It doesn’t really matter. But looking at what those organisations promote, and if they’re really helpful, or if they’re not.


Okay. So anyways, that’s sort of the background on where we were coming from. Now, you know me, if you’ve been listening to this podcast before, you know that I have a background in dance, and performance, and music, and theatre, like everything. That’s how I grew up and this is how I feel most comfortable expressing myself is on a stage. Rebecca is the same thing. So, I’m going to link to her podcast, the one that I was on with her. She has a great podcast. 


Rebecca has a background in theatre. So, she is spending many years on that aspect of it and then she found her way into the yoga world. Why is that important? Well, I think that there’s a lot of aspects about teaching, that do have something to do with performance, without putting on a big show. Now, I do think that there’s teachers that are out there that excel at putting, it’s like they’re on stage when they’re teaching your class. Sometimes that really is what the situation calls for and it can be still a transformative learning experience.


I don’t think that everyone needs to be doing that, though, in a class to have also an engaging experience for their students. I just want to kind of break down some of those may be subtle differences. I happen to like to use humour in my classes, especially for my bilingual classes, because I’m more making fun of the way that I use the language and make stupid little jokes that are in between, and what it does is help sort of break the tension, especially when things are getting hard, and people maybe their frustrations are maybe getting a little bit higher as they’re trying to learn something new, or maybe it’s a little bit just frustrating because the movement itself is hard.


So, I use humour as a way to temper those frustrations down. Now, frustration is not a bad thing at all, actually, when you’re learning something, it could help that learning process, if it’s the right amount of frustration. I’m not saying we’re skipping over all of that uncomfortable stuff, but is more really about using the humour for me as a tool. Now, you don’t have to be funny to be a teacher. You don’t have to be a comedian up there and telling your jokes all the time. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m just talking about understanding what aspects of stage could be useful for you to create the learning environment that you would like to create. These are the things that probably your teacher training hasn’t talked to you about.


So, I’m just going to go over a few of these. In our program, we do a whole lot more, a deeper, but just to get an idea of what I mean. When you are teaching, usually, you’re the only person speaking, right? Already that makes, it makes it either a monologue, or it looks like you’re on stage, like you have a captive audience. They have paid for your time, your expertise. So, understanding that the more you engage your audience, the better that learning experience is going to be. Like I said before, it’s not about having a song and dance, it’s just about understanding the power of what that could mean for them.


Some of the skills that we would go into is, where are you placed in your room? You have your, let’s say, your mat slide, it depends on of course, on what you’re teaching. If it’s in a mat class, how are they lined up? How are you walking around? Or are you literally on the stage? Because I’ve also taught from platforms. Can you even walk around between your people? Do you need to be elevated on something? Can you change the level of what you are? Do you need to stand on a bunk? I’m a very short person. So sometimes, depending on the situation, I do like to get up a little bit higher so people can see me better.


There’s that, your room placement. When you are teaching even, let’s say on the equipment, and you have a big 12 reformers in the room. Where are you during the class to command that attention? That’s there. So, we have that aspect of it is, can they see you? Where do they want to see you from? Depending on what exercise it is. There’s sort of that stage element. There’s also the volume of your voice.




[0:07:49] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense. But I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art and business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers.


Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools, you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. Gain access to the vault of our collective knowledge where you can learn everything we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher, or a studio owner. Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers.




[0:08:37] HT: You could do so much for the learning experience by varying the speed, the tempo, the volume of what’s coming out of your mouth. So, it’s not even just how you are cueing. The words that you’re saying are important, of course, but the spacing between them, the space that you give between the whole sentences of cueing, like are you building that, maybe, atmosphere where they need to be paying attention to you? The volume of it. Do you need to motivate them with a louder voice? Or is that particular moment needing more supportive, calming tones? Maybe it’s a whisper, maybe it’s super loud. Maybe you were also using sound effects.


Now, I know that sounds really silly if you’re not in the, coming from the theatre or the dance world. But as a communicator, you probably already want to do that. Maybe now that I said it, I can’t think of anything because I’m not teaching, I’m just talking. But sometimes sound effects can help. It can help them understand what you’re trying to get from them, and that’s what really teaching is, right? Is having them understand what are your expectations? How do you get them to that next level? So, it might be – I’ll do anything it takes to get a person to understand and to do the movements that I want them to do.


We have those maybe sound effects, maybe is clapping, or snapping, or stomping your foot, or tapping on something. I don’t really know — it might depend on what the situation calls for. But those are all, I would say, parts of that performative aspect. I’m using the word performative not in the way of performance. Just to, again, be clear with it. That’s not the superficial form of the word. We have gestures. Gesture, is also a way of using your body to communicate, to emphasise what it is that you want. Maybe it’s the use of your hands. A lot of us will already be doing this by using your arms, your hands, or whatever, to explain what the movement is. But does it go further? Can you use your entire body not just to do the exercise, my friends, but to explain maybe an aspect that you would like to see differently within the exercise?


Of course, you probably already are occasionally using your body to demonstrate. There’s a subtle difference here. I’m not talking about demonstrating the exercise. I’m talking about breaking something down so that they can see it in a different way through your mimic. Your facial expressions, I don’t know if that’s also been in your teacher training. But the way that you are using your face or not thinking about using your face, can also change the way that people are interacting with you in that class.


A lot of people are not just paying attention to it all together. So, if you have – maybe you’re thinking, you’re just in your teaching mode, and you are thinking about the exercise that’s going to come next. But if you have a scowl on your face, just because that’s your normal thinking posture. Maybe you furrow your eyebrows when you are thinking about something. How is that affecting the class? When you’re thinking, do raise your eyebrows? Do you look like you are having a question right there? Does that make your clients feel unsafe? Or like question what they are doing?


So, even having that or maybe it’s a light smile that you have all the time, maybe it’s a look of interest. Maybe it’s the way that you’re using your eyes to constantly scan the room. That is also part of the way that you show up to command that audience. So again, you are the performer, just because that’s what you signed up to do. You are on stage, whether you want to be on stage or not and you have all these people looking at you or at least listening to you. How are you going to choose those skills to help your learning atmosphere?


I think I’ve touched on a few of them so that at least you have an understanding of where my mind goes through when we say, “Okay, maybe it is a bit of a performance.” We’ve talked about where your placement in the room, the level that you’re on, so not just where you are, but also do you need a little bit more height, a little less height? Is it going to help if you’re going to be on the floor for something? We’ve talked about the tone of your voice, the loudness of your voice, the speed. Maybe the silence in between. Those are all choices you get to make. Your physical gestures, your mimic, your facial expressions, that are there. All of those things would be something that we’d look at, anyway, if you were going to be a performer. But I think it’s especially interesting when we think about it as you, the teacher. I think everyone that listens to this podcast can agree that the reason we are doing what we do is because we want to help change people’s lives for the better and we just happen to be doing that through movement. Helping them get more exercise, maybe helping them understand Pilates, like whatever your relationship to that is.


I’m sure that we can all agree that any way that we can get people to do that get more movement in their lives is a good way. So, I’m not asking for any one of you to go out and take some theatre classes or dance classes. But I am asking you to think a little bit about how it is that we can show up and create an atmosphere of learning, of engagement, of motivation, and inspiration within that training. I really look forward to hearing what you think. If you want me to go a little bit deeper into any of those sorts of topics, I’m always up for listening to what do you want to hear about. Wishing you a wonderful and happy teaching week and I will see you next week. Bye.




[0:14:56] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab any one of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching, everyone.



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