It’s the middle of the season. Are routines are looking fine but feeling tired? Are dancers going through the motions but also holding back? Have you heard more complaining than usual? You’ve got the warning signs of some imminent dancer burnout.
Few things are more natural for dancers, athletes, or people who practice their talent or craft repetitively. The dancers have been going hard for several weeks and their skill is coming along, so they might start to get a little distracted or let their focus slip. There’s plenty of other things for them to think about: school, family, friends.
How do we keep them reined in? Let’s talk about a few strategies to keep dancers focused and engaged on the dance floor.
Personal rewards can go such a long way! And as teachers, we need to be clear about why a dancer would get a reward or how they need to go about earning one.
Giving a dancer a reward is not about saying “your one action today deserves this nugget of fun,” whatever that nugget may be. It’s about that dancer having accomplished something (whether they’ve nailed a particular move or have really improved their attitude) and then giving them a personal sense of recognition for it.
Have your dancers write down a skill, a run of choreography, or another concrete goal for themselves. Now, give them a deadline: maybe two weeks? Say “Go!” And at the end of two weeks, if a dancer has accomplished their goal, do something for them that is personal and valuable.
That might mean:
A certificate to put on their fridge (to show off to family and friends)
An “upgrade” in the choreography (give the dancer a small feature)
Letting the dancer act as assistant teacher during stretches next week
Not candy. Never candy.
Mix It Up
I’m sure many of you teachers have a standard class structure, which helps dancers know what they should expect, and helps to keep them on task during a particular portion of class. My challenge for you: how can you mix up your schedule without sacrificing the progress in your curriculum?
Let’s be clear: we’re trying to avoid dancer burnout, and that does NOT mean adjusting classes so that dancing progress suffers. Instead, we need to be creative in adapting the time we have to add some surprise or excitement.
What if you:
Let dancers submit song ideas, you pick one you like (or reward a great dancer^^^ by choosing their song) and use that song for a warmup freestyle dance session? 3-4 minute adjustment
Teach a new piece of choreography with a game. “Simon Says” one step or several steps at a time! At the end of the game, you challenge everyone to try and run through the choreography and see who remembers the most.
Practice newer or advanced moves by running through older choreography (like, from last year). If there were some really fun dance steps that you know your dancers enjoyed, highlight the specific moves and how they relate to this year’s choreo. You can even have a short competition and see who still remember’s last year’s dance for fun!
Build On A Personal Connection
There’s no doubt that as a dance teacher, you and your dancers will develop a strong connection. You’re guiding them along a path that they love, and you want to see them excel. They’re going to feel your investment and love!
So, focus on making your studio a positive space. And focus your class a positive experience that dancers will gravitate towards. You want dancers to feel like they’re special as individuals (yes, definitely), but that they also fit into a bigger picture and a bigger narrative that is your dance class.
Is your classroom time just not enough to connect with some of your newer students? Try hosting a weekend workshop or dance studio social event that gets the dancers together and building relationships.
At the end of the day, the mid-season slump is just that: a slump! Get your dancers thinking past this mid-season time and looking ahead to bigger things and bigger performances.
Tap dance is a fun and unique art form. Unlike other dance styles that emphasize light feet and soft sounds on stage, tap dancers strive to make their feet heard. In fact, many of the moves in tap are based on intentionally creating different sound patterns. Picking the right tap dance music makes all the difference!
With the right accompaniment, tap shoes can complement the music and create a dazzling visual and audio display. The key is to find an upbeat and energetic soundtrack for your dance class that can keep your students amped up and moving!
The musical genres you choose can be tailored to your own tastes. Tap goes well with a wide range of musical styles, and has a history with each of them. Here are a few suggestions for finding the right tap dance music for your classes:
1. Jazz, Swing, Bebop
Good for: Dance history lessons
Tap dancing and jazz music have made a fantastic pairing for decades. Though tap has its roots in dances that date back centuries, Theater Dance reported that the modern notion of tap dance started to become a part of pop culture in the 1920s. This was around the same time that jazz music became more popular with mainstream crowds as well. The soulful rhythms of fast-paced jazz numbers complemented the movements and sounds of energetic tappers when they went out dancing. Dances that were all the rage at the time, like the Charleston, were often adapted for tap dancers. The era saw some overlap between tap dance music and swing, so this could also be an opportunity to incorporate some of those elements into your lessons.
By the 1940s, bebop emerged as a subgenre of jazz music. Bebop included a number of upbeat, iconic classics that are fun to tap along to.
Try: “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)” by Duke Ellington, “Jumpin’ Jive” by Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers
Good for: Life imitating art
Many musicals throughout the years in film and on the stage have featured legendary tap numbers. Teaching students some of the famous tap routines they may have seen on screen before (or modified versions of them) can be a fun project that keeps the whole class focus and engaged. Choose from your own favorite films and share the routines that you fell in love with, or pick from a published list of popular dance numbers, like this one from Buzzfeed.
Try: “Singing in the Rain” from Singing in the Rain, “It’s a Hard Knock Life” from Annie
3. Today’s Hits
Good for: Appealing to your audience
Sometimes, students get more excited about dance when they know and love the songs you play. Browse through some of the Top 40 hits and find something that you’d enjoy playing with your class, or take suggestions of the students’ favorite tracks. Chances are good the dancers sing along to these songs whenever the come on the radio and dance around their rooms in a more freeform fashion. Teach them to bring their craft and their favorite tunes together for a fun and upbeat lesson.
Try: “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce, “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
4. Traditional Dances From Around the World
Good for: Exploring new styles
Variations of tap dancing can be found in many cultures throughout history and across the globe. Pick a new style and discuss its origins with your class as you try new moves to international folk songs.
Try: Flamenco from Spain, Step dancing from Ireland
Finding the Right Song
You know that with the right choreography, you can dance to almost anything. The key to picking the right tap dance music for your class is finding something that you’ll enjoy dancing along to, and hoping that your students will enjoy it, too. It’s so much easier to create routines with songs you’re excited about and want to listen to, so share your joy with your students.
Other considerations for selecting tap dance music include the moves you want to incorporate into your lesson, the age of your students and their experience levels. Make sure that whatever song you choose has a rhythm they can keep up with and appropriate lyrics. You can try to create a more collaborative program by soliciting feedback from the student on the music that’s played in class.
Teaching dance is a fulfilling career that allows you to share your passion with others. A dance teacher education can be a combination of performance, formal training, and other experiences with dance. After dancing their entire lives, some dancers decide to devote their time to teaching. However, dance teachers lead busy, hectic lives ruled by demanding schedules, and that means that it can be difficult to continue fitting in personal dance practice or finding the time to stay in shape as a dancer.
For some teachers, especially younger ones, this can be a cause of distress. When your life was previously defined by dance – and your identity defined as a dancer – what happens when you no longer have the time to commit to your own dance practice? Or when you realize that your flexibility is not as impressive as it use to be, or that you can’t turn quite as many pirouettes as you could before you started teaching? This change is even more noticeable in the summer months, when teachers typically have more downtime.
This is a natural shift that comes with the territory, but don’t let it get you down. There are still so many ways you can continue being a dancer while you’re also a dance teacher.
The best teachers are the ones who continue learning and growing through their own dance practice. But this is easier said than done. For example, the last thing you may want to do after a long and grueling class with distracted kids is lace up your shoes and hit the barre. However, taking the time to fit dancing into your life is key to strengthening your identity as a dancer, and not just a teacher.
Block out an hour of time before or after your class to devote to your own practice. You could also schedule time to practice in the studio on days you don’t teach or on the weekend. If you freelance as a dance teacher, ask the studio owner if they would mind if you used a classroom on your own time – most will be fine with this.
Treat this solo time as if it was an actual class you registered for. Stick to the same time each week, and pencil in your personal practice days on your calendar.
Great Teachers Keep Learning
You’ll find that making a conscious effort to continue developing as a dancer also makes you a better teacher – and a more attractive instructor to prospective students and their parents. In an article on The Dancing Grapevine, continual learning and development is one of the top qualities that dancers and parents look for when selecting a new teacher. The article described “green lights” for teachers as including if they “innovate or take on new dance challenges,” cross-train in other dance styles and train with other teachers often.
A large part of being an effective teacher is empathy – and by being a “student” of your own dance practice, you can relate better to your students.
If you find yourself lamenting lost skills during the slower summer months, don’t despair. In addition to scheduling your own practice time at the studio, there are many other ways you can stay in shape as a teacher.
Dance Information recommended taking time to regularly stretch at home, joining open classes in other dance styles or signing up for a summer intensive. Seek out workshops, seminars and conferences on dance in cities near you. You can also volunteer and perform with a local dance studio or company. Another option is cross-training – check out our article here.
Nearly all dance teachers will agree that the barre work is an integral part of ballet practice. However, what many teachers don’t agree on is whether it’s better to do the same set barre work every week or different combinations.
This very topic got lots of attention in the forum Ballet Talk For Dancers, where one user asked whether other members preferred a set barre with little variation, a few different set barres that are alternated or different combinations done in each class. Many members were vocal about their preferences – read on for a breakdown of the debate.
The set barre, or the repetition of the same barre movements in every class, is found in several major ballet teaching methods such as the Cecchetti, Paris Opera School and Bournonville methods, the book, “The Ballet Companion,” noted. The advantage of this old-school approach is that heavy repetition of the same movements helps dancers focus on improving technique, isolate problem areas and improve their muscle memory. As the book mentioned, it also saves time in class because the teacher does not need to use up time explaining a new combination. A set barre can also be especially helpful for beginner students, with one forum user noting that it helps her novice students gain a sense of mastery before moving on to more advanced movements.
In the Ballet Talk forum, though, a common complain against set barres was that it’s very easy for dancers to get bored doing the same movements over and over again. Which leads to the alternative …
Foregoing the repetition of set barres, some dance teachers adopt the combinations approach, in which they always teach a new series of movements at the barre each class. The major advantage of this method is that it helps dancers learn how to pick up new combinations quickly, making them better equipped to quickly grasp new choreography. As Dance Advantage noted in its article on memorizing ballet combinations, dancers need to be able to learn and perform ballet combinations practically at the same time, and a varied barre helps develop this skill.
Combination barre strengthens the “muscles of the mind,” according to “The Ballet Companion.” As author Eliza Gaynor Minden wrote:
“Picking up combinations quickly and adapting to different styles require versatility and overall mental agility, both of which develop better when challenged by variety and the occasional “brain twister” combination that moves in irregular patterns or rhythms.”
In the Ballet Talk forum, the consensus was that a mix of set barre and combination barre was the best option. Teaching a set barre but changing it every couple of weeks or so still helps students flex their quick-learning muscles while allowing them to focus on technique simultaneously. Dancers don’t get bored, their minds and muscles continue to be challenged and correct technique is still prioritized.
What do you think – is set barre, combination barre work or a mix the most effective teaching method? Let us know in the comments.
Ballet has a rich history that goes back hundreds of years and spans various continents and countries. As a result, the has undergone many modifications as dancers and teachers incorporated new styles of ballet and techniques into their practice.
Years of experimentation and artistic inspiration have established various ballet styles that each have special characteristics and trademarks. Here’s an overview of the major styles of ballet.
Classical ballet is the most well-known and popular style of ballet. Its origins go back to the Renaissance courts of Louis XIV, explained Les Grand Ballets, and still adheres to traditional ballet technique. Classical ballet emphasizes elegant, graceful lines, heavy turnout of the legs and fluid, smooth movements. Perhaps the most famous of all classical ballets is “Swan Lake.”
The Romantic ballet style prioritizes emotion, drama and strong story-telling. Romantic ballet is not just about the technical or athletic feats of movement that dancers can achieve, but how movement can be used to tell a compelling narrative and connect with the emotions of the audience. According to California Ballet:
“The basic subjects of the Romantic ballets came from the perceived conflicts between beauty and ugliness, good and evil, spirit and flesh realism and fantasy.”
Dance Magazine describes the contemporary ballet style as “anchored in the old, hungry for the new.” It’s all about experimentation and creativity, drawing freely from other dance styles like jazz and modern. The focus is not on narrative or telling a story, but on prompting the audience to think about the power of movement and what aesthetic the lines of the body can convey. As choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa told the magazine:
“With contemporary ballet, you turn the room. The audience is asked to look at what is happening between the dancers.”
Neoclassical ballet is synonymous with the work of George Balanchine, an incredibly influential choreographer who created the Balanchine method, which is the most widely taught ballet method in the U.S. It is a 20th-century creation, Pittsburgh Dance Theatre explained, and emphasizes athleticism, speed and impressive technical feats. This style largely rejects elaborate costumes, sets or intricate stories to for a simpler design that places the focus on the dancers themselves. Neoclassical ballet pushes boundaries while still prioritizing technical skill and perfection.
Fitting 30 dancers on one stage might sound impossible. Even if you only have a group of 10 dancers, having them move together seamlessly during a performance can still be a logistical headache. Creating group choreography requires some advanced planning, careful consideration and keen spatial awareness.
You want the audience’s eyes to be on your dancers’ graceful movements and impressive skills – not on how they’re bumping elbows with each other. Follow these tips for creating effective group choreography that wows the crowd.
Identify the Strongest Areas of the Stage
To accommodate a large group of dancers on stage at one time, you need to understand the unique characteristics of each section of the stage itself. The center of the stage attracts the most attention, unsurprisingly, so place any soloists there. However, it’s important to not overuse the center, since the more you use the weaker its visible impact, noted Sandra Cerny Minton in her book, “Choreography: A Basic Approach Using Improvisation.”
Placing dancers downstage is good for intimate sections of group choreography or those that require dancers to be particularly emotional, because the area is closest to the audience. To create a sense of mystery, it’s effective to place dancers upstage. Cerny noted that the areas toward the right and left sides of the stage are comparably weak, though that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be used at all. The key is creatively and effectively using the entirety of the space available to you.
Think Outside the Box
Sometimes, you need to expand your idea of what constitutes the stage. DanceSpirit Magazine described the experiences of Suzi Taylor, choreographer of the New York City Dance Alliance Nationals Senior Outstanding Dancer performance. She had to fit a whopping 145 dancers onstage at one time, and understandably couldn’t do so without having them all constantly bump into each other.
She then came up with the idea to have some of the dancers on the floor in front of the stage. It turned out to be the perfect solution, and she used the space to create unique level changes. Don’t be afraid to get creative in your group choreography or the way that you use the space.
An article by Dance Advantage provided a list of tips for dance teachers who were tasked with choreographing a musical theater show, and while ballet and performance theater are very different, there are some tips that ballet choreographers can borrow to effectively choreograph large groups of dancers. One valuable tip is to build patterns of movement into your choreography.
According to the article, audiences enjoy watching recurring motifs, and repeating the same group of movements in different places throughout the piece helps keep the audience engaged. Incorporating patterns is also useful because it helps provide structure for the dancers, especially if the rest of the choreography is complex or difficult.
Utilize Creative Devices
When faced with the overwhelming task of choreographing a dance for a large group of students, you may be tempted to have all perform the same movements in synchronization. Unfortunately, though, this is dull for the audience and doesn’t do justice to your dancers’ skill sets. But on the other hand, having every dancer do completely different movements can be dizzying and doesn’t give the audience anything to focus on. A good trick for effectively choreographing a large group of dancers is to take advantage of the myriad of patterns, contrasts and other unique choreographic devices.
Break your dancers into small groups, and have them do complementary movements where they are all doing the same movement but in slightly different ways – for example, one group jetés toward the left while the other jetés toward the right. You can have your dancers do contrasting movements, for example having a few dancers move across the stage quickly while a couple other dancers make slow movements.
Another idea is to include successional movements where a certain skill or movement is quickly performed by each dancer one after another, creating a waterfall- or domino-like effect. You have the power to create a spectacular piece that is full of visional splendor, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different devices.
While kindergartners won’t be performing “Giselle” anytime soon, you can teach them the basic building blocks of learning choreography that will set them up for success in and outside of the studio. The key is understanding the developmental stage young children are in and adapting your teaching style to work with this level of learning, not against it. Here are a few tips to use when putting together dance choreography for kids.
Keep It Simple
Kids in or entering kindergarten LOVE to move around and have fun in dance class, but you can’t expect them to always remember extended choreography. Five to six-year-olds have a better grasp on movement than toddlers, but they can’t grasp routines as well as grade school-age children.
As a result of participating in a dance class, students in kindergarten through second grade should be able to copy other people’s shapes and patterns, perform basic elements of dance, such as making a round shape or jumping in a certain direction, and describe dance movements in general terms, according to the book, “Teaching Children Dance.”
Third- through fifth-grade children, on the other hand, should be able to understand various choreographic structures, describe others’ movements using simple dance terms and reproduce choreography with multiple sequences.
Simple, brief choreography that only uses basic movements are best suited to the five- and six-years-old age group, and make sure you break down each step into easy-to-digest elements.
Prioritize strengthening your students’ sense of rhythm and their ability to match their movements to different speeds. This approach will better set them up for more advanced classes later on.
Build Repetition into Choreography
Young children need structure to thrive in class, and choreographer Jenny Duffy noted that songs and movement are often used in kindergarten classes to signal when it’s time to transition from one activity to another. She recommended that dance instructors use a similar approach when creating choreography for younger students.
She advised using the same movements during the chorus of a song, which makes it easier for children to learn choreography and also helps them develop musicality.
Positive reinforcement makes all the difference when teaching choreography to younger students. Five to six-year-olds will respond better to praise, and criticism on the way students are doing a certain movement should be used sparingly. As Donna Donna Furmanek wrote in her paper, “Classroom Choreography: Enhancing Learning Through Movement:”
“It is important that teachers acknowledge children’s efforts and participation more often than noting whether or not children are doing the movement correctly.”
“Positive reinforcement makes all the difference.”
A reward system is a great way to boost this positive reinforcement. One dance teacher on Dance.net wrote about how she creates a chart for each student and then gives them sticker or other small prize like a plastic gold medal when they learn a new step.
Focus on Fun
“You shouldn’t expect to teach young children technique,” writes Holly Shaw in a post for 365Dances. Kindergarten-age students are high-energy and are still learning how to move their bodies, so making dance class as fun as possible will be more beneficial for young children in the long run.
“Really what you should be focusing on at this point is the sheer joy of moving and learning their bodies,” says Shaw. “Keep the expectations low.”
As any dance teacher who’s worked with young children knows, kids have a boundless supply of energy. Attempts to teach them technique or choreography often end in vain, with aggravated children and an even more frustrated teacher. Young preschool- and kindergarten-age children generally don’t have the attention span or discipline to do barre work or learn correct technique, but this young and energetic age group is perfectly suited to succeed at creative movement. You can take advantage of their energy with creative movement lesson plans.
Creative movement is offered as a class at many dance studios and is designed to introduce children to the idea of expressing themselves through movement. The creative movement lesson plans work with young children’s natural enthusiasm, short attention spans and high energy levels to explore basic concepts of dance and creativity.
There are many benefits of creative movement. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, creative movement aids children’s physical development, teaching them body awareness and control and how to move around in a space. It also encourages them to use their imaginations and become comfortable with expressing themselves.
It helps them grow socially and emotionally, since they must learn to share space with others, and expressing themselves in a myriad of ways – for example, pretending to be a certain animal or acting like a type of weather – helps them recognize that they have a wide range of feelings. Additionally, creative movement classes teach children to be respectful in a class-setting and effectively listen to teachers.
Areas to Cover When Making Creative Movement Lesson Plans
A creative movement class is much more than simply telling students to pretend they are butterflies for 45 minutes and sitting back as they run around the room. The class needs structure and purpose to allow creativity to flourish. Let’s Talk Creative Dance Conversation recommended not staying with one activity for too long, so break up the class into smaller units.
Don’t cluster your activities in one space, either – move around the room. Use visual aids and props to inspire movement, and form your activities so that the kids have choices in the way they move and respond. A dynamic lesson plan will keep kids engaged.
“When you keep it moving, keep it structured, and use student demonstrators, kids stay focused and on task,” wrote Anne Greene Gilbert in a post for the site. “The teacher has control because the students have self-control since they are interested in what is happening.”
NAEYC suggested playing the game “Telephone” but with movement instead of words. Think of a theme for the day or week, and create activities related to that theme – the source gave the example that if your theme is “Spring,” you can have children “dance the making of a garden,” basing their motions off digging holes, watering plants, etc. Give children a prop like scarves and ask them to make their scarves flap like a flag, swim like a fish or float to the floor like a snowflake, suggested Childhood101.
You can also put on a song and ask the kids to move in a way that follows the rhythm and style of the song – for example, put on a fast song and ask them to hop like bunnies, or a slow song and ask them to crawl like cats. This helps them learn how to move with different types of music.
There are countless creative movement resources online. The National Dance Education Organization, ASCD, NAEYC and other associations link materials that will help you craft lesson plans, and creative movement activity ideas are also a popular topic on dance forums.
For teachers that are worried their creative movement classes will be more like creative chaos, preparing a structured lesson plan ahead of time reduces this anxiety. ASCD recommended establishing routines that guide your class, for example, doing a warm-up and cool-down and doing individual movement activities first and then moving to partner and group ones. Also, having a recognizable item or sound to signify switches between activities or that the students need to listen, such as a bell or drum, are also very useful.
Many creative movement activities can be adapted to fit any student, noted NAEYC. For children with special needs, you can modify the activity to accommodate the student’s abilities. For example, a jumping activity can include kids in wheelchairs by having them move their arms or shoulders instead. Or, in an activity where students make a certain letter with their body, special needs students can use a body part like their fingers to form the letter. The source noted that activities where students express the story of a song or book through movement are especially accommodating to children of all skill and needs levels.
Creative movement classes also don’t require expansive studio spaces. If you have a small space, you can do activities where the children stand in one place but jump up and down or wiggle their arms and legs in special ways, and if there are poles or shelves that break up an open space, you can incorporate moving around these obstacles into your activities.
Imagine for a moment that you are at Paris’ glittering grand opera house in 1832 to see the new ballet everyone’s talking about, “La Sylphide.” The red velvet curtain rises and to your amazement you watch dancers in ethereal white dresses gracefully twirl across the stage. They seem to defy gravity as they leap and float through the air. For the first time ever, you see a woman center stage, leading the group. And what’s that – they’re dancing on the tips of their toes! You’ve never seen anything like it, but one thing’s for certain – you’re witnessing the dawn of classical ballet.
Modern ballerinas are following in the footsteps of a long and time-honored tradition. Every position they assume, every jeté and rond de jambe they make has been honed over centuries. Today, we perform the same ballets in exactly the same way as they were performed hundreds of years ago.
We could go all the way back to the beginning of dance, but that’s a story for another time. Let’s jump ahead a bit to the 17th century, when “court ballets” held for royalty and the aristocracy were all the rage. As ballet grew in popularity, operas began incorporating it into their productions, to the delight of audiences. But, bigger things were on the horizon. In the 18th century, ballets began being performed on their own, with choreography and music that told dramatic stories.
The next century ushered in the Romantic Era. This saw the creation of ballets like “La Sylphide” that featured enthralling stories about the supernatural. This era was also when the tutu and dancing en pointe were introduced. The skills were harder, the choreography was more demanding and the ballerinas were finally being taken seriously as professionals.
Classical ballet really came into its own in the late 19th century in Russia. The two main reasons for the emergence of the classical style were that a new version of the pointe shoe was created, which enabled ballerinas to perform faster and more difficult moves, and that the rise of complex narrative music spurred choreographers to try to make dances that went along with them, “A Dance Through the Ages” explained. As the source stated:
“During this era of ballet, there was more collaboration between the musicians and the choreographers. The choreographers created the libretto which is the story or narrative idea and they choreographed the dance to go along with it. They then shared this with the musicians who wrote the score to go along with the story. A lot of classical dances were composed of four main parts: the adage, the female variation, the male variation and the grand allegro. Each part gave everyone involved in the production a chance to really show off their talent and skills.”
Most responsible for the rise of classical ballet as a genre was Marius Petipa, “the father of classical ballet” and possibly the most influential ballet teacher in history, as A Dance Through the Ages asserted. He put together choreography that was more intricate and performances that were more dramatic than audiences had ever seen before. He created “The Nutcracker” (or rather, the libretto), “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty”, and some versions of these ballets are still performed in the same way they were put on centuries ago. Tutus also became shorter around this time so that audiences could better see the ballerina’s impressive footwork and leg movements, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre explained.
Classical ballet emphasizes fluid, graceful movements and long lines, along with strict adherence to correct form and technique, especially turn-out of the legs. There’s also a focus on narrative and storytelling achieved through dramatic visuals and complex choreography.
Classical ballet may be best represented by Swan Lake. While it’s likely the most well-known and beloved ballet in the world, it was actually a bit too avant-garde for audiences back when it premiered in 1877. According to the Gelsey Kirkland Academy of Classical Ballet, Swan Lake was “not well received with near unanimous criticism concerning the dancers, orchestra, and décor.” Audiences even disliked Tchaikovsky’s now-classic score, calling it too complex. So, with the help of Imperial Ballet master Lev Ivanov, Petipa retooled the ballet and things began looking up. Audiences were particularly charmed by Italian ballerina Pierina Legnani, who played Odette between 1894 and 1895. She turned 32 fouettes in the final scene of the ballet – the most ever performed at the time! Critics and audiences warmed up to the ballet, and well, the rest is history.
Remarkably, we’re still performing the same skills, choreography and productions as ballerinas did a couple hundred years ago. So the next time you step into class or take to the stage, think about how exciting it is to play your part in bringing the tradition of classical ballet into the future.
With the chilly temperatures and few hours of daylight, summer seems ages away. While it’s hard to imagine lazy days of sun during not-so-fun January, it’s a good time to start thinking about how you will generate revenue for your studio during the summer months. Since many families go on vacation, ensuring your dance studio has an income from May to September takes some creativity. There are many summer dance ideas that your studio can keep revenue up during the summer months, including camps, intensives and workshops, and by renting out your facility.
During the summer, we’re all guilty of spending a few too many minutes daydreaming about the beach while we’re supposed to be working. But keep in mind that kids are even more susceptible to laziness and distraction during these dog days. To remain profitable over the school break, dance studios need to offer creative programs that keep students engaged and entertained.
Here are some summer dance ideas your studio can generate income this summer:
Summer camps are a win-win for everyone: Kids get out of the house, parents get some more time for themselves and dance studios get increased visibility. Camps can take place over a few days, a week or even a full month. Whichever duration you choose, the important thing is that your attendance policy is flexible. Since families have vacations and other commitments during the summer, letting students drop in and avoiding scheduling camp on Fridays and weekends makes the program convenient for parents. Also, allowing parents to pay for a total number of days, as opposed to one set fee for the entire camp, accommodates summer plans and reduces stress, which ultimately means greater profits for your studio.
Camps are especially great for young children, who are typically at home during summer break with lots of energy to spare! While your camp should include some elements of dance, it’s important to keep in mind that kids are raring to let loose and have fun. A creative camp theme that combines movement with crafts and other activities will garner the most interest and keep kids engaged.
Here are some easy theme ideas:
Princess Party: Kids will love living out their fairy tale dreams with this theme. Have them wear their favorite costumes to camp and spend the day dancing to songs from princess movies. Kids can decorate crowns as a fun craft, and lunchtime can be transformed into a royal tea-time!
Fairy/Butterfly Garden: Have the kids don sparkly wings for a day of fluttering fun. After learning some simple choreography, campers can “fly” around the room, maneuvering their way past some easy obstacles. The fairies or butterflies can pair up and learn a dance routine together that they then present for their friends. For a craft, the fairies can decorate wands and the butterflies can draw or paint colorful butterfly friends.
Pirates: A great idea from Dance Studio Life is offering camps that are geared more toward boys at the same time as your other camps, since parents are then more likely to enroll siblings. Mini-mateys will love a swashbuckling pirate camp, where they can learn simple dance-inspired “sword fight” routines (with foam cutlasses, of course!) and watch scenes from their favorite pirate films.
Intensives appeal especially to teenage and young adult dancers and are a great chance for students to dive into subjects that they may not have a chance to learn about during the school year. Try to make them as creative and in-depth as possible to attract the most students. To give your intensive an extra draw, hire “guest teachers” from local universities or big city-studios. Another idea is to focus your intensives on unique specialty subjects that expand students’ experience with dance. For example, Juilliard’s three-week summer intensive includes classes in yoga and improvisation, and collaborates with the music program. Another creative idea is the Dance College Preparation Intensive offered by Cornish College of the Arts, which provides students with technique classes in several styles along with lectures in helpful areas like essay writing.
One-day workshops are flexible and low-commitment, which makes them perfect for the summer months. To attract the most students, keep the purpose of the workshop ultra-specific. Dedicate the day to improving a specific set of moves, or focus on other useful skills, like choreography or improvisation. Think about an area that’s important for a dancer to learn in order to improve and grow, but that isn’t usually offered in regular classes. For example, Skidmore College’s Summer Dance Workshop includes a course in Performance Techniques.
“Rent out your studio for birthday parties or town recreation programs.”
Rent Out Your Studio
In addition to offering the programs above, renting out your studio will help you garner a higher income during the summer. Rent out the studio for birthday parties and town recreation programs or to school teams and fitness instructors. Consider the demographics and specific needs of your community to generate the most revenue from renting out your facility. DanceTeacher magazine profiled the owners of Downtown Dance Factory in New York City, who began offering birthday parties after noticing that there was a space in the local market.
“We knew from our own experience as moms that there was a demand for interesting, well-run birthday parties, and in downtown Manhattan, hardly anyone has room for that type of party at home,” said Hanne Larsen, one of the owners, in an interview with the magazine.
Beyond creating additional income, renting out your facility introduces new dancers to your programs. The more people that come into your studio, the better, and many parents whose kids attend events or parties at your studio will enroll them for classes come autumn.
Keep your studio hot this summer with these creative income generators.
English, math and science classes are standard components of school curriculums, but dance deserves a spot in the schedule too. Whether students attend ballet classes at a local studio or shy away from dancing in front of others, teaching dance in schools has significant benefits for children’s personal development. For dance teachers who have only taught at studios, teaching dance in schools provides many rewarding opportunities to positively impact students and the rest of the community.
“If all children in every school from their entrance until their graduation … were given the opportunity to experience dance as a creative art, and if their dancing kept pace with their developing physical, mental, and spiritual needs, the enrichment of their adult life might reach beyond the results we can now contemplate.”
According to the National Dance Education Organization, there are an estimated 6,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. that include dance in the curriculum. Some 43 percent of children across the country receive some form of dance instruction in school, with 36 percent of them learning dance in physical education classes or in other classes that are taught by volunteers, parents and non-specialist teachers. Besides PE classes, dance is also sometimes included as part of a school’s general arts curriculum.
Why is Teaching Dance in Schools Important?
For many dance instructors, the ability to positively impact the community is one of the biggest reasons to teach dance in schools. Children learn to express their emotions through movement, and the focus that dance demands can help them find greater stability in their lives and form stronger self-identities. On a larger level, students create strong bonds with one another through dance, and parents and faculty are also connected through the dance activities of their children and students.
The community impact of teaching dance in schools was explored in a documentary, “PS DANCE!,” that spotlighted dance teachers and their students at public schools across New York City. Catherine Gallant, a dance teacher at a public school who also oversees two dance companies, was featured in the documentary. She didn’t intend to teach in schools – volunteering for her son’s class on a whim turned into a full-time position – and she’s now been teaching at the school for nearly two decades, according to Dance Teacher magazine.
“I think all children have a large appetite for movement,” said Gallant in an interview with the magazine. She crafts her lesson plans to improve students’ self-confidence, instill the importance of respect and trust and expand their vocabularies through movement.
There are also many personal benefits of teaching dance in schools. Teachers that also work at dance studios get their names out, which helps build their reputations and expand their client bases. In addition, dance teachers at schools can delve into their passion without the stress and costs that come with operating a studio.
Differences Between Studios and Schools
Dance instructors that want to begin working in schools should familiarize themselves with the differences between teaching in a studio setting and a school setting. While the aim of studio dance classes is to improve students’ technique, skill set and abilities as a dancer, school goals are much broader.
The guidebook “Teaching Dance as Art in Education” outlines several of these differences:
Studios stress technique and performance, while school classes are comprehensive and emphasize learning about a wide variety of dance styles
Private studios train committed dancers, while school classes introduce all students to dance in order to strengthen their bodies and minds
Private studios refine specialized skills, while school classes provide generalized instruction
School dance instructors should also think about the differences in class dynamics between the studio and school settings. Not all students in a school class will be interested in learning dance. Teachers have to have the skills necessary to deal with disruptive or unmotivated students. Dance Teacher emphasized that strong planning and organizational skills along with the ability to stay calm under stress are important attributes of successful school dance teachers. It’s also vital to constructively respond to students’ insecurities or concerns. As Lucy Vurusic Riner wrote in a post for 4dancers.org:
“Your advanced ballet student that competes at her studio is a very different person than the beginning dance student who is mortified to put on a leotard and tights. You have to be sensitive to your audience and know who you’re playing to. Otherwise you have the potential of losing some really amazing opportunities with new movers that you can mold into your program as the years progress.”
“It’s also vital to constructively respond to students’ insecurities or concerns.”
Certifications and Experience
According to Arts.org, around 60 percent of middle school students in dance and theater classes are taught by instructors who have either an education in their field or a certification to teach dance or theater. Only 20 percent of students are taught by instructors who have both an education in their field and a teaching certification. More and more states are requiring school dance teachers to have training or certification in education in addition to extensive dance experience and knowledge. Having an education certification will help make you more marketable to employers and prepare you for the challenges of teaching to a wide range of learning styles.
Some arts and humanities organizations maintain online directories of dance teacher vacancies at schools in their states, which are very useful for finding a position. If no dance teacher position exists at your local school, try volunteering to teach dance during a gym or art class – it’s a great way to make connections and get your foot in the door.
As I sit down to write this article, it’s 10 below zero outside the doors of my studio. We are in the depths of winter in Wisconsin and summer is on my mind. But, I’m not thinking about vacations or visits to the local pool. My mind is fixed on the programming I can offer to bring kids IN to the studio once school is OUT.
Summer is typically a hard time to keep things going for school year-based businesses such as ours. I suspect that if you are reading this article you, too, are looking for ways to strengthen your summer programs.
If so, keep reading for 7 Ways to Ensure a Stronger Dance Summer! The road to a strong summer starts NOW.
Take an afternoon to pound through this checklist. You’ll thank yourself in July.
Ensure your summer success by taking time to plan today.
Survey the families. Do you remember when you were a student and your English teacher told you to consider your audience before writing a word of that research paper? Turns out she was right. You have to know who you are speaking to before creating a single offering. Are your families looking for weekly classes in the summer or would they rather come every day for one week straight and then move on to other activities? Are they looking for theme-based camps or technique-based intensives? You’ll be surprised how much clarity you can get just by sending a simple survey to your families before the planning begins. Not ready to survey parents? Ask your students☺
Gather the troops. A successful summer program depends on having not just ENOUGH staff, but the RIGHT staff, to pull it off. If your parents want weekly summer ballet classes or the opportunity to get a jump-start on next season by setting solos in the summer, you are going to have to make sure you have the specialists around to serve those needs. Once you know what your clients want from your summer program, you can start confirming availability with teachers.
Study the landscape. As a mom of five kids I know that the competition for our summer spending is hot. There will be a night not too far from now when I sit at the kitchen table with ten brochures for summer camps for my kids in front of me. Your dance parents are no different. They are also trying to give their kids as many interesting and meaningful summer experiences as they can. Maximize your chance to be a part of their summer schedule by understanding what your programs will be competing against. In our community, the university, school district and parks district all have robust summer programs so I make sure my pricing and program packages are comparable. For example, if they are all offering weekly day camps, it doesn’t make sense for me to offer a program that meets once a week all summer. It simply wouldn’t line up with the other things kids are doing and would likely be passed overcome scheduling time.
Call in the experts. Summer is a great time to call in the experts. Start sending emails today to the guest teachers you know who might be willing to come in and share their knowledge with your students this summer. And, don’t forget about experts that are complementary to dance: nutritionists, photographers, boot camp instructors, sports psychologists, yoga instructors, chiropractors and more. Your community is likely bursting at the seams with people who have an expertise that would benefit your dancers, saving you the expense of flights and housing for guest teachers.
Brand the boring out of it. When my kids became school age I became a consumer of summer camps as a parent for the first time. I immediately noticed was how EXCITING the programs were. All of the sudden, my offering of “Summer Ballet Classes” looked pretty bland next to “Flip with the Ninjas Camp” that gymnastics was offering. Since that time, I’ve made a real effort to come up with attractive themes, catchy titles and compelling logos to capture the imagination of the reader. A generic “Jazz 1 Class” may be appropriate for the school year, but it just won’t cut on the summer camp circuit.
Publish and Promote. We may be in the digital age, but printed brochures still rule the summer camp world. Remember when I talked about sitting around the kitchen table with camp brochures and mapping my summer schedule out? That’s a real thing for parents. For as great as online everything is you still need to get your summer brochures into the hands of parents. Start with your existing clients and then work your way towards new families via community expos, local family publications and partnerships with other like-minded businesses.
Refine and Repeat. Monitor enrollment trends as you ramp up towards summer. Some of the programs you offer will be bursting at the seams and some might just be a bust. Decide early to increase offerings of summer classes and camps that are doing well and to cut program that will not have enough kids to make a go of it. This will give parents a chance to choose another class or camp to fit their schedule.
Summer success starts today. Are you ready to do the “winter work” now to have a great summer later?
Starting a musical theatre program is no easy feat, especially if you’re only fluent in dance programs. However, oftentimes, dance and musical theatre mix. Many people who are in musical theatre programs are also talented dancers, and vice versa. So if you have talented dancers asking if you have any musical theatre programs, you don’t want to lose them. Establishing both can also help boost your business and brand. Consider these five tips on how to begin your own musical theatre program.
1. Think About Your Administration
When planning your musical theatre program, it’s important to think about your management team, the American Association of Community Theatre stated. If you already have a well-established dance program, it might be a little easier to get a musical theatre program off the ground. Simply consider if you have staff members, or even experienced dancers, who have backgrounds in musical theatre and would be willing to teach it with you.
Or, you may want to keep the two programs completely separate and bring on a second staff mainly affiliated with musical theatre program. It may be easier to organize events and programs if you have two separate staffs. However, more staff members means more money, which you might not have right off the bat. Consider your options when initially planning a musical theatre program.
2. Consider Your Finances
Before establishing a musical theatre program, it’s important to review your budget. Look into how much you’ve made for the dance program, and what savings you have that you might be able to apply to the musical theatre program. Review your financial options with an advisor or a trusted bank member.
It also may be smart to keep your earnings from the dance program and musical theatre program separate, especially if you have separate staff members for each, the AACT recommended. Sorting out your budget before investing in a musical theatre program is key, especially so you don’t immediately jump into turmoil, according to The New York Times. Many companies are willing to throw in the towel because of financial crises that could have been avoided.
3. Get To Know the Market
Look into your competitors in the area to find out when they are hosting events, shows and what prices they are charging for dance and music classes. This step is especially critical if you are unfamiliar with the musical theatre business. You want to offer competitive prices so that your program is earning the same amount of money as companies around you.
Adversely, you don’t want to offer unrealistic prices that have customers running for the hills. Do lots of research when considering starting up a musical theatre program to make sure you get off on the right, competitive foot.
4. Think About What Makes You Different
With competitors in mind, what makes you different? It’s important to stand out from the rest, the Guardian noted. Otherwise, you may not get that initial business boom you were looking for. It’s important to find your unique selling point and run with it. Use it in every way possible to make sure that your business is marketable and gets people talking. Whether you have a well-known, notable dance teacher, or you have one of the best locations in town, make sure you have a few outstanding factors that cause customers to want to try you out.
5. Build Your Brand
Now that your dance program also includes a musical theatre program, it’s time to rebrand. Think about what that constitutes. Do you plan to change the name of the business or keep it? What about the logo and the website? If you are putting both programs under one business, but they are at two different locations, it’s important you create business cards and labels noting both. You don’t want to confuse new customers when they eagerly arrive for their first lesson.
Most dance classes are filled with structured lessons about different skills, techniques, tricks and combinations. After all, these are the aspects that make up a great performance. However, you may want to consider incorporating a little bit of dance improvisation into your classes – even if your students balk when you mention it.
“Almost every student I’ve ever had has been terrified,” Chloe Arnold, director of DC Tap Fest and her company, Syncopated Ladies, told Dance Teacher magazine. “[Improvisation] is scary, but once you give it a try, you realize it’s the best thing that ever happened.”
Here are five noteworthy benefits of taking a less-than-structured approach to dance class.
1. Boost Confidence
If your students are only comfortable in predetermined steps and combinations, they’ll likely be insecure when it comes to improvisation. However, pushing through this fear and letting their bodies guide them can often serve as a huge confidence-booster. Improv exercises can also help alleviate fears that your dancers may have about making mistakes. When they’re making up steps on the fly, there’s no “right” and “wrong.” Instead, it’s just about being confident and creative while having fun.
2. Encourage Self-Discovery
Sometimes stepping outside of their comfort zones can help students discover who they are as performers. It’s impossible for dancers to grow if they’re constantly held inside a box, so encourage your performers to spread their wings. Maybe a few improvisation sessions will inspire your students to take up choreography or pursue a few classes in modern dance. When students aren’t solely focused on learning your steps, their minds will be open to all the possibilities that dance offers them.
3. Improve Musicality
It can be hard to teach dancers about musicality, as the skill is multi-faceted and complicated to explain. However, when words are failing you, sometimes a little improvisation can help demonstrate what this quality is all about. Incorporate free-style dance into your lessons about musicality. Have your dancers feel the music and let it guide their steps. It may seem awkward at first, but encourage your students to take it seriously – no giggling – and soon they’ll understand what you mean about connecting their movements with the music.
4. Aid Performance Recovery
There are times in every performer’s career when she misses a step or falls during a trick. These moments are embarrassing for any level of dancer, but what sets the pros apart from the beginners is how they recover. Many times young performers will freeze after making a mistake. The Dance In Progress blog explained that working on improv can often help dancers recover from mid-performance mishaps more quickly. When they’re used to going with the flow, they’ll be able to turn a trip into a graceful turn, then get right back into performance. Many times, the audience won’t even notice the misstep if the dancer recovers fluidly.
5. Inspire Choreography
Choreographer’s block is all too real, and sometimes you might find that your recital pieces are a bit lackluster. When this happens, you may be able to break free of your inspiration rut with a fun, free-flowing inprov session. Let your dancers have a free eight count in spots where you can’t find appropriate steps, and see what they come up with. Your students may lend that bit of creativity and passion the piece was missing. For older students, you can even hold a light-hearted competition to see which dancer or team can come up with the best opening sequence.
As you can see, both dance teachers and students can benefit from incorporating improvisation into practice. It helps everyone to think outside the box and continue growing as performers.
It doesn’t matter if you’re working with preschoolers or pre-professionals – dance props can be a welcome addition to just about any class. There are lots of items that can be incorporated into dance lessons, from floor spots to umbrellas and hats. If you’re looking to switch up your usual class structure, use these four tips to incorporate some fun props into the mix.
1. Consider Safety
Before you choose dance props to work with in class, it’s essential that you take safety considerations into account. DanceStudioOwner.com explained that you’ll want to think about the space you’re teaching in when picking items. Your dancers should be able to move freely with the prop without running into others, so canes or umbrellas aren’t a good idea if you have a big class. Similarly, you’ll want to choose items that are proportionate to the age of your students. Long ribbons are easy to trip on, so save them for older students. Think through your prop choices carefully and try to anticipate any problems you may run into.
2. Get Creative
Many dance teachers have a few go-to dance props, such as scarves, hats and canes, but the sky is the limit if you use your imagination. Head to a local dollar store to pick up some unique items to incorporate into your lessons. Dance Advantage suggested using masks, beanie animals, stretchy bands or bandanas as teaching aids. You can also play around with fake flowers, cones, baskets, novelty items, accessories, fans, toy instruments, sporting equipment and more!
3. Drive the Lesson Home
Props are fun to perform with, but they can also be used to teach important lessons. Bean bags can be used to help dancers improve their posture, while stretchy bands can help students execute a series of sharp movements. When you’re using props to teach a skill, don’t let your students get too distracted by the change of pace. Be sure that your lesson is clear and that the objects are being used to their full potential.
4. Use Props in Competition
If you find that your students work well with props, you may want to consider using the objects in an upcoming performance or competition. Dance Studio Life noted that the right supplement can help augment a theme and bring your team to the next level. However, you’ll want to be sure your dancers can handle the props like pros, otherwise it can make for a sloppy performance.