We’ve gotten great feedback about our article on Ballet Vocabulary Terms for Beginners, and have put together some ideas for easy class activities that teachers can include in their lesson plans. Do you have other activities that you use to teach the little ones essential vocab?
Ballet and Dance Move Alphabet
This one is great even for lots of students, and can really work at any age (granted, the students need to be able to spell).
Have everyone line up, and go down the alphabet: A, B, C. For each letter, have a different student name a ballet move that begins with that corresponding letter. Then, have that student (or all of the students) demonstrate that dance move.
This activity helps keep students on their toes (no pun intended) since they’ll need to know their vocab in order to answer the question. Plus, they’ll reinforce that ballet vocabulary with some muscle memory!
Mystery Ballet Move
Super easy, and has the element of surprise for dancers.
Write out ballet moves on pieces of paper, index cards (maybe laminate these items so they last longer), and put them into a hat, box, or container where the kids can’t see them.
One by one, have the kids in class draw a card from the hat, and tell the class the move! Everyone must now demonstrate that ballet move.
(Note that this can still work with younger kids who can’t read yet: just have them hand you the index card they’ve chosen, and you can announce which ballet move was picked. Easy workaround!)
Super fun, and keeps students active and moving!
Use white boards, or tape pieces of paper around the room with ballet vocabulary written on them. Then, start the music, and have dancers go around the room like they’re playing musical chairs! Ideally, ask them to use a traveling step (like chasse). When the music stops, they have to get to a sign.
Once they’re there, they need to demonstrate the move! You can go around the room quickly to check their form, and can make any corrections or use that opportunity to praise a dancer who has done a great job.
I often hear the debate of what age is acceptable for a child to begin performing. I firmly believe that the earlier young dancers can start performing, the more comfortable, self-confident, and present they will become as performers and artists.
At my studio, I am completely comfortable putting a 3-year old student onstage for the annual performance (taking show times and performance length into consideration, of course). I first performed at 3-years old, and I remember absolutely loving the experience. When I am feeling nostalgic, I will find the VHS (and the VHS player) and watch the playback (anyone remember toast shiny tights?).
Younger students are so capable and uninhibited, and I think too many instructors (and, perhaps, even some parents) underestimate their power to learn. If you instill disciplined habits and work ethics in students at a young age, they will really excel in their training dance training.
Obviously, there are proper teaching methods and philosophies for younger students that are developmentally in-line with their physical and psychological maturation. These students should be nurtured, loved, and taught in a way that will allow them to develop a proper passion for the art.
And, performing at a younger age can mean many different things. Obviously, the expectation is not that a young, 3-year old will perform double pirouettes, extensions, and aerials. Rather, the accomplishment lies in the completion of the task.
Some of a young student’s accomplishments may be: standing on stage and not crying, forming the circle in the routine, knowing where to stand, remembering to smile, finishing a routine, or feeling proud of themselves for accomplishing a goal.
With each opportunity, the child will feel more comfortable and progressive in his/her capabilities and performance. The growth is truly rewarding for everyone involved in the process.
Getting Older Students to Start Performing
As a counter observation, for students that begin performing in their pre-teen/adolescence, it is more difficult to instill performance qualities since they lack the extent of early exposure to the stage and performing. As students age, they become concerned about others’ opinions of their projection, which usually translates to being more nervous, apprehensive, and tense when asked to perform and project onstage.
Of course, students’ projections can be fostered and improved, regardless of age, but, for students that are truly interested in performing, the younger a student can start acquiring the culture of the performance environment, the better. Then, the act of performing becomes second nature.
Certainly, younger students’ performance capabilities are dependent upon maturity, personal readiness, and level of interest. This philosophy is not a blanket standard; rather, it is something to consider for students that are young and ready for the performance experience. Do not write off opportunities simply because of a child’s age; rather, see how you can further ignite their passion and interest in dance.
You have the power to offer students opportunities to grow and blossom, regardless of age, and that is a tremendous gift and reward of being a dance educator. Let’s use it!
(This is a recital picture in the dance scrapbook I created in high school. This pic is from my second recital; I was 4 years old.)
(This pic is of one of my students. He has been performing on stage since he was 2 years old. Now 6, he absolutely loves the performance experience. We are fortunate to have many students at our studio that feel the same way. Words cannot begin describe the pride we feel towards our young, tenacious, passionate performers!)
I truly believe dance is for everyone, and can move everyone in some capacity- as an observer, as a mover, or as a dancer. As dance educators, we have the opportunity to build programming that is accessible to everyone. Once students are a part of our programming, we have an obligation to serve them to the best of our ability.
When a studio culture transforms into statements of regularity such as “those kids aren’t good”, “he/she will never be an overall winner”, or “so-so refuses to dance with so-so”, it becomes a danger zone. It compromises our mission as educators to create a positive infrastructure that focuses on building the art of DANCE through technique, style, acceptance, and diversity.
As educators, we must take the lead. Our leadership is required to promote the accessibility of dance for everyone.
Our art is not elitist- it does not require Olympic level ability for success and impact. Rather, it requires time, patience, love, and nurturing.
Then, you create a dancer (in whatever capacity that may be), and you also build a relationship that will far outlast a student’s tenure at the dance studio. That’s impact.
If you’re considering dance as a profession, earning a university degree can and should be on your radar. While a degree in dance is certainly not the only option available for dreamers looking to dedicate themselves to the art, it is a well-established path to technical proficiency and documentable learning. As you start preparing applications for dance schools, follow this guide to help you pick a school that will be the best fit for you and your ambitions.
Prepare A Career Plan
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
Your long-term goals will help determine the best plan for you, especially as you choose a school of higher education. Different schools have different strengths, and some programs might be a better fit for performers looking to join a dance company, while others might be a great fit for dancers looking to open a studio and engage their communities. Do your homework and find out which dance programs fit your ambitions the best, and follow-up by making sure the school itself will also be a comfortable fit for your personality. A list of the big picture items to research might include:
Dance Faculty Members
While not the only points to consider, these are a great start and will help to whittle down your choices and help focus your application efforts.
Talk to Your Teacher
Your teachers want you to succeed, and will do everything they can to help guide your way forward. Use them as the valuable resource they are! Dance teachers have been through the trials of university training, company training, a combination of both, or a variety of other dance experiences. They are your resident experts. The internet can tell you plenty, and you should use online resources to better inform your ideas. But the resources to rely on are your teachers: they have direct insight into the higher levels of dance education, and their networks of professionals will be able to guide you with more meaningful advice than any website.
Before you start digging into the deeper questions, however, be sure to be prepared with the goals and ideas we mentioned earlier. Having an idea of what you’re looking for with your degree in dance will better inform your teachers and put your situation into context for them. And, be open to their feedback about your goals! They know your progress better than anyone, and will offer advice that can help you confirm (or reconsider) your ideas.
Here are a few ideas for questions to ask your teachers:
What are some programs you might recommend for me?
I’ve put together some ideas for audition choreography, can you help me refine my pieces?
Should I study dance one more year before applying to universities?
Could you write a letter of recommendation for me?
Don’t Forget About Other Areas of Study
One could study dance his/her entire life and learn something new every day. But in the context of a college degree, arming yourself with a variety of different skills and ideas will only help you in the future. Use the time and learning opportunities to your advantage, and make sure to take academic classes that will challenge your understanding and build you up as a well-rounded individual.
The Juilliard school of dance, one of the more prestigious institutions in the world, incorporates a liberal arts curriculum into their degree program. That means that they require students to take classes in a variety of subjects besides their main degree in dance program. Keeping the idea of liberal arts in mind, consider taking business classes to help you run a studio, art history classes to put your creative elements in context with the world, or theatre to challenge your performing skills in a different way. The more exposure you get to different ideas, the better equipped you will be after graduation.