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.
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.
The thought of improvising dance may make you nervous, but improvisation dance could be the secret to better choreography.
Just like taking a walk around the block helps clear a stressed mind, an hour of so of improv can spark creative ideas. In an interview with KQED News, Deana Criess, director of ImprovBoston’s National Touring Company, espoused the benefits of making things up as you go along. And even though her organization focuses on comedy, the inspiring power of improv is applicable across artistic and athletic disciplines.
Criess told the source that improv boosts quick thinking, helps clear away distracting thoughts that take us out of the moment and strengthens our communication skills and self-expression. Instead of constantly judging yourself for missing a step or being offbeat, improv dancing allows you to be spontaneous and tune in to your inner self.
Every dancer and choreographer is different, possessing a unique set of beliefs, values, talents and dreams, and the greatest joy of dancing comes from being able to be the best version of yourself. However, it’s easy for these one-of-a-kind attributes to become a little muddled when you’re constantly doing the same dances or formulating choreography with a repetitive, static approach.
By not worrying about directions and simply letting your body move the way you want it to, you’re able to identify certain motions that particularly connect with you, DanceSpirit Magazine noted. Connecting with your own preferences also helps you to better identify the unique styles of other dancers. You can then use this inspiration to breathe new life into your choreography and craft dances that respond to people’s strengths or challenge their weaknesses to improve.
Creating a “Toolkit”
Sometimes, choreographers fall into ruts where they use the same combinations of positions and skills over and over again. Improv can help you build a collection of new movements that you can then have at your disposal to keep your choreography fresh and exciting.
An article on Backstage.com profiled Helen Pickett, a dancer who teaches classes based on innovative choreographer William Forsythe’s improvisational technique. Forsythe would break improvisation into around 30 smaller, individual movements, which he called “modalities,” the site explained. These smaller movements, like collapsing and folding, then served as building blocks to create new dances.
“It opens up avenues that allow you to expand your ideas of what you thought you body could do,” said Pickett of the Forsythe method.
The thought of improv makes many people self-conscious, but the very act of exposing our unguarded selves to others helps improve creative thinking and problem-solving skills. You learn that taking unexpected or approaches to problems can yield beautiful solutions, and let go of fear and self-doubt. Becoming more comfortable with thinking outside the box will help you expand the scope of what you believe you can achieve through your choreography. You also learn to trust yourself and to have faith in your unconventional ideas.
Tips for Improv
The first step to productive improvisation is casting all doubt, anxiety and self-consciousness aside. Don’t worry about what others will think of you, since improv is about getting in tune with your inner thoughts and artistic expression, not about others’ perceptions of your movement.
While you can simply turn on some music and start moving, a little structure can help guide your improv dance. Human Kinetics recommended following simple rules that force you to move creatively. For example, move in a circle on the floor, but only begin steps or movements with your left foot, or, go from one corner of the room to the other starting low to the floor and ending up as high above the floor as possible by the time you make it to the other side.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, not just music, and the site also suggested picking an art object or image that speaks to you and mimicking the patterns of shapes of the piece through movement, and then repeating your motions, observing how your movement changes in its reflection of the shapes. You can also pair each movement with an emotion that the artwork provokes in you, and move through each feeling as you mimic the patterns or shapes.
Looking back, I feel like I have had three different lives as a studio owner:
Studio owner before kids.
Studio owner with young kids.
Studio owner with kids in other activities.
Before I had children, my studio centered on the needs of the classes. Whatever worked best for the classes took first place. If we needed an extra rehearsal and the only time to do it was 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, by golly, we got it done.
Then I had my first of five kids and my focus became survival. Whatever it took to survive, that’s what I did. Classes with coffee? Yes. Email at 2 a.m.? I was up anyway. It was all about just keeping things going.
Then my children became involved in their own activities and I got a new perspective on the studio—that of the parent who wanted to do everything they could to support their child, but didn’t know how. I was the soccer parent who didn’t know about the goalie camp. I was the snowboard mom who didn’t buy the right equipment. And, worse of all, I was the dance team mom who was late to a performance because I didn’t know the arrival protocol.
Once I became an “activity mom,” I vowed to make it easier for our studio parents to understand dance training, progress and policy by offering parent-teacher conferences. These annual one-on-one meetings for dancers in our Graded Technique program (4th grade and up) have become a huge hit.
Want to know more about the wonders parent teacher conference for dancers have had for students, parents and teachers alike?
Keep reading for 5 Ways Parent-Teacher Conferences Changed My Studio.
Well-developed studio policies are essential to keeping your dance studio running smoothly. Not only that, they also help keep your sanity intact! If your policies are poorly drawn up, or don’t cover what they need to, then your classes will be disorganized and inefficient, dealing with parent and student issues will be a headache and you may not even receive the tuition payments that you deserve.
Strong, clear-cut studio policies are the gears that make the dance studio machine turn. However, creating policies is not as simple as just jotting a few basic rules down. Read on to learn how you can create the best policies for your business.
The Bottom Line
Suzanne Blake Gerety of DanceStudioOwner.com told listeners in a recent webinar that studio policies are the terms of a business transaction. Keep this thought at the forefront of your mind when creating your rules.
“When someone becomes a student, it’s easy for us to get caught in the warm welcome, without realizing that you’re doing a business exchange: tuition for education,” said one of the hosts.
You can’t continue to operate your dance studio and share your passion with students if you can’t make a profit. While emphasizing payment requirements may seem uncouth or harsh, it’s absolutely necessary to make sure they’re clearly communicated in your policies. Your time and expertise is valuable, so don’t be afraid to strongly express payment requirements – and stick with them. If a parent has an issue with tuition or other financial expectations, you can then point to the policies that were agreed upon ahead of time.
Keep It Snappy
Another factor to keep in mind when drafting your dance studio’s policies is that, like it or not, people have short attention spans in this digital age. That doesn’t mean you should skimp on creating comprehensive policies or leave things out, however, it’s worth it to think about how you can most effectively communicate your policies. Parents deal with demanding schedules and a million different responsibilities, not to mention how they have many forms to sign and disclaimers to read over for their children on a daily basis.
“They have messages coming at them from 8 million different directions and it’s getting more and more challenging to deliver and get the message into their hand, not only get it to them, but make them clearly understand it,” said one of the webinar hosts.
Keep policies clear and concise, and use images wherever you can to dynamically convey information. Bullet point lists break up longer blocks of content so parents can digest it more quickly. Put the most important information at the top, and bold, use color font, use all capital letters – or do all three – to make important deadlines stick out, or otherwise they will be missed. Also, post your policies in as many places as possible, so it’s easily accessible and never more than a few clicks away. Upload them on your website and email them to parents, and make sure you’re constantly regularly reminding students and parents about them.
Topics to Include
DanceStudioOwner.com provided a helpful checklist of which topics should be covered in your policies. These include:
Tuition and fee general information
Tuition & fees due date
Releases, consent forms and privacy policies
Attendance expectations and minimum participation policy
Dress code, class attire, student/parent conduct, studio rules and regulations
The most well-crafted policies in the world, however, don’t matter if they can’t be enforced. As one of the hosts of the policies webinar said:
“This is the hard part: imposing the late fee, kicking the kid out of class, not letting them perform in the recital. We agonize over this. Let me tell you, your policies do not carry any weight if you’re not ready to enforce them.”
Making sure your policies are followed ensures that you can provide the best dance education and experience for your students.
When beginning any new job, you’re bound to make a few mistakes. The same goes for new dance teachers. Even after years of dance practices, routines and recitals, being a teacher for other dancers isn’t easy, and it can definitely difficult at the beginning. If you’re a new dance teacher, you want to make the best impression possible for your new dance studio teacher and your students. While some mistakes are unavoidable, others can be easily stepped past. Here are some tips for dance teacher training and the lessons to be learned from your students!
1. Juggling Too Many Things at Once
When you first become a dance teacher, you may bite off more than you can chew, Discount Dance noted. In some instances, you want to impress your boss so you take on more classes than you can handle, leaving you tired, weary and mistake-prone. It’s important to realize that you can only volunteer for as many classes as you can realistically take on.
It may be smarter to only begin with one or two classes and then add on a few more as you get the hang of things. In other instances, you might be the studio owner and the dance teacher. You may also be the receptionist and the studio cleaner. Taking on too many roles can leave you overwhelmed and cause your business to crumble before it even gets off the ground. If you just opened a dance studio, look into hiring dance students from local colleges as teachers.
2. Short Attention Spans
Sure, there is a lot more to being a dance teacher than just dancing. Any talented dance teacher will tell you that you have to have a passion for teaching at heart. However, though you might have had lectures in school, it’s important to not bring those to dance classes.
Whether you’re teaching young students or an older, advanced class, all students will become bored if they’re listening to a teacher ramble on. After awhile, they might even stop listening, Adventure and Me stated. Though you want to impress your dance students and let them get to know you, talking too much isn’t the right move. Instead, let them get to know you through your dance style and instruction!
3. Different Tones for Different Students
When many dance teachers begin their careers, it can be hard to differentiate the dance levels of students. You may be asked to take on a beginner’s class for adults and an advanced class for children, and it can lead you to potentially talk down to a student. After taking years of dance courses yourself, you may have a hard time understanding what different levels need and what they already know.
From teaching an advanced dancer a commonly known move or expecting a beginner to pick up a routine with very little flaws, these actions can be discouraging for dancers and potentially cause them to leave the class. Every good dance teacher supports her students and knows their exact skill levels, so they never feel out of their league or underwhelmed, Dance Advantage stated.
4. Students Need Repetition
As a dance student, you may have been a skilled learner and had the ability to pick up routines very quickly. Without issue you could get the basic moves down and quickly execute them with precision and grace. As a result, that may be the only style of teaching you’re familiar with.
Some dance teachers tend to rush through a routine with dancers, causing them to be confused and unorganized. As a teacher, it’s important to realize that your dancers aren’t familiar with your style – and pace – of dancing. When going through a routine for the first time, take it slow – your dancers will appreciate it!
Pointe classes are something that shouldn’t be started without the go ahead of an experienced teacher, and only when a dancer is developmentally ready, strong enough and well-versed in foundational technique. When you do get the go-ahead to enroll in pointe or pre-pointe class, you’ll likely be chomping at the bit to put on those silky pink shoes and start pirouetting like the pros. Starting pointe class is a big step for any aspiring ballerina, but it’s not something to be taken lightly. Being prepared both mentally and physically is key to making the most of your first pointe classes, so here are some things first-time students should keep in mind as their initial class approaches.
“Your pointe shoes must match the size and shape of your feet.”
Respect the Pointe Shoes
There’s a lot more to pointe shoes than meets the eye. Think about it this way: Every dancer’s feet are different, so pointe shoes need to be chosen carefully. When you’re dancing in them, you’ll be resting your whole body weight on your toes, so it’s essential that the shoes conform to the shape of your foot as closely as possible. When you go for your pointe shoe fitting, the salesperson will help you determine the best shoe type for your feet, whether it’s a square box, a tapered box or some variation in between.
The video below, from the New York City Ballet, shows just how specific pointe shoe measurements are for professional ballerinas – plus, it shows some great clips of Megan Fairchild in action.
Fit isn’t the only thing you need to think about when it comes to pointe shoes. You’ll also need to learn how to properly sew your shoes, and you’ll want to decide what supplementary materials you need to comfortable dance in them. For example, some ballerinas choose to tape their toes, while others prefer to use toe pads as cushioning. There’s no “wrong” or “right” way to wear your shoes – it’s all about how you’re most comfortable.
Your First Pointe Class
When it’s time for your first pointe class, you’ll probably want to immediately do chaînés and grand jetés across the floor. Not so fast, though! The first thing you’ll learn is how to properly don and tie your pointe shoes. Chances are that you’ve been prancing around your house in your shoes, but you should pay careful attention to your teacher’s instructions. You could cause serious damage to your body if you don’t wear your shoes properly.
You also won’t be set free to prance around the studio either. During your first class, you’ll likely work off-pointe to improve your foot strength and mobility. If you do get to try some exercises in your shoes, your teacher will have you start slowly at the barre. Be patient, as the instructor will likely need to give students individual attention to correct their posture, stance and foot position.
As you probably realize, dancing on pointe is a whole new challenge for your feet. It may be uncomfortable for the first few classes, and you’ll likely have some blisters or sore spots after your first few classes. Michele Wiles, former principle dancer with the American Ballet Theater, explained to Capezio that her biggest challenge when starting pointe was balancing out her skills on each leg.
“I remember really noticing differences in my right and left foot,” Wiles explained. “The left foot was strong and able to do fouette turns from the very first class, but it didn’t look as flexible as the right. My right foot wasn’t as strong. The hardest part was dealing with these differences and the blister pain.”
It just goes to show that no one is automatically a natural. Even some of the most talented dancers had to overcome the challenges of pointe before they excelled, so be patient with yourself and stick with it! The efforts will pay off in the end.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include more accurate ballet terminology.
It’s no secret that young girls often struggle with self-esteem and body image, often due to the ultra-thin celebrities they idolize and the media’s portrayal of the “ideal” female figure. Here’s some advice for improving dancer body image.
Facts About Body Image
Whether you’re a studio owner, dance teacher or student, you probably realize that body image is a problem among many girls. But do you know just how prominent this issue is? Here are some facts that may surprise you:
A study published in the journal Psychopathology showed that non-elite ballerinas have the highest prevalence of eating disorders among non-professional athletes. The research involved 113 ballerinas – more that 20 percent exhibited unhealthy eating behaviors.
According to research from Emory University, dancers often use studio mirrors to compare themselves to other students, and this can lead to negative thoughts about their own bodies.
One of the most important things that dancers can take away from these statistics is that you’re not alone!
If you’re struggling to maintain a healthy body image, chances are that some of your peers are as well.
How to Improve Your Body Image
Ready to turn the tables and start loving your body? Here are some tips for dancers who are less than happy with their reflections. Dance teachers – take note! These points may come in handy if you ever need to help a dancer with body issue problems.
Recognize Critique as Helpful
Whether you aspire to be a professional dancer or are simply devoted to the discipline of dance, you’re going to be subject to critique from time to time, and some of it won’t be easy to hear. Dance Advantage explained that it’s important to externalize criticisms and realize that your teachers and coaches are helping you to improve. They’re not trying to be mean or hurtful, so try not to take their comments to heart.
Find a Healthy Role Model
Instead of looking to the usual celebrities as role models, try to find a healthy, happy individual to emulate. This could be someone you know – a friend, teacher or coach – or an athlete who practices positive body image. One particularly inspiring dancer who may serve as a good role model is Misty Copeland. Check out the video below, where she explains how she chose to shake off the criticisms of her body and join a ballet company that embraces her just the way she is!
Don’t Compare—Be Yourself Ultimately, a dancer has to find their own strengths—and that includes their specific physical traits. Own your physique, and incorporate the confidence in your unique and special body into every move. Like Misty Copeland, you may not fit the “traditional” mold of your genre of dance, and that’s ok! Bring your own special persona and physicality to your art!
The same things that you love about young dancers – their high energy, cute behavior and candid outbursts – can often become the things you struggle with the most during dance class. On good days, you may walk away after teaching preschool dance classes with a big smile and lots of hugs! But on the less-than-perfect days, the hour might as well have been spent herding cats.
Teaching young dancers comes with its own set of challenges, but the good news is that many of these problems are easy to solve. Here are five common problems that you may experience when teaching preschool dance classes and how you can solve them.
1. Making a Scene
According to HealthDay, kids between the ages of 3 and 6 are particularly prone to tantrums, as this is the time when children start to exert their independence. This is also around the same age when young kids enroll in dance classes for the first time. So what’s a teacher to do when an unhappy dancer starts making a scene?
Stacey Schwartz, founder of the Leaping Legs Creative Movement Program, explained on the 4dancers blog that in times like these, it’s essential that dance teachers have good relationships with parents. After all, who knows better how to calm an upset child than her parent? If a dancer has an outburst or tantrum, approach her parent after class and ask for pointers if the situations arises again.
2. Not Paying Attention
Young dancers are easily distracted. Something as simple as a person talking in the waiting room may be enough to make your students lose focus – especially if they’re not engaged to begin with. Dance Advantage explained that you need to be the most interesting thing in the room if you want your students to pay attention. To achieve this goal, you’ll need to keep the energy high throughout class. Play games, try new activities and move on if something’s falling short.
3. Fussing Over Props
One poster on a Dance.net forum expressed her frustration that her young students constantly fuss over props. She got to the point where she avoided using them in class because she knew the students would fight over getting the color they wanted or some other trivial factor.
It definitely makes it hard to teach when students argue over who gets the pink bean bag. There are two solutions you can try. The first is to pick props that are all the same – no color, size or pattern variations. The other, as suggested by Dance.net members, is to adopt the maxim “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset!”
4. Talking Back
Students who are wielding their newfound independence often talk back. You probably won’t get anything rude or offensive with young kids, but you’ll certainly encounter resistance to instructions or discipline. Education World explained that the key rule when dealing with backtalk is to simply not respond. You’ll get further simply waiting in silence for the student to comply than arguing with the dancer.
5. Not Retaining Lessons
It’s certainly frustrating when you spend 15 minutes working on plies, only to have your students forget everything they learned by the next class. However, keep in mind that your students are new to dance, and that the best way for them to learn is by repetition. Don’t be afraid to try new activities and games to mix things up, but make sure you’re reviewing essential skills often. This will help your little dancers retain the techniques that they’ll need to advance in their dance careers.
Sure, a great dance class can put a smile on the face of a student or teacher, but did you know it’s scientifically proven that dance makes you happier? A number of studies have shown that people who dance are less likely to be depressed and report higher levels of emotional well-being. It’s a fun fact to keep in your back pocket for the next time someone questions the benefits of dance classes!
Here’s what the studies have shown:
1. Dance Improves Self-Confidence
There’s no denying that the teenage years can be tough for girls, as they often feel pressured to look perfect and behave a certain way. This can lead to low self-confidence and high levels of stress and anxiety. Luckily, researchers in Sweden found that teenage girls who attend weekly dance classes have higher self-esteem and improved mental health. These benefits often lasted for many months!
2. Dance Reduces Anxiety
The hormones released during exercise – called endorphins – are known to improve your mood. However, Psychology Today explained that people who dance often experience more benefits than those who simply run or hit the gym. Dance can lead to a calm demeanor, improved mood and better sense of control. This can be especially helpful for dancers who are having a hard time in school or their personal lives. Not only does escaping to the studio allow students to express themselves creatively, it also gets those good hormones flowing!
3. Dancing Alleviates Stress
People tend to recommend activities like yoga or meditation for stress relief, but a study from the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine showed that dance might edge out both these activities. The researchers found that tango classes lowered individuals’ stress levels more than meditation. In this study, dancing was associated with positive emotions, better self-esteem and lessened anxiety. What’s better than that?
These scientifically proven facts are surely impressive, but nothing speaks quite as loud as the smiles on your dancers faces after a great performance. You should be proud that your studio not only teaches a beautiful art form to students of all ages, but that is also contributes to the well-being of youth in your community.
One amazing trend that’s been gaining a lot of attention in the dance community in the past few years is new programs for children with special needs. These classes, often called adaptive dance, allow kids of all ages and abilities to experience the mental and physical perks of dance class, all while having a blast with other students. If you’ve been considering starting an adaptive dance program at your studio, you may be wondering what it should entail and how to get it off the ground. Here are some tips that will help you cater to the children in your community with a special needs dance program.
The Benefits of Dance Classes
It often helps to understand just how dance classes can benefit students with special needs. Michael O’Donnell, whose 6-year-old daughter Kiera has Down’s Syndrome, explained to San Diego Family magazine that adaptive dance classes have a number of benefits for both the children and society.
“Dance allows creative expression, both individually and in a group setting, encourages exercise and promotes healthier living,” O’Donnell explained to San Diego Family magazine. “An argument can be made that dance stimulates the intellect and learning as well.”
Further, dance classes allow children to become comfortable interacting with new people. On the other side of the same coin, having an adaptive dance class will help to break down barriers between your existing students and their peers with special needs, fostering strong and inclusive relationships.
Considerations When Starting a Special Needs Dance Program
One of the most important things to consider when you start forming a new program is whether you have an experienced teacher. Expert Beacon explained that you’ll want someone who has experience working with children with special needs to teach or at least help out with the class. If you can’t find a teacher who fits the bill, consider partnering with a occupational therapist or special educator in your community. They’ll be able to help you create a class plan and run each session.
You’ll also need to think about your studio’s accessibility. If you’re on the first floor, this shouldn’t be a problem. However, if you have a second- or third-floor location, make sure there’s an easy way for handicapped individuals to reach you. Otherwise, you may not be able to welcome all potential students.
Finally, pick a day and time that will be convenient for your new students. Dance Advantage explained that students with special needs and their parents often strive for consistency in their schedules, so it’s important to hold classes at the same time each week. This will help minimize any problems regarding rides, work schedules and other commitments.
How to Spread the Word About Your Classes
Once you’ve figured out all the logistics, it’s time to find students for your new adaptive dance program. Dance Advantage explained that other community organizations that cater to individuals with disabilities are usually willing to help spread the word about dance classes. Reach out to your local chapter of the Special Olympics or a community center to see if they’ll help you publicize your program.
You can also reach out to local schools and employ traditional marketing strategies, like posting fliers, using ads or posting on social media. Encourage your current students to share social posts and talk to their friends about the new program. Before you know it, you’ll likely have a fresh group of dancers who are ready and eager to learn all that you have to offer.
You probably have a system for planning classes for dance season. Maybe you have some tried-and-true methods that you’ll be repeating or perhaps you’re going to revamp your class structure to better your studio. Either way, you should make a point to create class syllabi for the different courses you’ll be offering in the coming season. Here are some of the benefits that studio owners can reap from a structured dance class syllabus and a few pointers for drafting these documents.
Benefits of an Established Syllabus
A carefully crafted syllabus can benefit not only the teachers, but the students as well. When you take the time to create these documents for your classes, you can ensure that everyone will have a better experience at your studio.
The perks for instructors include:
Syllabi help teachers prepare for classes.
The document helps teachers keep the course on track throughout the year.
Syllabi serve as a reminder of the skills teachers need to cover.
It helps staff enforce studio policies.
It clearly establishes behavioral expectations for students.
According to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the benefits of syllabi for students include:
The document can help students establish educational plans. In this case, it helps them to plan their growth as dancers.
It provides essential information, such as contact details, class times, rehearsal schedules and the like.
A syllabus serves as a remind of studio policies on behavior, dress code, attendance and more.
It informs students of what they’ll be learning, when they’ll be learning it and what they need to do to succeed in the class.
What to Include in a Syllabus
When you first sit down to create a syllabus, you may be tempted to simply jot down all your thoughts and goals for the class. This is a good way to get your thoughts down on paper, but you’ll want to create a document with a little more structure.
Start by writing the static parts of your syllabus – these sections will likely remain unchanged between courses and seasons. If you have a studio contract, you may even want to simply copy and paste the sections about classroom behavior, attendance, proper attire and other studio rules.
Next, you’ll want to create sections like:
Instructor info: Note who will be teaching the class and his or her contact information.
Class description: A general description of the course, genre and skill level.
Course goals: List the skills and techniques that students will ideally master over the course of the season.
Class timeline: Lay out the major events and lesson plans that will take place in the class. Include the topic for each class, as well as dates for performances and dress rehearsals if you know them.
Once you have these sections written, you may want to have the instructor look over the document and make changes or suggestions. This will ensure that the syllabus is a team effort and that everyone is on the same page when it comes to the class.
Don’t Forget to Revisit Old Syllabi
If you have syllabi that you’ve been using for years, it’s a good idea to revise them each season. After all, there are likely things that your studio could be doing better and you’ll want to reflect those changes in the document.
“We constantly reassess what we are doing, but it’s the team effort that makes it successful,” Peter Stark, dance department chair at the Patel Conservatory, explained to Dance Teacher magazine. “Star students come and go, star teachers come and go, but a methodology can maintain through that.”
Once you’ve written, revised and reviewed your syllabi, you’ll be ready to distribute them to the students, post them on your website and jump on into the new season of dance.
Chemistry is an essential part of many dance performances, especially duets. However, it’s a little bit like musicality – difficult to explain and even harder to teach. After all, many people might say that dance chemistry can’t be learned, it just has to be felt.
That’s not entirely true though. Talented dancers can figure out ways to amp up the sizzle when performing with a partner. It just takes time and lots of practice. Here’s what dance teachers should know about improving on-stage dance chemistry between their students.
What Qualifies as Good Chemistry?
So what exactly is “good chemistry”? Well, similar to musicality, it’s something that you know when you see it. When a dyad can work seamlessly and dance effortlessly together, that’s chemistry. However, contrary to popular belief, there don’t have to be any romantic feelings between the partners for them to have that special connection. Trust and mutual respect are often the key components of believable on-stage chemistry.
Some past performers on “So You Think You Can Dance” explained you can create natural chemistry by drawing from real life experiences. Hear what they had to say in the video below.
Tips to Improve Dancers’ Connections
When you first pair up dancers to perform together, they’ll probably feel a little awkward. That’s completely natural, as it can be uncomfortable to let someone into your personal space. However, it’s your job to work with them to establish the levels of trust and comfort necessary to create believable on-stage chemistry.
“Encourage your dancers to get to know one another.”
The first step toward better dance chemistry is often for dancers to get to know one another. Encourage the performers to talk about the performance and what they hope to get out of it. Fostering open lines of communication will help the pair feel more at ease with their performance.
Next, your dancers will need to get comfortable dancing in tandem and feeding off one another’s energy. Dance magazine explained that your students will need to be comfortable making eye contact if they want to give a great performance.
“Establishing eye contact is the biggest thing—it’s all in the eyes,” Victoria Jaiani, a member of the Joffrey Ballet, explained to Dance magazine. “From the first moment of the first rehearsal we need to learn how to look at one another. It helps us breathe in the music together.”
From here, the best way to improve on-stage connection is simply to practice. The more dancers work together, the stronger their bond will be. However, it’s essential that both partners are working toward the same goal. If one member thinks he or she is better than the other or isn’t willing to collaborate, the pair may run into problems along the way.
“We have to leave our ego outside the dance studio,” Junio Teixeira, a member of the New Jersey Ballet Company, told Dance Informa. “When both dancers are trying to reach the same proposal, the partnership will reach a great level.”
Another Kind of Chemistry
While having a connection with one another is essential, remind your dancers not to forget about connecting with their audience. Plenty of eye contact, smiling and a general openness will make performers seems more likable to the people they’re entertaining.
What makes a dance teacher great? Yes, knowledge of the art form and technical ability are important, but what sets the dancers apart from the teachers? Here are a few qualities that you may want to look for when you’re hiring dance teachers.
As is important in many other careers, passion is a necessary quality in a superior dance instructor. Not only will love of dance make even the toughest classes enjoyable, but a teacher with continually positive energy will pass that same joy on to young students.
Another important characteristic is flexibility. Dance teachers need to be able to go with the flow, and this is something that poses a struggle for some professional dancers. You never know when a lesson is going to fall flat with students or when a class will be particularly rowdy. A great teacher will adjust on the fly and make the most of each class, even when things don’t go according to plan.
Great dance teachers are often set apart from mediocre instructors by their dedication to the job at hand. Teachers who aren’t fully committed to explaining the necessary skills and molding young dancers often let little things slide in the studio. Maybe they aren’t willing to help out at dress rehearsal or won’t commit to extra hours with a struggling student. The once-in-a-lifetime teachers are the ones who are willing and ready to go the extra mile in the name of teaching.
Patience is a necessary virtue for all types of teachers. There will more than likely be difficult days with challenging students, and an awesome teacher will overcome these obstacles without losing her cool. Patience is doubly important for instructors who will be working with young or inexperienced dancers, as these students sometimes need a little extra time to grasp concepts.
Even great dancers with natural teaching ability will benefit from training geared specifically for dance education (as opposed to performance). While there are college programs in dance education, there are also other opportunities for instructors to hone their skills, like the teacher training schools offered by Dance Masters of America or Dance Educators of America. While there may be some positions, like assistant teachers, that may not necessitate a certification, requiring your teachers to have some more advanced credentials will greatly increase the quality and safety of instruction provided by your studio.
Finally, a truly top-notch teacher is one that you can count on to handle parents and students with the utmost grace and professionalism. When you have a great teacher on your staff, you won’t worry about him or her sullying the studio’s reputation by acting inappropriately.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to include additional information on dance education programs.
What would your studio be without your awesome dance instructors? They’re the ones working with students, helping put together recital pieces and fending parent questions. In many dance schools, instructors are an integral part of the business.
However, being a dance teacher isn’t all tutus and glitter. There are times when your instructors will be stressed and frustrated, and it’s in your best interest to help alleviate some of their problems to make their lives a little easier. Here are five common problems that studio owners can solve for the sake of their teachers.
1. Set Clear Studio Policies
You may not realize it, but if your studio has lax or unclear policies, it can end up affecting your teachers. On a Dance.net forum, a few instructors explained that when their studios do a poor job of communicating with parents, setting up dress codes or explaining expected class behaviors, it makes their lives a lot harder.
Setting up set policies for your school is a quick fix to this issues, and it not only will benefit your teachers, but it will likely help out you and your business as a whole.
2. Enforce Pickup and Dropoff Times
Your teachers likely love their charges, but that doesn’t mean they want to hang out with students for 20 minutes after class ends. Instructors have lives too, and many times, they’ll have places they need to be. It’s your job as the studio owner to enforce your pickup and dropoff times so that no one has to be babysitting after class is over.
3. Be a Parent Buffer
Mama drama is inevitable sometimes, and you should be there to help your instructors deal with unhappy parents. Establish clear guidelines for parent complaints and make sure you’re involved in the resolution process. It will take a whole lot of stress off the shoulders of your teachers.
4. Limit Parent Observation
Parents love to watch their little dancers perform, but it’s often distracting for the class and the instructor. Find a way to minimize distractions that come along with parent observation, whether it’s by setting up limited class time when parents can watch or installing a one-way mirror or TV monitoring system.
5.Offer Compensation for Any Extras
There may be times when you really need a teacher to stay after hours with a student or to help set up for a recital. However, it’s important that you realize what tasks aren’t in the usual scope of a dance instructor’s job description and offer additional compensation if necessary.