Teachers make a profound impact on the world. Whether you’re teaching math, science, music, art or dance, you’re helping children to find their passions, boost their skill sets and follow their dreams. While dance instructors might not be able to explain algebra and math teachers can’t demonstrate tombes, that doesn’t mean the different professions can’t borrow a note from each other’s books. Here are five dance teacher ideas that can be borrowed from from school teachers for application in the studio.
1. Listening to Instructions
It doesn’t matter what subject you’re teaching – if your students don’t listen to instructions, they won’t properly grasp the lesson. That’s why both school and dance instructors have to learn how to capture the attention of their students and deliver clear directions. Edutopia recommended that, from day one, teachers establish behavioral expectations when they’re talking to the class. Don’t begin giving instructions until there’s complete silence and you have the full attention of each and every student.
2. Varying Teaching Methods
School teachers quickly learn that all students have different learning styles. You’ll likely encounter similar challenges in the studio, so it’s a good idea to have a few strategies for teaching your dancers. When you keep things fresh, you’ll also make classes fun and interesting for everyone, and hopefully prevent boredom from turning into behavioral problems.
“The more a teacher varies his or her methods to get all types of students involved, the fewer behavior problems he or she will encounter,” Walker School psychologist Neal Clark, M.A., explained to Scholastic.
Even when you have a great lesson plan, it’s best to have a few alternative activities up your sleeve that teach the same skills in different ways. You never know what’s going to be a hit – or fall flat – with students.
3. Collaborating for Success
Another lesson that students need to learn is how to work as a team. Your dancers will have to be able to rely on and trust one another if they want to give amazing performances, so don’t skimp on collaboration activities. Explain to your students the role that teamwork plays in success – both in the studio and outside of it.
4. Getting Parents Involved
Parents shouldn’t just be the vessels that drop dancers off at the studio. Education World explained that parental support can really accelerate a student’s progress in the classroom. Not to mention that parents are amazingly helpful when it comes to fundraising, competition transportation, chaperoning field trips and helping out at recitals. Studio owners and dance instructors should work to build strong relationships with their students’ parents, as it will be beneficial to all parties.
5. Having Fun Along the Way
Any teacher will tell you that it’s just as important for you to have fun as it is to make class fun for the kids. When everyone enjoys time spent in the studio, it will make learning a positive, rewarding experience and keep dancers coming back for more.
What skills set a dancer apart from the pack? Most studio owners and dance teachers might say technique, dedication, passion or stage presence. While these are all essential for pre-professional dancers, the best students also have a certain “je ne sais quoi” when it comes to music. This intangible quality is often referred to as musicality, and it is essential for dancers who want to take their performances to the next level. Here’s what instructors need to know about musicality in dance and how they can help dancers connect with the music.
If you ask professional dancers and choreographers to define musicality, you’d probably get a host of different answers. Some people might explain it simply as an understanding of music. Others may say that it’s letting the music guide your movements. Industry professionals know musicality when they see it, but still might have trouble putting the characteristic into words.
“Musicality is understanding music on a technical level and then dropping all of that knowledge so you can sit deep inside the music,” Wade Robson, choreographer and “So You Think You Can Dance” regular, explained to Dance Spirit magazine. “It’s dancing inside the music, as opposed to floating on top of it.”
Because musicality is a rather vague, intangible concept, there’s not one strict definition of this quality. However, most everyone agrees that musicality in dance sets professional dancers apart from amateurs. The question then becomes whether this innate understanding of music can be taught or if dancers just have to have it.
Introducing the Concept
As your dancers progress to more advanced classes, you’ll want to introduce them to the concept of musicality. Some students may already be able to connect with the music and they will likely understand the quality without too much explanation. However, dancers who are less musically inclined may have trouble melding the steps with the corresponding notes. Dance Spirit magazine explained that nonmusical dancers often show too much effort in their performances, but there are ways you can help them connect with the soundtrack.
Start teaching your students about musicality in dance by honing their ears. Individuals who have played instruments often catch on quicker than others, but the skill can be taught with dedication and practice. Have your dancers close their eyes and listen to the music. Ask them to think about the meaning of the song – even if it’s instrumental. Work together to plot out the different mood, tempo and phrase changes. It may also help to let them free dance to the piece so their bodies are guided by the music.
Honing Musical Intuition
Chances are that musicality won’t be perfected in one session. If your dancers are serious about furthering their skills, they’ll need to continue working on their musical intuition. You can help them practice by switching up your lessons once in a while and throwing them musical curve balls. Dance magazine suggested bringing in a live pianist for class or using different variations of the same song – orchestra arrangements, lyrical and instrumental versions all have slight differences that musically adept students will respond to.
“Orchestral music allows you to hear all the different colors of the instruments,” Finis Jhung, a ballet teacher in New York, told Dance magazine. “It gives you something to play with as an artist – it gives you more to hear.”
Given time, dedicated students will learn to apply musicality to their performances for a little extra pizzazz. Don’t let your dancers get discouraged if they struggle with the concept, as it’s hard to teach and even harder to learn.
The unfortunate but honest truth is that girls make up the majority of students at dance studios across the country. Dance is too often viewed as a feminine pastime, and as a result, boys who may be interested in taking classes are sometimes hesitant to ask. So what should you do if you want to bring boys into the studio? Here are a few steps you can take to encourage dance for boys and make your school a welcoming place for males and females alike.
1. Consider Your Facilities
The first thing you should do if you’re trying to attract more boys to your studio is take a good look around the premises. Are the walls pink? Is the waiting room decorated with pictures of female ballerinas? Are your changing rooms for girls only? These design choices may be in line with your current clientele, but they will likely work against you when it comes to selling dance for boys in your studio. Dance Advantage explained that simple, vibrant decor in neutral colors is often a good choice when catering to both genders. You should also be sure to feature a variety of dancers and genres in your artwork.
2. Rethink Marketing Efforts
In the same way that your studio might be female-centric, your marketing efforts might give off feminine vibes as well. Revisit your website and consider whether it’s clear that you welcome and host dance for boys. You may want to consider adding a note that you offer classes for males on your advertisements and promotions as well. Don’t just assume that boys know they’re welcome – make it crystal clear in your marketing efforts. It may also help to rethink where you’re advertising. Consider putting up fliers in community centers that boys frequent or reaching out to male youth groups in your town.
3. Find a Male Representative
A strong male role model can go a long way toward increasing your male enrollment numbers. Dance Teacher magazine explained that a talented and dedicated instructor is often the reason that studios become a mecca for male dancers.
“You need to find someone who is committed, community-centered and not self-centered,” Erik Saradpon, director of hip-hop at Temecula Dance Company in California, told Dance Teacher magazine. “You want someone reliable and dependable who can see the program in terms of years and isn’t impatient.”
If you have a few male students already, it might be worthwhile to have them speak to potential students about their experiences at your studio. Boys likely want to know that they’re joining a facility that focuses on athleticism, and they may be more convinced if they hear about classes from a peer.
4. Be Prepared for Their Needs
When you finally get a few males to come in for a class, be sure your instructors are prepared to meet their needs. Boys may respond better to different teaching methods than their female counterparts, so it’s best to delegate the task to a teacher who’s worked with males before. Dance Magazine explained that guys often get bored during the same classes that females thrive in, so teachers should try to mix up activities to really engage the students.
“One time we brought a mini trampoline into the studio to work on entrechats,” Peter Boal, director of Pacific Northwest Ballet and the PNB School, explained to Dance Magazine. “The boys were so excited, it was as if had we had turned on the TV.”
For your first few male classes, be sure to have an arsenal of activities ready so you can find what resonates with the students. If you wow them during the first few sessions, you’ll likely retain more male students and be able to grow your enrollment.
It’s often extremely rewarding to work with young dancers—they’re cute and energetic and eager to learn. However, sometimes you may be faced with behavioral problems when teaching preschool dance and it can feel a little bit like you’re trying to herd cats. When you’re having trouble getting young students to focus during dance class, try using these three tips to keep them engaged and having fun.
1. Give Them Options
When energy is running high, chances are that you won’t be able to get your little dancers to line up and plié all together. Dance Advantage explained that children who are learning to make their own decisions will respond much better when they’re given choices. You don’t want to give your students unlimited possibilities, but try giving them two or three options to choose from during an activity. You can let them choose their favorite traveling step for an impromptu dance, then have them switch after a few minutes. When dancers feel like they’re in control, there will be much less pouting and foot stomping.
2. Keep Class Moving
It’s also important to realize that toddlers have a limited attention span. Try to break your classes up into a series of short and sweet activities. A good rule of thumb is to spend between five and 10 minutes on one formation or skill, then switch it up. You can always return to the activity later in the class if need be. If ever you sense that kids are getting distracted during a lesson, try to move on to something new as quickly as possible to bring them back into the action.
3. Partner Up with Troublemakers
Sometimes all it takes is one misbehaving child to get the whole class distracted. When you notice a student is having trouble listening, 4 Dancers recommended that you ask the child to be your partner on the next activity. This will allow you to instruct him or her more closely and keep other kids focused. You can also ask troublemakers to help out with transition activities, like handing out props or checking off attendance markers.
Teaching preschool dance may take a lot of energy and patience on your part, but it will definitely be a rewarding experience in the long run. Many of these little dancers will grow up to be your star students, so enjoy each moment you spend sculpting them into talented performers.
There’s a good chance that the parents of your dancers will want to see the class perform more than once per season. In fact, Dance Informa magazine explained that many parents actually take this factor into consideration when choosing a dance studio. For this reason, many schools hold parent observation classes once or twice each month. This gives your students a chance to show off and parents a peek into the action without anyone peering around corners. If you’re thinking about implementing a regular observation period, use these tips for dance teachers to establish best practices that will make the experience positive for all parties involved.
The first step toward having a successful parent observation class is to discuss the expectations of everyone involved. This means taking a few moments to talk with your teachers, students and, of course, the parents. The Dance Exec explained that you’ll want to discuss timing, introductions and demonstrations with your teachers well in advance so they have time to prepare. Talk to your dancers about what they can expect while their parents are in the room and the opportunities they’ll have to demonstrate their new skills. With parents, you’ll want to emphasize the importance of being on time and remaining respectful in the classroom.
Have a Game Plan
Some teachers might just want to wing it when it comes time for parent observations, but you’ll feel better going into these sessions if you have a plan. Figure out how long instructors should spend running drills, letting kids perform and answering parent questions. It’s often a good idea to run through pieces that dancers are comfortable and confident with, otherwise they may be nervous about forgetting the steps or missing their tricks. Whatever game plan you come up with, be sure it highlights the best that your dancers and teachers have to offer.
Don’t Rule Out Participation
If you really want to give parents an idea of what their kids are learning, consider taking observation opportunities to the next level. Dance Studio Life explained that a participation class can cultivate a sense of respect and closeness between students and their parents. It’s a great way to show adults just how hard their budding dancers work each class. Plus, it’s often a fun activity to break the ice with parents and get them comfortable with teachers and the studio in general.
If your studio offers mostly low-key recreational classes, chances are that you don’t really need to dole out a regular dance school progress report. However, as you start to offer more pre-professional services and competitive classes, it’s in your best interests to give dancers consistent and thorough feedback on their performance. Many dance studios choose to give students progress reports, but there are certain factors you should keep in mind when setting up an evaluation system.
Since our last post, TutuTix has created a sample dance progress report template that you can download and customize for your studio’s needs. Check out the template by following our link below:
Wanting to keep working on your own progress report? Check out the tips below:
Do: Use a Specific Form
Before you go ahead and hand out midseason evaluations, it’s essential that you create a standardized form to complete for each and every dancer. DanceStudioOwner.com recommended that you use a rubric with sections for social, personal, technical, cognitive, spatial, musical and performance skills. Figure out how you want to rate each, whether it’s on a scale of one to five or with letter grades. You should also leave ample space for comments, as there will often be times your recommendations won’t fit precisely into one evaluation category.
Don’t: Go Overboard on Criticism
Sometimes you may find that instructors focus too heavily on negatives when completing progress reports, and that’s not good for dancers’ morale. Be sure to include a positive comment for each criticism that you provide, and keep your feedback constructive. It’s easy to get carried away providing commentary that you think will help the dancer grow, but you’ll want to point out what students are doing right as well as what they’re doing wrong.
Do: Make Them a Tool
A dance school progress report shouldn’t just be a sheet to tell parents how their child is performing in class. They should be a tool that dancers can use to improve their skills and become stronger performers. Work with your teachers to make progress reports educational and useful. It’s also important to discuss the feedback with your dancers and let them know you’re willing to go over the report one-on-one if they’d like. Keep your door open to both students and parents, and allow them to come to you for clarification or with questions. This can go a long way to keeping your clients happy and furthering the education of your dancers.
Even if your dancers can execute their routine flawlessly, judges and audience members might still be able to tell that the performers are stressed, confused or frightened. How’s that? Through facial expressions.
Many communication experts believe that the messages we send to other people come predominantly from nonverbal cues. That’s why performers need to spend time working on their facial expressions, which can fundamentally affect the quality of their performance. Here are some dance teacher tips for teaching facial expressions to your budding young artists, as well as a few exercises that may aid your lessons.
Understanding the Importance
After you and your dancers spend hours and hours perfecting a performance, the last thing you want is for the piece to feel uncomfortable because of awkward facial expressions. Dance Spirit magazine explained that genuine nonverbal cues can add a level of authenticity to a performance and elevate it from good to great.
However, sometimes the “right” facial expressions aren’t the ones that come naturally. Many times young dancers are taught to simply put on a big smile. This may be endearing in beginner classes, but it certainly won’t cut it at more advanced competition levels.
“Facial expressions need to come from a real human place instead of being painted on,” Shelly Masenoir, a judge for the StarQuest and Applause Talent Competition, explained to Dance Spirit magazine. “Facial expression is not a costume that you put on. It’s a part of you and how you feel.”
It’s important for students to realize that their nonverbal communication doesn’t just come from their smiles. Dance Advantage noted that mouths, jaws and eyes can all show authentic emotion or a lack of connection. Your students need to exercise the same level of control of their facial expressions while dancing that they do over the rest of their bodies.
How to Practice and Improve Facial Expressions
When it comes time to practice those on-command “genuine” smiles, gather your class in front of a mirror. Demonstrate what judges will consider to be a false smile – lots of teeth and strained muscles – and then have your students practice more natural expressions.
The Rockettes blog recommended having dancers relax their jaws and tongues. If your students are particularly stiff, you might get them to loosen up by making a few silly faces.
Once everyone has relaxed their facial muscles, discuss ways to engage the audience with their eyes. Have them raise their eyebrows slightly, as if they were talking about something interesting. Instruct students to breathe in through their noses and out through their mouths. This will help them to keep a more natural smile with an open mouth.
Depending on the nature of the performance, you may want to tone down the facial expressions or give them a little more pizzazz. As with any dance skill, it will probably take some time and practice to get body language to where it needs to be.
Take a few minutes at the start or end of class to practice those facial expressions and make sure to give your students lots of honest feedback.
After a few lessons on facial expressions, you might want to consider taping a performance for your dancers to review. Watch the video together as a class and give constructive criticism on how the students could improve their nonverbal communication.
Discuss whether the dancers’ body language is appropriate for the mood and tone of the piece and brainstorm ways for the class to improve facial expressions together.
In dance studios, there’s a method to the madness of dress codes! Besides requirements for appropriate attire, the dance studio dress code is designed to help students perform better and see themselves as a cohesive unit. As your students get older, there’s always the chance that they’ll take some liberties with the dance studio dress code. It’s something that every instructor faces at some point, and how you handle the first few instances is crucial. Use these tips to ensure that your dancers stay in dress code and accept the rules of the studio.
Make a Contract
At the beginning of each season, you should have your dancers sign a contract stating that they understand what constitutes appropriate attire in the studio and agree to abide by your rules. This isn’t as essential with younger students, but it’s a must-have for pre-teens. By making your expectations clear from day one, you’ll put yourself in a better position to enforce the dress code. When you have a student’s signature on a contract, it’s much easier to mitigate any rebellion.
Explain Your Decisions
Remember when you were a teen yourself and your parents used to tell you to do things “because they said so”? That phrase is especially frustrating for young adults, so don’t use it as a reason your studio has a dress code. Explain to your dancers why it’s important for them to wear specific clothing. When students are dressed alike, it’s easier for a teacher to spot someone out of form or behind the count. Dancers wear their hair pulled back so they have a full range of sight while performing. There are logical reasons behind your dress code, so let the students know them!
Have ‘Dress-Down’ Days
A scheduled dress-down day is a great way to reward your students for their hard work and keep them from breaking your dress code. It gives them the opportunity to wear the cute new leotards they’ve been dying to show off and express a little bit of their personality. However, make these days a reward, not a given. If too many students come to class dressed inappropriately, you might want to postpone the dress-down day until they abide by the rules.
Choose the Right Products
Dancewear can get pricey, so it’s important to keep budget in mind when setting a dress code. Choose practical, long-lasting products that will last for a number of years. This way your students won’t need to replace their uniform each season and parents can save some money. If your dance studio dress code is out of some dancers’ price range, it could lead to attire issues. Another good option is to sell products in your studio so dancers can quickly and easily replace items that wear out.
Your responsibilities as a dance instructor can often go far beyond teaching tombes and arabesques. If you work with young students, you play a crucial part in their development as both dancers and individuals. It can be a big burden to shoulder! One of the best things you can do for your students is to establish policies that boost healthy self esteem while keeping them humble. The Dance Exec explained that a confident dancer who is modest and unassuming will be successful both on and off the stage. When you promote these qualities, your studio will become a positive environment where students are comfortable being themselves and working as a team. Here are a few ways to encourage healthy self esteem in your studio, so you can help mold your students into talented dancers who are also kind individuals.
Take Note of Budding Divas
If you spot that some of your students are becoming pushy, it’s best to nip the attitude in the bud before it gets out of control. Dance Studio Life noted that the first signs of an entitled student often come from the parent. If a mother approaches you to request her child gets special treatment, it may be that the student mentioned that she wanted a lead role or a more challenging part. When this happens, your best option is to have a heart-to-heart with the dancer. Talk about the student’s ability, her goals in the studio and how she can advance. Give praise where it is warranted to help the student feel confident, but include constructive criticism as well and explain that the dancer will be put in a lead role when she earns it.
Lead by Example
If you want your students to be humble, you should be a role model of appropriate behavior. Whenever you are in the studio, assume dancers are watching you and act accordingly. When you’re talking to parents or instructors, think about how you’d encourage the students to act, then follow your own advice! Being kind, understanding, and a confident example of healthy self esteem will help your students learn in and out of the classroom.
Encourage Random Acts of Kindness
Your dancers will grow into kind and humble individuals if they learn the rewards of doing small acts for others. This will also help them to build relationships and grow as a team. LoveToKnow Kids recommended encouraging your students to complete small acts of kindness within the studio. One idea is to have students write nice gestures that peers have made each week. This way no one is “tooting their own horn,” but you’re still recognizing kind acts. You can also talk to parents about organizing a charity event within your community, whether it’s a free performance at a senior center or a neighborhood clean up.
Don’t Make Exceptions to Studio Rules
One way you can ensure that no one student is advancing at the expense of another is to stay firm with your studio rules. Naturally, there will be extenuating circumstances once in a while where an exception is warranted, but try to enforce your policies on a day-to-day basis. Explain to the student and parent involved that the whole class is affected when dancers are prioritize their own needs ahead of the rest of the class, and your goal is to create a strong team who rely on each other to be at their fullest potential.
Intervene When Necessary
If you notice a dancer has a poor attitude or is particularly insecure, you may need to intervene. The best way to go about this is to follow the same method you would with any other sensitive meeting. Approach the situation respectfully, and make it clear that you’re looking out for the student’s best interests. Explain what you’ve observed and how it’s affecting the dancer and the class. If you’re dealing with an entitled student, you may benefit from putting the problem into perspective by explaining what would happen to a performer with a diva attitude in a professional dance setting. If the problem is a lack of confidence, try to suggest ways the dancer can step outside her comfort zone and create a sense of healthy self esteem.
If your studio offers a variety of classes for dancers with different skill levels, you’ll often be faced with challenges on when it’s time to consider advancing dance students to the next level. One of the most notable decisions is advancing ballerinas to pointe, but moving students to a more advanced class in any genre can be tricky. After owning your studio for a few years, you’ll find a method that works best for you, but here are some general tips on advancing dance students.
Do: Set Specific Criteria
Creating a set criteria for student advancement will make your life and the lives of your instructors a whole lot easier. Write up evaluation sheets that outline the skills and techniques needed for each class level. You can even use point systems to evaluate whether a dancer is ready to move up. In addition to technical aspects, you should also consider evaluating the dancer’s attitude, practice schedule and response to instruction, as these all play a crucial role in more advanced classes. Having a structured criteria will make the process fair and logical, and it’ll be a lot easier to explain to dancers and their parents what needs to be done in order to advance.
Don’t: Make Advancement a ‘Right’
There are bound to be dancers who feel that because they’ve completed so many seasons at a lower level, they’re entitled to advancement. This shouldn’t be the case. Advancing dance students who aren’t ready can be dangerous for the student and frustrating for the rest of the class. The dancers who are ready for the challenge will often be held back as unprepared students struggle. Dance Advantage explained that a student becomes a better dancer through dedication and practice, not by completing a certain number of classes. Advanced classes, including pointe, should be reserved for students who take the craft seriously and are 100 percent ready for the challenge, both mentally and physically.
Do: Take Time to Explain Your Decisions
When you make tough decisions to hold students back, realize how hard it will be on the dancer. The best thing you can do in this situation is sit down and have a conversation about how you came to the decision. Be prepared for tears and bargaining, but stay firm with your choice. Dance World Takeover explained that the best dancers will take criticism and use it to their advantage. Give your students as much advice as possible and be clear about exactly what it will take to get to the next level. After such talks, it will become clear which students are serious about pursuing their dreams and unafraid of hard work.
Don’t: Advance Students to Be With Friends
One of the most common complaints you’ll hear is that a student is being left behind while his or her friends advance. When this happens, you’ll want to acknowledge how the dancer is feeling – disappointed, let down and maybe a little embarrassed. However, explain that it wouldn’t be safe or fair to advance students so they could remain with friends. Make it clear to your dancers that it’s possible to catch up with peers if they put in the time to practice and stay focused during class. You can use this opportunity to light little fires under your students and help them to reach their full potential. Chances are that once they start class next season, they’ll quickly make new friends and focus on their love of dance.
Whether your students are toddlers or pre-teens, you’re sure to have a few conflicts during the year. Dancers who are upset or angry can interrupt the flow and atmosphere of class, so developing strong conflict-management skills is a crucial part of being a studio owner. Implement the following policies in your studio to improve conflict resolution for students and get everyone back to doing what they love.
Teach children to discuss conflict
Make it a studio policy that students talk to each other about problems. Responsive Classroom explained that student-to-student conflict resolution will help children learn how to deal with disagreements in a positive manner and prevent conflict in the future. These skills are extremely valuable, especially for young dancers, and they’ll carry the lesson with them throughout life.
To resolve a conflict, bring the two or three parties into your office for a low-key conversation. Before anyone talks, have the students take a few deep breaths and do a few of their favorite stretches. This will help everyone cool down and prepare them to talk calmly. Let each student say what is bothering him or her, and make sure the other students listen without interrupting (gee, does this sound a lot like parental conflict management or what?). Then work together to brainstorm a solution to the conflict and discuss how the issue can be avoided in the future.
Have a whole-class exercise
If you find that student conflicts are a common occurrence, it might be time to plan a lesson for the whole class. You may think to yourself, “Do I really need to be lecturing kids about problem solving? I’m supposed to be teaching them to dance.” However, if you have professional dance experience, you know that squabbles between dancers persist throughout all skill levels and can cause big problems. If your dancers are serious about pursuing their dreams, interpersonal skills will be imperative to their success.
Discovery Education recommended that you discuss different kinds of hurtful behavior with your class and then work together to develop coping strategies. Set aside 15 or 20 minutes of class time to run this activity. Have your students share a time when their feelings were hurt, either in the studio or in school. If they’re not comfortable sharing out loud, have them write on index cards. Then, work as a class to develop methods for dealing with name-calling, gossip, exclusion and any other problems that come up. You can display these coping strategies on a poster in your studio or have students sign a contract saying they’ll stick to the policies.
Instructors can often get stuck using the same phrases while teaching dance. Saying things like, “that was great” or “don’t slouch” can quickly become a habit and lose meaning to students. It’s a tricky task to figure out what language students respond to, especially when you have a number of different classes.
However, if you can learn to communicate efficiently with your dance students, you’ll grow into a much better teacher and your pupils will leave with the knowledge and skills they desire.
Use Action Language
Dance Teacher Magazine explained that the more descriptive you can be with your instructions, the better students will understand. Phrases like “jump higher” are vague and hard to measure. When teaching dance in class, use a descriptive action to explain what you’re looking for. A good alternative might be, “Imagine you let a balloon float up to the ceiling, then try to jump up to grab the string.”
When students have an action with a goal attached, it will be easier to complete the action. It will also make an impression on your dancers so you won’t have to remind them as often. Similarly, use specific imagery when you’re giving praise. Don’t just tell students their run through was great, but explain exactly what about it was successful.
By being consistent with how you ask dancers to do a certain movement, you can clean up sloppiness and make dancers appear more fluid, controlled, and deliberate.
Try to banish the words “don’t” and “stop” from your teaching vocabulary. Instructions that focus on negatives won’t be as well received as those that focus on positives. Four Dancers suggested that students will respond better to a correction if it’s prefaced with praise.
So instead of saying, “Don’t scrunch your shoulders,” approach the topic from a different angle. Commend the student on keeping their arms flowing while they dance, and suggest they try extending that motion up through their shoulders.
Describing to students what you want is a more productive way to teach than telling students what you don’t want.
Adjust as You Go
Finally, give yourself permission to experiment and try new things. Each class you teach will have a different dynamic, and there won’t be a one-size-fits-all communication style. Just like your students are new to your class, you are new to these students!
Allow yourself a little time to figure out how to best communicate with them – you don’t have to get it right from day one.
In the midst of competition and performance season, you may notice parts of your choreography that might look better with this adjustment or that adjustment.
Generally, is it a good idea to implement last minute choreography changes prior to a performance?
No, probably not.
(Especially if you are working with younger or less experienced dancers.)
The dancers learned the routine a certain way and committed it to muscle memory. Changes will make them second guess themselves onstage, which will not encourage a confident performance. Granted, being adaptable and able to make quick changes is a required skill set for professional dancers, but when working in an educational environment, be sensitive to and considerate of your dancers’ age, skill set, and needs.
(The only changes I have found to be effective and beneficial are simplification of arms and/or skill replacement (e.g. a walkover instead of an aerial).)
When it comes to choreography, make sure all of your studio affiliated Instructors, Owners and Artistic Directors are on the same page about all the choreographic expectations. At the end of the day we want to make sure we set our students up for success, so that we can watch them shine on stage!