Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
Adding Up the Benefits
In the classroom, I look for different ways to convey my point. To connect with all of my students and help them understand on multiple levels, I’ve started using math and science alongside explanations and analogies.
Geometry helps students understand alignment concepts. In first position our battement tendu should radiate in a straight line from the center of the circle (where the heels touch), through our toes to the circumference of the circle. When our feet are in fifth position, if we draw a horizontal line bisecting the “V” the two feet form, each should be turned out at a similar angle.
In rond de jambe, our legs and feet function like a compass; the working leg is the pencil that draws the half circle.
I also draw on physics concepts, using a bouncy ball to show the students that a ball thrown against the floor bounces back much higher than one that is dropped. This helps them to understand that using their plié and pushing through their feet will increase the height and quality of their jumps.
I have used math songs from Schoolhouse Rock! at the barre in my classes for second- and third-graders. Dancing to these songs supports math learning in a subtle way, and some dancers enjoy the extra stimulation math-based lyrics provide.
Stay in tune with what students are studying in school and understand their level of comprehension. Talk to parents; they’re probably more than willing to share information about their children and what they’re working on in school—this is also a good opportunity to enhance those relationships. You may also gain some insight by asking dancers who are doing homework between classes to share the concepts they are working on; most will be happy to show you their work.
The kids enjoy this approach. They start making observations on their own, finding thoughtful and creative connections between math or science and movement. And any chance we get to make these subjects cool for our students is an opportunity not to be missed.
—Jennifer Turner Long
Beyond the Steps
Students often fall into the trap of “taking class.” They go from one class to another, voraciously eating up combinations and then moving on. This practice is especially common at the conventions and intensives we encourage our students to attend. They take as many classes in many styles as they can fit into the day. Well-crafted combinations are danced into the ground and abandoned as students move on to the next class.
During a recent five-day summer dance program, I gathered the 13- to 15-year-old group to share what they had learned on their first day of the intensive—in any of their classes, not only mine. After an awkward moment, the students described specific steps. They talked about new “moves” they had learned and about the different names some moves have. Not until I asked them to think outside the realm of steps did they start to consider bigger concepts. The discussion helped the dancers understand what they had learned on a deeper and more personal level.
Teachers must give students time to integrate and assimilate the information they’ve absorbed in class, including larger concepts like how a particular exercise can help them become consistent in their performance quality. The last thing we want is for dancers to merely eat up combinations, beat them into the ground, and then pick up their dance bag to do the same thing in a different studio.
Asking students “What, besides the combination, are you taking from class today?” allows them to consider dance more holistically and personally. I recommend closing class by grouping the dancers in duets or trios to share what they have learned and experienced. Group circles at the end of class also contribute to a sense of community and completion.
“Taking class” implies that the teacher is handing something over and the student is grabbing it. Instead, class can be much more of a shared experience—a bigger, deeper, and more significant exploration of concepts, approaches, and practices than merely a series of individual combinations that a teacher “gives.”
Jennifer Turner Long is the owner of The Studio in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where she has taught for 10 years.
Kerry Ring teaches ballet and modern dance technique at the University at Buffalo [NY]. She is core faculty for Dance Masters of America and is certified in Kriya Yoga.