On My Mind | The Beginning of a New Season

Words from the publisher

The beginning of a new season offers dance teachers and studio owners a clean slate with awesome possibilities. Faculty and kids are enthusiastic about returning to the studio, but what can we do to maintain that enthusiasm throughout the season?

Photo by Mim Adkins

Although classes always have a certain structure, usually consisting of a warm-up or barre, across-the-floor work, and combinations or variations, it’s OK to be creative. Adding variety or elements of surprise to the class can keep kids engaged, whereas constantly using the same movement, music, or format can lead to a lack of enthusiasm in both teachers and students. The change can be as simple as starting a combination facing a different wall, holding class in a different studio, or using some unexpected music. Be aware that many of today’s children are accustomed to continual stimulation, so do what it takes to keep them focused and enthusiastic.

The first few minutes of class are critical, since that’s when students often lose interest; starting with something unique could make all the difference. For example, make taking attendance fun and educational by asking students to respond with the name of a dance step, like “shuffle” or “plié,” rather than saying “here” or “present.” You’ll immediately engage your students’ minds when you turn a rote classroom activity into something unexpected. Also, know what you want to accomplish before you enter the classroom. The more time you invest in lesson planning, the less time you’ll waste in class figuring out what you want to do next, which is when students’ attention may wander. Habitually winging it instead of planning your classes will eventually catch up with you, because students will know you’re unprepared. Planning includes organizing your music; teachers who spend too much time in class figuring out what music they are going to use almost always lose their students’ interest. (For more on lesson planning, see “Class Act.”)

Once class is underway, move around frequently so that the students have to pay attention to where you are. They may lose focus if you sit in a chair or stand at the front of the room for the entire class. Offer a change of pace every 10 or 15 minutes. It can be as simple as changing direction—if you are facing the mirrors, ask the class to face the back wall for a few minutes. Or you could change a center floor exercise into an across-the-floor movement.

Rather than asking students to attempt a new step or combination full out right away, break down the material by starting with the basic movement. For example, if you’re teaching a turn combination, instead of starting with the full turn, simply demonstrate what’s happening with the feet. Once the students grasp that, encourage them to try the move with the turn. If they’re not getting it, try changing the material or how you explain it. Be prepared to act spontaneously in response to students’ needs. In addition to meeting their educational needs, you’ll help keep their interest.

And finally, maintain your own enthusiasm throughout the season by remembering that you get to spend your days passing on your passion for dance to new generations. How cool is that?

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.