Playing With Shapes
I introduce theories of shape early, when kids are 6 to 8 years old, explaining that shape is an element of space and an important visual component in dance. I show examples of angles, lines, and curves; and open/closed, symmetrical/asymmetrical, harmonious/contrasting, and centered/off-center shapes. Here are some activities that reinforce this concept while also engaging young dancers.
• Black and White: This activity requires the use of a black light and long white gloves. Have each dancer put on a pair of gloves and face the mirror. Turn on the black light and lead the students through port de bras. The objective is to make them aware of the shape of their arm positions. The black light is a fun element that helps kids focus on whether they are making a correct first position or high fifth, for example. You can add white socks or T-shirts and place the dancers in small groups. Have them create shapes together by attaching to one another.
• Bodyography: Another activity uses a Lycra body bag (available online). One student gets in the bag and makes a shape. The other students try to copy the shape based on the lines and angles of the bag. Open the bag to unveil the student, still in her shape. Whoever was able to best duplicate the pose gets to create the next pose.
• Molding: Working in pairs, one student acts as the clay and the other is the sculptor. Hold up a picture of a dancer and tell the students to mold their partners into the exact same pose. One student creates the shape while the other focuses on holding it. Provide pictures that depict a variety of shapes to help the dancers make the connection between the different types.
Energizing a Class
There will always be times when students’ motivation and interest lag. They may be busy with outside activities like sports, plays, concerts, exams, or other academic commitments. Their focus is not centered on dance classes and enthusiasm may be spotty.
It’s hard to come up with new ideas to keep classes fresh and stimulate weary students. But here are some ideas you can try to inspire your students.
Vary the music
Find a current song that is popular with students and use it in an unlikely place, perhaps a ballet class. Students will be surprised to hear their favorite songs and pleased to dance to them in an unusual context. Or use older music that students may have never heard of. Hooked on Classics is an energizing CD choice for grand allegro. Try a Frank Sinatra love song for a ballet adagio or classical music for jazz class. In a ballet class, use percussion for barre work.
Use playful images
Give a combo using an image like ice-skating, walking a tightrope, or playing a game like hopscotch. Choose steps that conjure up the image—for example, choreograph a combination using chassés, pirouettes, and arabesques, and tell the students to dance it with the qualities and the port de bras of a skater.
Try giving a new and challenging step that students may not be quite ready for but want to try. They may have seen a step that the older students are doing and want to learn it. Break it down and teach the mechanics slowly over the course of several classes. Or have an older student come into class and demonstrate steps your students will learn in the future.
Dance teachers already have the gift of imagination, and there is always a new way to inspire students.
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