January 2013 | Classroom Connection

Imagery Opens Creative Minds

For 3- to 6-year-old dancers, I like to begin with “butterfly stretches.”

Seated on the floor, put the soles of the feet together and gently move the legs—“butterfly wings”—up as you inhale, down as you exhale. Coordinating movement with breath trains young dancers to form fundamental breathing patterns that stay with them for life.

Curve one arm overhead to the opposite side. “The butterfly flies over the rainbow. Let’s add some sparkles to your rainbow.” (Twinkle the fingers.) Repeat on both sides.

Ask the dancers what color butterfly they would like to be and what color their sparkles are. “Reach up and grab a fluffy cloud out of the sky.” This allows them to straighten and realign the spine.

“Pull the cloud down and toss it in the middle of our circle. Let’s hide our heads in the cloud and quietly count to eight.” Bend forward, bringing the head toward the feet. “Let’s hide our toes in the cloud.” Stretch the legs out straight for a seated pike position. Point the toes and say, “Goodbye toes!” Flex the feet and say, “Hello toes!”

While still in a seated pike, I use food imagery to create a recipe. Every student chooses an ingredient for a cake. Pretend to spread the frosting by stretching over the legs, bringing the head toward the feet. Take turns saying which extras will go on the cake. When it’s done, divide it in half by opening the legs to a straddle. Then stretch over each leg and pretend to take a big bite.

Straddle position is also great for an “airplane trip.” Each student gets to choose a location to fly to and everyone moves their arms as if flying, then “landing” in that location by stretching over and reaching toward the foot. This also brings geography into dance class.

To use imagery effectively, think like a child. Be enthusiastic, use lots of descriptive words, and have fun!

—Michele Monaghan


Personal Empowerment

Sometimes dancers need to be reminded of what they can do.

Eight-year-old Sienna half-heartedly attempted a single pirouette. Although I had explained the mechanics of the turn, I could see that she was not really trying because she didn’t imagine she could be successful. How could I capture her confidence? Then I remembered something about her. “Aren’t you the one who can do an aerial?” I asked, acting like I had only heard rumors.

Sienna’s demeanor changed as she nodded her head proudly. Suddenly she was the girl who had accomplished something. I added, “Well, then you are definitely strong enough for a single pirouette. You need to figure out how to make it happen, but this is a step you can do.” I was watching a different dancer as she tried again with confidence—and a perfectly straight supporting leg.

Excited by this success, I wondered if the technique would work with older dancers. I found out a few days later when my 9- to 13-year-old jazz students worked to perfect their layouts. Although I was encouraging the dancers to use their flexibility more fully, 13-year-old Sandra barely arched her back. I remembered that she loved gymnastics.

“You can do a back handspring, right?” I said. Like Sienna, Sandra lit up as she said yes. “Then you must have a pretty strong and bendy back,” I reasoned, as if I didn’t know that already. “That means you can do an amazing layout. You just have to get your body there.”

Excited, Sandra tried the layout again. But this time she wasn’t the girl who probably couldn’t do it. She was the girl who had mastered a back handspring. She tried again and her head almost touched the floor as her leg reached for the ceiling.

Reminding dancers of past accomplishments can give them confidence and propel them more rapidly toward success.

—Holly Derville-Teer

Rhee Gold Seminars