March-April 2013 | Classroom Connection

Change It Up

It’s easy to let classes fall into a too-comfortable routine that can dampen dancers’ enthusiasm. To keep things fresh and interesting in all types of classes, change things up! Here are some ideas.

• Have students change from their usual place at the barre or center. Continue to do so throughout the class.

• Begin combinations on the left side or on a different count of music.

• Change the music you normally use for class. Explore using popular or ethnic music for ballet class or classical music for jazz, tap, or modern.

• Have a music theme week using a particular musical artist, composer, or style.

• Let young students know that at each class, one of them will be selected to be the class leader. Don’t tell them ahead of time who will be selected. No one will want to miss her turn. Keep track so that everyone gets a turn.

• Ask students to retrograde combinations (perform the steps in reverse order), being careful to use age- and ability-appropriate combinations that won’t turn challenge into frustration or failure.

• Assign older students “homework” to create a 16- to 32-count combination, and randomly choose one student per class to perform her combination for the class.

• Have each student choose one movement or step and randomly place students (and their steps) in order to create an 8- to 16-count phrase. Change the order one or more times. This exercise can produce interesting combinations, and working together to add connecting movements that make the phrase flow helps students understand transitions.

• Bring in photos of famous dancers or choreographers and teach your dancers about them and their contributions to the dance world.

• Have students mirror each other in pairs for port de bras or other movements. It develops focus and is fun for students of all ages.

—Debbie Werbrouck


Dancing Through Decades

I recently reintroduced an idea I incorporated a few years ago, called “Dance Thru the Decades.” It was a response to the fact that my students seemed to lack knowledge of past dance styles, and did not realize that their “new” cool moves are actually derivative of steps that have existed for years.

I find that this works well with my intermediate-level students, who love learning about different periods in dance history.

Every other month I choose a decade and we spend 10 to 15 minutes in each class learning about it. We look at video clips to find out which dancers and choreographers were popular during that time, learn about the dances or steps that were made famous during the period, and listen to music that was commonly danced to.

After two months of learning about the dance and dancers of the decade, we devote a whole class to revisiting what we learned. I allow students to dress in the style of that era and award a small prize for the most authentic outfit. I also give them a trivia sheet to complete and we learn a combination influenced by the music and dance style from that time period.

To get started, choose a decade to focus on. Internet searches will help refresh your memory about what was trending during that time. I start with the 1920s, when the charleston was the rage. As we move ahead, I can then show how this style was incorporated in the 1940s with the jitterbug. I play big-band music and teach swing and lindy hop phrases. We dance a combination to Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” and watch a dance clip from the movie Swing Kids.

I continue the theme and format, always emphasizing the evolution of dance, until we reach the present. It is a fun yet structured way to introduce and incorporate dance history into your class curriculum.

—Debra Danese