Acting in the Interest of Dance
Musical theater class can involve far more than choreography done to Broadway tunes. Here’s your chance to work weekly with your students on one of the most difficult skills to grasp—how to create and sustain emotion and/or character.
Set aside 15 minutes or so of every class for acting study. Exercises don’t have to be detailed or complex—the simpler, the better. Have students do something physical, like playing an imaginary game of soccer or pretending to keep a balloon in the air. They can mime walking a dog, baking a cake, or building a sandcastle. Any familiar movement will do.
Since you are basically asking the students to improvise—and some may be uncomfortable or uncertain—be sure to prompt them to be as creative as possible. Ask questions rather than give instructions: “What other steps go into baking a cake?” or “Where did you walk the dog? What else could you do once you got there?”
In future weeks, add an “emotion.” They are going to walk the dog, but this time they’re exhausted, or stressed out, or bored, or elated. Allow the students to suggest new emotions to try. Encourage them to create and share an imaginary scenario that explains why they are so stressed out or so happy.
Keep changing the scenarios. One week, let them pick their own action but specify a location—underwater, perhaps, or on top of Mount Everest. Make sure they change their movements accordingly—smooth and slow for underwater and with lots of shivers for the mountaintop. The next week, change who they are—toddlers or senior citizens, cheerleaders or cats.
Finally, apply one or more of these conditions to a piece of choreography they’ve been working on in class.
The Three Hs
If you are looking for a sendoff ritual, I highly recommend ending your classes with one of the Three Hs: a high five, handshake, or hug.
I encourage my teen dancers to thank me after class. I appreciate having this time to congratulate them on a job well done, to give personal encouragement about their goals, and to let them know that I care. I wanted the same opportunity with my younger dancers, but they rarely approached me after class—mostly because they didn’t remember they were supposed to. Sometimes I had to remind them to clap, too. I needed a fun sendoff ritual that allowed me to connect with them like I did with the teens.
I found it when my son told me that his second-grade teacher asked the students for a high five, handshake, or hug as they entered her classroom. I thought the idea was brilliant because it let the student decide on the kind of contact, yet provides the personal connection I was looking for.
I tried it in my ages 6- to 12-year-old jazz classes with great success. The kids loved having the choice of farewell. The girls mostly wanted hugs, although a few reserved types opted for handshakes. All of the boys wanted high fives. One girl gave me a high five, thought about it, and then went through the line again and asked for a hug. Some of the kids loved it so much that they got into line several times. Some started giving me their own made-up handshakes. I did have to set aside three minutes at the end of each class for the new ritual because of the students’ enthusiasm, but the results made the slightly shorter class worth it.
The best and most noticeable change has been in the students who are new this year and in the dancers who are generally more reserved. Both groups have become more open and responsive, and they seem more comfortable in class.