March-April 2014 | Classroom Connection

Teaching Turnabout

To help students learn to remember choreography, let them become the teachers. This method works with both recreational and competition dancers, though it seems to benefit the latter most because as team members, they must learn their choreography quickly.

First, review the steps with the entire class in short phrases—around 16 counts—two or three times. Then ask students who are having trouble remembering any of the phrases to teach the teacher/choreographer and the other students this portion of the choreography. After teaching the steps, they usually remember them well.

This tends to work best with dancers ages 9 to 12. They enjoy teaching their teachers and fellow students, whereas older students sometimes feel self-conscious assuming this role with their peers and are worried about teaching the steps incorrectly.

This method is especially helpful for tap. Tap seems to be the hardest for students to remember because of complex changes of weight distribution in the feet. Even a classic time step can be confusing because it requires dancers to hop on one foot, step on the other, and then flap-ball-change immediately after; the transference of weight can make sequences hard to remember, especially for young dancers. It helps students to explain the steps as they demonstrate them.

As an added benefit, taking apart choreography in order to teach it helps dancers better understand dynamics, musicality, and other subtleties. It also helps them improve their technical performance of the steps.

—M. Kyle Plunkett



Bring-a-Friend Dance

Bring-a-Friend week is a fun, studio-wide event. But it’s what happens in the classroom that determines how successful the event is in attracting new students. I’ve found that teaching a partner dance gets the best results. Having the kids work in pairs helps make the visiting kids feel comfortable.

In pairing up the students, I let friends partner with the dancers who brought them and split the rest of the class into pairs. For odd-numbered classes, I create a group of three or group one dancer with an assistant. When possible, I group shy students with confident ones.

Using a fun, up-tempo pop song, I teach an easy partner dance using simple moves like pulling and pushing, dishrag turns, jumping patterns, and hip bumps. Students guide their inexperienced friends and help them remember the steps.

In classes for ages 7 and up, I ask students to choreograph part of the dance themselves. I worried that the friends might be intimidated, but they always love it. I ask each pair to choreograph at least four eight-count phrases and let the music play while the kids choreograph.

The students perform the dance in groups, during which I encourage as much clapping, cheering, and general merriment as possible. The performers are instructed to hold their ending poses until all dancers in their group are finished.

To encourage parents of the visiting friends to register their children for classes, I invite the parents to watch the final “performance.” Since I started incorporating this activity into classes during Bring-a-Friend week, at least one of these friends has returned in September and registered for a class.

—Holly Derville-Teer