May-June 2014 | Classroom Connection

Ready, Set . . .

Covering classes when teachers call in sick can be a challenge. Substitutes are not necessarily familiar with the class level, the music for the choreography, or current class structure. I have found that doing a little extra work up front pays off.

I have a lesson plan book that never leaves our studio. The basic lesson plans for all classes and levels include a breakdown of the class, how much time is spent on each section, and what moves might be included. A plan for an 8- to 10-year-old jazz class might include: across-the-floor (15 minutes): step battements, grapevine, three-step turns, piqué turns, châiné turns, leaps.

While substitute teachers are free to adapt the lesson plan, having the plans available allows any teacher to walk in and understand a typical class for a particular age group and level. Level 2 at one studio may be completely different than level 2 at another, and subs often teach for multiple studios. Providing a few tips on what type of steps are being worked on is usually enough to give an experienced teacher insight into the level of that class.

I have also invested in an iPod that “lives” at the studio. It’s loaded with music playlists, labeled accordingly, for a basic class for each level and style. There is also a performance playlist of the songs being used for choreography. This iPod has saved us countless times when music has been left at home or a scratched CD won’t play. And it makes it easy for any instructor to walk in and cover a class without scrambling to find appropriate music.

We all know that every dance teacher deserves a day off. This system has made it easier to give my staff those days—guilt free!

—Sarah Beth Byrum



Beyond the Physical

At every age, what is taught in the dance classroom extends past the mirrored walls. Beyond movements and steps, personal, physical, emotional, and social lessons are presented.

In addition to teaching elementary ballet movement, we work with young ballet students on etiquette, good posture, and self-confidence. After learning about the origins of ballet in the royal court, young students are invited to make a “royal entrance” to an imaginary ball. They put on a real or imaginary crown and, after being announced as “Princess Brittany” or “Prince Matthew,” walk across the floor with toe-ball-heel steps, practicing foot articulation, control, and good posture. When they reach center, they curtsy or bow to the queen or king (teacher) and everyone applauds.

To enhance older students’ focus and cooperation, I partner one performer and one observer. While the class does a center combination in two groups, the observer watches the performer, on the lookout for a well-performed movement. If she sees one, she describes it to the class. During the next combination, the dancers switch roles. This activity gives dancers an incentive to perform movements as well as they can, and the observer can pay close attention to the technical aspects of a step or combination. This exercise also encourages students to offer positive reinforcement.

In another exercise that fosters cooperation, dancers choose a movement or attribute they want to improve; for example, maintaining stretched legs and feet while jumping. Their partners observe them performing a combination and assess whether improvement has been made. This exercise helps dancers learn to work together.

To develop self-discipline and problem solving, students list in a notebook one specific, measurable goal they want to achieve along with what steps they will take to accomplish it. The teacher writes comments throughout the semester to assess the students’ progress and offer encouragement. As goals are met, new ones are chosen and addressed. At the end of the year, the dancers have a tangible record of their accomplishments.

—Debbie Werbrouck