The Teacher Two-Step
At a recent teacher training program, I demonstrated an improvised salsa-like step—right foot forward, shift left, right foot back, shift left. I used this repetitive motion to emphasize the point that teachers must take their students on a journey that includes one step forward, then one step back.
Imagine the footprints on the floor and how they represent the educational process—a constant dance between introducing new, more advanced material (right foot forward), solidifying the technique at their level (shift left), and reviewing and refining basic-level concepts (right foot back).
The “Teacher Two-Step” physicalizes the idea that we must craft classes that both push students forward by presenting higher-level skills and more challenging choreography, and ground them with exercises that are at the appropriate level (allowing them to experience success with “just-right” tasks). It is also necessary to drill fundamental exercises to build technical proficiency and layer on more artistry and expression.
Using the “Teacher Two-Step” can enrich the content and overall arc of any class. Challenging students by giving them advanced combinations whets their appetites for yet more complex phrases and choreographic ideas. Practicing appropriate-level tasks builds self-confidence and technical strength. And it’s important to help students understand that repeating beginner steps is necessary for building a strong physical foundation. Varying where the advancing and reviewing occur in the course of a class makes the structure more interesting.
Many studios overemphasize the movement forward, focusing on new material in an attempt to keep up with a trick-focused dance culture. Other studios hold their dancers back for so long that they lose interest. The physical dance step “forward, middle, back, middle” represents a balanced approach to creating smart class plans and training solid dancers.
It’s important for students to learn dance terms like chaîné, bourrée, jeté, and so on—not only how these steps and positions are pronounced and performed, but also how they are spelled. Here are three games that teach students to recognize and/or spell these terms.
Dance Term Trivia: In classes for students 9 and older, divide the dancers into two or three teams. Have the teams sit at the back of the studio. When you call out a term or perform a step, one player from each team races to the front and writes the term on the mirror with a dry erase marker, cycling through the teams until someone gets it correct and earns a point. Scores are kept on the mirror. We usually play to 10 or 20.
Dance Bingo: For students ages 7 to 15, I put dance terms on Dance Bingo cards. When I demonstrate or call out a term, the dancers who have it on their cards mark it off. I play this game in my jazz and ballet classes.
The winners of these games get stickers. (Older students seem to like winning stickers as much as the younger ones.)
Pick a Term, Make a Combo: This game teaches students to recognize dance terms and how to connect them in a combination. I created laminated notecards printed with dance terms like chassé, développé, triplet, etc.; adverbs such as “slowly” and “quickly”; and positions (first through fifth). Place the cards face down in a pile and have the students take turns selecting them until the stack is gone. Then tell the dancers to turn over their cards and create a combination using 8 to 10 terms. Each student puts her or his terms together in any order, adding extra traveling or transition steps to tie the moves together. A position can be used anywhere within the combination; a dancer might plié in first or do a leap stepping through fourth. Dancers then perform the combinations for the class.
Kerry Ring teaches ballet and modern dance technique at the University at Buffalo [NY]. She is core faculty for Dance Masters of America and is certified in Kriya Yoga.
Mollee Johnson is the coordinator for the Lake Zurich, Illinois, dance program for which she also teaches jazz classes. Mollee is passionate about sharing the joy of dance and learning with her students.