Cardio Fit, Cardio Fun
Because cross-training helps dancers develop the stamina and strength they need, we implemented a dance-based program in our elementary-age, beginner-level jazz classes that involves different activities each week.
Getting older kids in more advanced classes to achieve cardiovascular fitness is easy; you can always run dances two or three times in a row without resting, or do lots of plyometrics and petit allegro. Helping younger kids attain fitness and getting them to stick around and love dance long enough to become advanced dancers are trickier.
So we started varying our warm-up to include something we call “Krazy Kardio.” Rather than starting with standard isolations and stretches, we do 5 to 10 minutes of cardio-based dancing or warm-up activity to get the heart pumping.
We vary the theme weekly: disco, line dances like the Cupid shuffle or the wobble, a ’50s week, or one based on African dance and music. We do the disco and line dances using large calisthenic movements and fast tempos to make the cardio portion of the warm-up fun but challenging. We’ve done kickboxing-based, Hula-Hoop, and jump rope workouts. We even did a week of animal interpretation: hopping like frogs and leaping like deer, doing the crab walk and the bear crawl.
We often make these warm-ups contests or races so the kids are having a great time while gaining stamina and becoming stronger.
Activities that provide constant movement and fun also introduce the students to different styles of music and dance. Plus, using a Hula-Hoop improves hip action, jumping rope improves timing and builds coordination, kickboxing warm-ups improve sharp arm movements, and disco and line dancing improve footwork.
The approach we take in our elementary-age jazz classes has been so popular that we now have a separate class and a summer camp (designed for grades three and up), Krazy Kardio Kids! Both are great for children who want to stay in shape and have some fun or for dancers who are looking for a supplemental cardio class.
Dance Your Name
At the first rehearsal for my recital production number—which would bring together my lyrical classes for kids ages 9 to 10 and 11 to 12—I knew I had to find a way for the two groups to work together despite the differences in age and experience.
When I tried out a “Dance Your Name” game I discovered my best icebreaker tool yet. I asked the dancers to stand in a circle and put movements to their names. I provided an example by saying “Miss Holly” in a singsong voice and jumping into a lunge with an arm movement on each syllable. Everyone repeated my name the way I said it while imitating my movements. Each student took a turn dancing her name and having her classmates dance it back. I encouraged the kids to be as creative as they wanted, as long as the movements weren’t too difficult.
The kids loved making up movements to their names, and this icebreaker immediately increased their comfort level. It was so effective that I used the game during a Bring-a-Friend week. I told the experienced dancers that they could help their friends if necessary, but no one needed help. Even the friends who had never danced a day in their lives could “dance their names” using jumping jacks or arm movements.
In classes where there were new students, I found that this game helped them feel seen and supported. The kids liked the fact that the game is silly but creative—and impossible to do wrong. The bonus was that it helped me learn new students’ names.
Artistic director at Sonshine Academy in Conway, Arkansas, Michelle Knell teaches most of the advanced classes. A former professional dancer and actress, she also choreographs for Sonshine Academy’s competition dancers.
Holly Derville-Teer is an Oregon-based jazz teacher and former studio owner with degrees in education and English. She teaches at Chehalem Valley Dance Academy and Innovative Dance.