Teaching Older Adults
Dance classes for older adults are becoming increasingly popular. When designing a class for this population, keep in mind that your class will likely comprise a wide range of ages and physical abilities. As we age, hearing, vision, balance, and short-term memory often diminish. With information and planning, a standard class can be modified to target older adults.
Volume and music selection are two major factors to consider. Some older adults may be more sensitive to or less tolerant of loud music. Some may be wearing hearing aids. Don’t play music as loudly as you might when teaching younger students. Lower the volume or turn off music when talking. When possible, face the class when speaking. This is helpful to those who may be lip reading.
Music preferences differ with age groups. Make playlists specific to this demographic; most will enjoy hearing songs they grew up with. Ask your class what they like to listen to, or do an internet search to find out what was popular in past decades.
Consider the cadence and tempo of the songs you select. Moderate or slow tempos can make memorization easier. Injury prevention is also a factor; too-fast tempos may cause students to lose their footing or stumble.
Students with poor eyesight may be discouraged if they are struggling to see what is going on. Be aware of their placement in class as well as your own. When standing in the front, demonstrate in the center and off to both sides.
Short-term memory is often affected as we age. Use both visual and verbal cues to support recollection and aid those with visual or auditory difficulties. Use your warm-up as a practice for moves that will be used later in class. Take advantage of repetition to reinforce muscle memory. Build from basic steps and add progressions gradually.
Be aware of stability and joint issues and always offer modifications or default moves. Utilize the barre when students feel insecure about balancing. Forgo jumps and floor work for interesting traveling patterns and beautiful port de bras.
Most of all, keep it safe, simple, and fun.
Choreographers in the Classroom
My daughter, Bridget, who takes my advanced teen lyrical class, confided that she wanted to become a choreographer and longed for an opportunity to create a combination for a class. When I realized that several students shared her interest and that others were interested in teaching, I decided to help them learn to do both.
I announced that I would be offering one interested dancer per week the opportunity to teach a combination; this would happen during the last half-hour of summer lyrical class. Seven out of 12 dancers’ hands shot up to volunteer.
I sent an email outlining the schedule and rules. Guidelines specified that they teach using counts and without looking at notes, incorporate levels and diagonal floor patterns, and clear music and choreography with me. Also, the choreographer could include difficult tricks (like a fouetté into an aerial) but had to offer an easier option as well. I emphasized to all dancers in the class the importance of supporting each choreographer.
So the class could work on learning quickly, I asked choreographers to teach a 20-second segment of the combination only twice and then run it once with music—and so on. The class broke into three groups and performed the combination three times each. The choreographer danced with every group during the first round and then watched.
At the end of class, I used the choreographer’s phone to record the combination. (Dancer participation in the video was optional.) I observed and wrote notes to the choreographer/teacher offering feedback on her teaching and on her dance.
This practice gave me a chance to offer young artists the opportunity to learn choreography basics like incorporating levels, floor patterns, and dynamics, and to develop leadership and teaching skills. Several of the fledgling choreographer/teachers showed true promise and I loved guiding them as they took these first steps. The entire class loved it and I plan to do it again next summer.
Debra Danese, RDE, is the director of Kdance Productions in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She teaches and choreographs across the United States and abroad.
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.