Ideas to incorporate into your curriculum
This year I taught a pre-ballet class for 6-year-olds. At first they were unfocused, bored, and sloppy while working at the barre. So I bought rolls of colored ribbon and told the dancers that anyone who did the best plié, tendu, or other barre exercise would get a ribbon—a Ballet Bow. I walked around the class and tied these around the ponytails or buns of students who were doing good work. I have never had a class work so hard on their technique before.
My school’s advanced ballet teacher implemented this idea in her class of 14- to 16-year-olds who were also unfocused at barre. Dancers received ribbons for improvement of a particular exercise, enthusiasm, correct port de bras throughout the entire barre, and so on.
The teacher tied the ribbons into their hair during class and the dancers wore them home and kept them. Most tied them to their dance bags; one girl taped them to her wall.
These students wanted those ribbons so much that they looked forward to barre. When it got down to crunch time before recital they complained when the teacher shortened barre to teach choreography. With all their hard work, they danced beautifully in the recital.
The dancers wore all their ribbons in the last class and celebrated the improvements they’d made with ice cream.
Right From Left
We all have students who consistently do a step on the wrong side no matter how many times we specify left or right and demonstrate it on that side. Many of these children will continue to struggle with directional awareness throughout their lives. As dance teachers, we can incorporate movement activities that emphasize direction to help develop and reinforce a child’s ability to distinguish between right and left. Here are a few suggestions to use with preschool- and early-elementary-age dancers.
A twist on Twister: Take a Twister game mat and write the name of a dance step in each circle; for example, write “jeté” on the red circle. The teacher uses the game spinner and calls out the correlating circle. However, instead of saying “right foot on red” you would say “right foot on jeté.” This reinforces vocabulary along with right/left identification.
Simon Says: The teacher calls out dance steps and which side to do them on; for example, “Simon says, ‘Chassé left.’ ” Students who demonstrate the step correctly get to take one step forward. Their progress includes the step given, so moving fully is also rewarded. Once the students reach the front of the room, shake their right hand or give them a high-five and say “Right on!”—further reinforcing the idea of right and left. Send them back to continue the game as others work on progressing forward.
Dances: Teach your students line dances that include right and left lyrics and movement. A good choice for elementary-age children is the simple dance done to DJ Casper’s “Cha Cha Slide.” The hokey pokey is a great song/dance for little ones.
Songs: Jack Hartmann’s “Kangaroo Learns Left and Right” and “Right and Left” by Ron Brown are great teaching tools. Also, try changing the lyrics of “Frère Jacques.” For example: “Where is right foot, where is right foot?” (Dancers listen for directions while doing two demi pliés.) “Here I am, here I am.” (Two tendus to the right side.) “Chassé to the right now. Bourrée to the right now. Run away, run away.” Repeat to the left.
Dana Aniello, director/owner of Dance Works Academy in Upton, Massachusetts, taught at the studio for seven years before taking over the business in 2007.
Debra Danese, RDE, is the director of Kdance Productions. She teaches and choreographs across the United States and abroad.