Ideas and advice from our readers
Classroom Connection: Cleaning Machine
Heading into competition season, I realized I wouldn’t have enough time to fix all the mismatched heads, crooked lines, and sickled feet in my teen jazz routine. What I needed was a way to fast-track the process and rescue my dance. I decided to turn my dancers into a “cleaning machine.”
First I divided the class into two groups: one to watch and one to dance. I then assigned a specific element for each individual watcher to observe—arms, heads, feet, legs, levels, energy, angles, dynamics, or expression—and instructed each to note the dancers who looked different from the rest.
The dancing group performed eight counts of eight. When the dancers finished, I asked the watchers to approach individual dancers with their corrections—doing so at the same time so that no dancers felt picked on or singled out. Watchers gave 40 corrections in that round. Then the groups switched.
For layered sections of the dance where several sub-groups perform different choreography simultaneously, I had each sub-group perform separately for the watchers. We repeated those sections several times.
Since I often ask my students to “partner clean”—observe each other and offer notes—they had experience identifying and explaining specific corrections. Under this new cleaning system, discrepancies and minor technical issues in the dance vanished after just a few rounds.
The dancers enjoyed the process and felt rewarded by how quickly the dance improved. One of my strongest dancers said she often feels passed over during cleaning, yet was pleased to receive as many as nine corrections in a single round. My dancers grew more aware of the elements they were correcting and applied that knowledge to their own dancing. Placed in a leadership role, they became more invested in the cleaning process.
Reality Check: Competition Survival Kits
Q. Every year I make a competition survival kit of items my dancers might forget, such as hair bands, hair spray, and hand sanitizer. I want to expand it to include stuff for myself and my instructors. What do you put in yours? —Ashlee Morgan Russ
A. Granola bars, trail mix, water flavor drops, extra tights, packing tape. (We use packing tape for everything—it hems pants and skirts, fixes tears, and covers itchy sequins and appliqués.) —Kate Lenaway Undercoffer
A. Wet wipes, makeup-remover cloths, garment tape. I bring a small stapler because once I had to staple a girl’s tutu that had caught on a chair and ripped right before she went backstage. —Debby Dillehay
A. I wear a fanny pack with elastics, bobby and hair pins, hairnets, hair-colored clips, bandages, travel-size hair spray and gel, safety pins, and a Sharpie. (Once I had to color a finger when a black glove ripped at the last minute.) —Nicole Erin Vanderwall
A. Almonds, dark chocolate, and Cheribundi juice. —Dori Matkowski
A. Needle and thread, double-sided tape, Q-tips, first aid items. In the changing area I leave a large glass container with Hershey’s Kisses and Hugs labeled “Hugs & Kisses and Good Wishes from Miss Doreen!” for all to share. Cellphone and numbers for every dancer/parent. My sinus meds as the venues are always dusty and I get a headache. Patience and a smile! —Doreen Freeman
A. Nail polish remover, paper, tape. —Ramona Jacobs