Dance can be a very intimidating art form for adults who have never danced before or who do not have an awareness or appreciation of their bodies. People have an image of a dancer and if they don’t fit the mold then they think they can’t dance. I felt this way as a young dancer. I wanted to look like and dance like every dancer I admired. What I discovered is that I had to listen to my own body, my own creative spirit and turn away from the mirror and turn off the judgment in my head. And that is exactly what I asked of a group of pre-teens and parents who took part in a Fit For Kids program I taught at a local hospital where I live.
The focus of the Fit For Kids program is to introduce different ways of exercising to kids and parents who have sedentary lifestyles. If you have the opportunity to teach dance to adults or a mixed age group who are either not used to moving, reluctant about moving or first time movers, it can be quite a challenge. My program started as it usually does when I work with nervous kids and adults: most of the kids were chatting with each other and the parents were trying to disappear into the back wall.
Here are a list of ideas, activities, and tools that I find helpful when teaching a class to people who are hesitant to participate:
1. It is important to engage the adults right away and encourage a positive social interaction between parent and child. Don’t ask if the adults would like to join in. Instead ask them to help by participating. They are more likely to participate if they feel they are being helpful instead of being put on the spot.
2. Adults are used to giving directions and children are taught to follow. Switch this idea around. Have the children lead an exercise and teach a movement to the adults. Also, create an activity where the children and adults have to be partners. In this situation the adults can feel safe by not having to lead something in which they are not comfortable. You are empowering the children to be in charge of their bodies and are giving them some control as well.
3. Rethink calling your workshop a dance class. People have a preconceived notion of what dance is and is not. Try to come up with a name that is suitable for what you do like “An Exploration Of Movement”, “Space Discovery”, “Communicating Without Words” etc. Be creative!
4. Make conversation. There is no rule that dance/movement has to be quiet. As you stretch, talk about the benefits of stretching. Ask your students how they feel about stretching. You can even talk about the weather. Chatting can be relaxing and can facilitate a sense of sharing.
5. Make sure to laugh and smile. If you don’t take yourself too seriously they won’t take themselves too seriously either. Model the attitude you want them to have about movement and their bodies.
6. Use instruments. Participants that shy away from moving can still participate if you put a shaker, tambourine or any instrument in their hands. Encourage them to be the accompanist for the class. See if they can move to the beat of the shaker.
7. Use props. Scarves are not just for children. A hesitant participant is usually happy to move a scarf up and down. Remember, it is about inviting your class to explore movement. Let them find a sense of security and safety. Sometimes using a prop can be helpful because they see it as moving an object not moving themselves. Of course it doesn’t matter what you move, you are still moving.
8. Play music that is recognizable. It is important to introduce new and different types of music to your classes. But if you are teaching people who are new to dance or who are taking your class to learn how to become fit the objective is different. Comfort and safety are first. And introducing something already familiar, like a popular song on the radio, can be very helpful to the class.
9. Face away from the mirror. Do not concentrate on how the movement looks. People who are self conscious about moving or about their appearance need to connect from the inside out, not the other way around. Focus on a mind- body connection instead.
10. Compliment them along the way. Everyone likes to hear “good job” or” nice work”! It gives us the energy to keep moving and to try something new. Positive reinforcement is the fuel for growth and improvement.
11. Last but not least focus on the cans and not the can-not’s. If a person has a knee problem and she can’t sit on the floor, get her a chair. If a person can’t raise his arm over his head have him choose another body part to lift to the sky. It is all about being flexible–not in body but in mind. Make sure when you create your class you have in the back of your mind alternatives to jumping, running, etc. so when someone says “I can’t” you can say “you can!”
If you have never taught an introductory movement class with adults and older children I highly recommend it. And if you have never taught a class with a mixture of ages and or levels I highly recommend that as well. Many community centers, recreation programs and even libraries would be thrilled to offer a class that integrates people of various ages, abilities and experiences. Remember you are teaching about new and creative ways of moving and by doing so you are also teaching body awareness, body image, relating to others and self confidence.
It is my favorite way to teach.
Contributor Stacey Pepper Schwartz received her BFA in dance performance at Montclair State University and her MA in dance education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She has taught as an artist in residency and guest artist in public and private schools for over twelve years.
Stacey is the Founder and Director of Leaping Legs Creative Movement Programs. The focus of Leaping Legs Creative Movement Programs is to help people regardless of age, experience or ability, become educated about their movement potential, develop kinesthetic awareness, and become more physically fit and healthy together as a family, and community.
Leaping Legs promotes its goal through the original Up Down & All Around DVD. The DVD received Dr. Toy’s 100 Best Children’s Products Award and 10 Best Active Products Award. The DVD has also been featured in many magazines including Dance Retailer News, The National Dance Teachers Association dance journal dancematters, and Dance Teacher.
Before embarking on dance education, Stacey was a professional dancer and choreographer in New York City.