By Janet Neidhardt
It’s that time of year again–time for the end of the year performance for dancers in schools and studios. My students just performed their dance concert and I’m pleased to say they did a wonderful job! A lot goes into teaching students to give their best performance and I often seek out new ideas on how to pull out their strengths in the art of performance.
But how do you get your students to really perform movement fully and to the best of their ability? I find performance is a quality that can be difficult to teach and is sometimes difficult to articulate with words. My students are required to see professional dance concerts during the school year and then they write a critique on the show that specifically describes a performer that catches their eye. In anticipation of their upcoming performances, I asked my students”What does it look like when someone is performing movement well?” Some of the responses I got were:
- They look confident
- Moving from their center and into their limbs and finger and toes
- Their focus in the face is clear
- They have purpose in their movement
These are all important elements of crafting a strong performance. I think that being able to articulate this information helped my students to find that performance within them. Things I do as a teacher to help my students perform to their fullest are: talk about performance with all movement executed in class (like during warm-ups), videotape their dancing and have them critique themselves, have them watch each other and discuss what they are doing really well, and of course ask them to articulate what performance looks like.
I find that when I build performance into the craft of choreographing a dance my students have more time to work on the movement and its projection. Instead of teaching movement first and then talking about focus and performance later, I try to talk about meaning and stylization right from the start so the dancers will know what is expected from them and their movement.
Students also perform more strongly when they have ownership over the movement they are dancing. I have my students choreograph movement for their pieces all of the time so that they are more invested in the work and deeply a part of the process. The emotional connection to the work can be another catalyst to a great performance.
Needless to say, teaching students to perform to their fullest can be challenging. At the end of the day, if I know my students felt good about the show they performed and they had fun while doing it–then they have succeeded greatly.
Contributor Janet Neidhardt has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.
Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.
When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago