by Maria Hanley
I wholeheartedly believe in creative movement for young children. It’s about educating the whole child, giving them the power of choice, boosting confidence–I could go on and on. I teach children 6 and under and this is what I love to do. Do they need to know the positions, sure! Do they need to know how to build a dance, yes! Give them variety, and you will produce well rounded little people!
A few years ago, I wanted to challenge myself to put on a performance for my young students–but not in the traditional way. I was confused in my beliefs that teaching 3 year olds to stand in a line and follow my movement was not what I wanted to do in my class. But after a while, I could see the value in learning a song, and repeating choreography week after week and then performing it on stage for everyone to see.
So I created a way to do both, choreography and creative movement in the same dance. Standing in a line, plus having the freedom to move around the stage. Here are some tips that I have learned over the years that help me put on a show for the 6 and under crowd!
Space + Formations
This year I have tried to mix up the formations. For my 3 and under class I put a long line on the floor with 3 colors. I give them a spot on the line, and the color they are standing on is the one they remember. It’s a sneaky way to make sure they all have enough room on the line, and if they leave the line, they know exactly where to go when it’s time to go back to the line.
If you have more than one class of 3 year olds in the same show, this line works for all of them. It really works!
For 4-6 year olds I do a little line of white tape for their spot. They can remember where they are in space much easier and then I can give them a different formation. Like 2 lines with windows, or a V formation.
I put my 2 year olds on stage, but it’s very low key. They stand on the stage, and we do a few songs that we have done all semester in class. I find that these students are less affected by the fact they are in front of hundreds of people. I dance with them to make it feel just like class.
If you are nervous about putting your 2 year olds on stage, I feel you. I get nervous every year, but I just believe in them. 2 year olds are amazing little people.
I think choosing the music is the hardest for me. I choose the music, marinate on it and then change my mind. I look at the show as a whole too. I notice though that I choose music that is happy and joyful for this young age group. I also choose music that Dad’s and Brothers will enjoy. Engaging the audience is the most important to think about. Also think of your sanity, if you have to listen to it for the next 14 weeks, you better like it too! 🙂
Structure of The Dance
Once you have picked your song, write down the words. Teach the words and the movement together. I write down the words in verses and then see where I can repeat. Theme and variation! In this case less is more.
If the song has an instrumental section, I tell them they get to make up their own dance there. Or, even if it doesn’t, pick a section to allow them to leave the line and share their own dancing on the stage. They leave the line, and do chasse’s, leaps, turns, plies, and passes. After the instrumental part, I cue them to go back to the line to finish the dance.
The structure really works for me! The parents see their dancers doing choreography in unison–and their creative choices.
They can do more then you think they can do. I try to make the movement abstract, so it’s not just acting out the song, but the movement is challenging and engaging. I also ask them their input, they always have really great ideas once they know the song.
Explain to them as much as you can about performing on stage. I tell them about practicing and working hard. I tell them about being there for each other, helping each other, knowing the name of their dance, building their confidence that they know what to do.
What has been successful for you putting your 6 and under set on stage? Do you have a structure or formula that particularly works for you? I would love to hear!
Maria Hanley is a passionate advocate for early childhood dance education, specializing in teaching ages 5 months to 6 years. She currently designs and implements creative ballet programs for the young families and after school division at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. Maria teaches a variety of creative dance and infant/toddler programs throughout New York City, including The Mark Morris Dance Group, Dancewave Center and 92Y Parenting Center.
In addition, Maria authors the blog Maria’s Movers where she shares creative ideas and strategies for teaching young dancers. The blog unites a community of teachers who are inspiring our youngest dance artists every day. Maria holds a Master’s degree in Dance Education from New York University and a Bachelor’s degree in dance from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. Maria served on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee for 2 years and presented at the 2012 Dance USA Conference. Maria was also invited to present at the 2013 Dance Teacher Summit in New York City.