by Janet Rothwell
This past semester I had the opportunity to teach a high school dance class to students with special needs. From this experience, I have learned the value of movement to all bodies and seen the positive changes that can occur for students because of the opportunity to move. Dance educators need to be empowered to teach all kinds of minds and bodies that we might come across, and all too often this population can easily be left out of the dance field.
Working alongside special needs teachers, I created a structure that supports multiple behavior issues, adheres to NCAS, and offers students opportunities to practice social and emotional skill-building, such as staying on task, showing respect and care for peers, and more. Creative problem solving activities that foster accomplishments and growth in confidence and competency help to create an environment of respect and student engagement.
My personal creativity has been challenged and fulfilled through working with these students. My students have a wide range of physical disabilities from wheelchair-bound, to walking with assistance, to slight physical limitations. They also have a wide range of intellectual disabilities, ranging from low functioning autism to slight cognitive impairments. Their unique needs push my skills in new and enlightening ways. I learned how to craft an effect movement lesson so that each student is engaged the whole time and few behaviors arise. I kept activities short and varied to maintain student focus in the class. Freeze dance with creative shapes in the body was a great way to introduce levels while transitioning to a new activity. Lessons included the use of Laban efforts, creative choreography projects and props. Some examples of props used are spots on the floor so students know where their place is in the space, and creating an obstacle course with hula-hoops, ribbon sticks, and plastic cones.
Every day I wrote the order of class on the whiteboard so students would know what to expect next. A consistent warm up helped my students get focused at the start of class each day. I used basic isolations throughout the body, followed by improvisation traveling across the floor. For example, “hop like a frog,” “travel low on the floor like a crab,” and “walk, kick legs across the floor,” etc. Constant positive encouragement made a big difference for my students. They really grew and took chances following my supportive feedback.
Creative Dance Project example: I will use the example of a scary Halloween dance that I did with my class to demonstrate what worked well for them. First, the students learned scary movements like spider fingers (wiggling fingers creepy), Frankenstein arms (walk like a Zombie), skeleton knees (knees shaking in and out), and ghost arms (arms floating at side). I wrote the names of the movements and the order we did them on the whiteboard. When the time came for them to create their own pattern, we had visual images of each movement on paper for students to use to assist in this process.
Students got a paper timeline and cut and pasted the movement images onto the timeline in the order in which they wanted to do them. Students practiced their sequence, some added a change of facing (walls had colored paper on them to help with this), then one by one each student performed their solo for the group. We talked about being a good audience member (watching, listening, applauding). Students also made scary paper masks that they could wear while they danced if they wanted to. This activity was great for students of all ranges of abilities. There were many ways to differentiate instruction and challenge those more advanced students like changing facings with movements. I also kept it easier for students with more severe disabilities by holding their timeline in front of them while they performed for the group.
After teaching this class I still have these lingering questions which I will continuously try to answer: How can we maintain a dance classroom of respect and safety with students with special needs? How can we utilize student aides in the most effective way? What is appropriate movement to expect from students within a large spectrum? How can we challenge creativity and performance with this group of students?
Have you taught this population before? Do you have any thoughts you’d like to share regarding your experience? We’d love to hear any comments you may have…
Contributor Janet (Neidhardt) Rothwell 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 Adlai E. Stevenson H.S. in IL. 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.
This album contains music featured in Matthew Powell’s ballet class DVD “Find Your Fifth”.
It includes 16 original pieces by Patrick Gallagher and his 11 arrangements of other works–mostly classical music by composers such as Beethoven, Glinka, Haydn, and Bach.
Many of Gallagher’s own compositions have a classical music sensibility; others show the influence of jazz and other styles.
Gallagher’s music and arrangements are engaging and well-suited for ballet. In fact, many of them sounded familiar– I’m almost certain that the studio I take class at uses selections from this CD!
Some of my favorite tracks include Tendu-Plie from 5th (Gallagher), Dégagé-Pique from 5th (Polka by Glinka), the Adagio in center (Gallagher), and Pirouette 3 (Gallagher).
This album is just under 50 minutes and is suitable for intermediate + class.
Listen to samples and purchase here.
by Lucy Vurusic Riner
There is a lot of talk that typically surrounds the plight of the millennial. Did their parents raise them to be self-sufficient? What sort of work ethic do they have? How do their values and morals play out in today’s workforce?
And, for me as a teacher, how do I impart my “Gen X wisdom” on them in dance class?
I wonder about this each day as I watch my students come into class. They really do toggle back and forth from being complete perfectionists and go-getters to being completely entitled and lazy. As a parent I wonder when their character will begin to take shape and how much influence their own parents have over the kinds of humans that are walking into my dance class each day. As an executive director of a dance company I wonder if I would hire more than a fraction of them upon graduating from college.
Attitude matters these days.
Teaching high school dancers (and I believe this extends well into college as well) is challenging in that most of our students are setting goals that are superficial; or what I like to call surface level. They read the syllabus or the rubric to see what they need to do to get the A or get cast in the role and then they simply do the bare minimum to make that happen. There is a preconceived notion that if you’ve done all the work, you now deserve the job. Period. The problem is that a lot of them can do the work. A lot of them can even do the work well; but there aren’t enough jobs for the amount of dancers we’re cranking out these days.
We need to teach them that doing the work is standard. It’s status quo. It’s the bare minimum expectation. It’s what happens after you’ve done part one that leaves an impression. It’s more than just bringing your skills and talents. Attitude, character and work ethic matter.0
by Andrea Thompson
For the past two summers, I have had the distinct pleasure and challenge of teaching in both Hubbard Street’s level III intensive and the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance’s summer program. This year I taught Hubbard Street 2 repertory in Chicago, aptly named “Andrea Class” in San Francisco, and ballet in both programs. Three summers ago, if anyone had asked me to teach I would have politely and very definitively declined. I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t feel that I was qualified to deliver information as if I were an expert when there was still so much for me to take in from my teachers and peers. After all, I felt, those who are designated as educators in this field should be both veterans of their subject matter and skilled orators, imparting tried-and-true wisdom to their earnest disciples. Though I had tried a lot of things, I hadn’t yet decided what my truths were. As it turns out, two years into my teaching journey I still haven’t, and every time I teach I seem to be amassing evidence that that’s not actually an essential element of it.
What is truth?
What I mean by “truth” is settling on a single approach based on years of building expertise in a particular movement vocabulary/philosophy. There’s certainly value in the long-term, deep study of one such language, just as there is value in having years of experience teaching. With experience come strategies for how to best communicate with and reach dancers of all age groups, skill levels, and dispositions. But in terms of class content and structure, I believe that there are infinite ways to go about challenging students to learn and grow and engage with dance. Personally, my relationship with it has been kept vibrant by the regular overhauling of the perspectives I’ve absorbed, since I have been lucky enough to come across new approaches to dance every few years of my career.
In the current climate of the contemporary genre it seems an urgent necessity to examine and utilize all the information I’ve engaged with, rather than decide that one system or movement language is more valid than another. It stands to reason that in order to stay relevant, delivering the multifarious ideas I like to employ requires a class structure that is fluid.
Reading the room
Needless to say this makes planning a little difficult. And as essential as planning is – more on that later – this summer I found that reading the room while teaching trumps nearly everything else in terms of importance. Depending on how the student-teacher interaction is going, handling the expectations of 30 trusting young dancers can feel like a huge responsibility – or a solo stand-up comedy show, a giant improv score, herding cats, accidentally going onstage naked, being lost in a foreign country, suddenly becoming an omnipotent wizard, a rock concert, or a psychological experiment in which the roles of subject and scientist are unclear.
It’s a constant conversation, and the same way that you would adjust your wording if you see you’re not getting your point across, or your listener is getting bored, you adjust your words or your physicality or your plan for the day in order to arrive at your point in class. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s this weird power of insistence that you have as a teacher that you might not use in polite conversation with a peer. I was surprised to find that sometimes, “try harder,” “stick with it,” and “just do it because I say so” were valid and effective demands that produced dramatic results. The beautiful simplicity of setting higher expectations in the room could be just as enabling of student improvement as wracking my brain for synonyms of the same idea and the resultant assumption that I, as a teacher, was failing to articulate what was needed.
But regardless of my ambitions for the environment I wanted to create and the growth I wanted to facilitate, this summer with Andrea Class I had to come up with the “what” of the class as well as the “how.” Most of my plans for Andrea Class began with an objective: a larger idea about dance or performance I wanted to explore, or a result I wanted to curate for the students, i.e. a feeling of freedom, the joy of digging into effort, or mastering some ubiquitous elements of floorwork. I compiled exercises that lent themselves to that end, mixing things I’d done before with new games and improv tasks. Next came playlist planning, since I have yet to find a streaming service whose musical tastes match my own. Occasionally I made a phrase to provide context for the research and highlight movement pathways I felt would be beneficial to work on.
The “plan-n-scrap method”
After all that, most of my Andrea Classes played out thusly: armed with ideas and music, I would begin, and within a few minutes of moving around together surveying my surroundings, realize the majority of my planning was useless. I had picked the wrong theme of the day, or there was something else lacking in the atmosphere that needed to be addressed. I once played an improv game called “what the room needs,” and never has there been a better time to use it than while teaching, even if I’m the only one playing. After a handful of unsuccessful-feeling classes in which I stuck rigidly to my curriculum, I started applying that idea to my teaching and consequently scrapped most of my plans. I began to trust that my own experiences as a professional dancer (and not-too-distant student) would work together with my instincts and empathy to steer the spontaneous class structure. I tried to dance as much as possible in my classes so I could feel what I was asking of my students, and I found that my physical participation was often a better indicator of what needed to happen next than what I could divine from the front of the room. My dancing was also, I found out, much more effective than words in helping people figure out unfamiliar pathways in floorwork.
This plan-n-scrap method is evidenced in the hilarious log I kept of my Andrea Class teaching. In it I wrote my idea for each class followed by what actually happened when I got in there. I always started with a plan, and what I discerned was that my brain needed to go through the steps of making it in order to kickstart itself into curious-leader mode. Inevitably by the time class began my thoughts would be miles down the road from where they started, but my cranial engine did not rev up properly unless I truly applied myself to planning. My own class-taking within the Conservatory’s summer program also sparked ideas about what does and doesn’t work in dance education, and what my optimal role might be within the existing structure of it. Some of my reflections emerged days later while teaching, having stewed subconsciously until the right opportunity presented itself. Another advantage to all the planning was that I knew if I ever choked, I had not just a plan B written down, but C, D, E, and F to choose from.
At SFCD I had the luxury of working consistently with the same group of people over the course of four weeks. We got to know each other, trust each other, sweat together, grow together. I haven’t taught any “Andrea Classes” outside of that program, but I’m now very interested in continuing to explore my teaching voice as an ongoing aspect of my development within this field.
I almost wrote “find” my teaching voice, but I have a feeling that for as long as I continue to teach, I will never fully pin down my approach to dance or dance pedagogy as an absolute. It feels like the discoveries I made about myself as a teacher this summer have already begun to influence my own dancing, and have set the course for my approach to shift once again.
I once heard the brilliant ex-Forsythe dancer Christopher Roman confide to a teaching colleague, “I’m always changing my mind. I can’t do one thing today and expect it to still feel right tomorrow, but if it was right for that moment then it was the right thing.” So it went with my Andrea Classes this summer, and so it goes with my Andrea Teaching. Having moved past the fear of unpreparedness from three years ago, I’m now looking forward to charting the unknown seas ahead.
Contributor Andrea Thompson trained at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, the Ailey School, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. Those schools and programs with Springboard Danse Montréal, Nederlands Dans Theater and Batsheva Dance Company brought opportunities to perform works by William Forsythe, Ohad Naharin, Alex Ketley, Christian Burns, Marina Mascarell Martinez, Gregory Dolbashian, Idan Sharabi, Danielle Russo, and Robyn Mineko Williams.
Professionally, Andrea has danced with the Foundry, Zhukov Dance Theatre, and LoudHoundMovement. Most recently she danced with Hubbard Street 2, where she performed works by Loni Landon, Alex Soares, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ihsan Rustem, Bryan Arias, and Victor A. Ramirez. She joined Shen Wei Dance Arts this spring.0
by Todd Fox
I’m a Bunhead Surfaholic!!! That’s right, my career focus and lifelong passion has always been ballet and there’s not many things in this world I love as much as ballet, but surfing is definitely one of them. I surf every chance I get and am probably one of the only surfers in Florida who strikes ballet poses while riding a wave. Over the years I’ve surfed on all sorts of boards including long boards, short boards, foam boards, plank boards with no fins, kayaks, canoes, boogie boards, etc.– if it floats I’ve surfed it and probably tried to do some ballet on it as well.
A few years ago I began noticing more and more stand up paddleboard (SUP) surfers catching waves at the local surf breaks here where I live in Miami. I had previously paddled a SUP on our calm south Florida inter-coastal waters and it was super fun but surfing on a stand up paddleboard looked intense. I couldn’t believe surfers were dropping in on waist to chest high waves while using a paddle to maneuver these giant heavy SUP boards. It looked like an incredible workout as well as a ton of fun so I decided to give it a try and bought a used 10’6″ Surfseries SUP off Craigslist to start learning with.
I had been a traditional board surfer for many years and figured the transition to surfing on a SUP would be relatively easy, plus I’m a professional ballet dancer and have good strength/balance/coordination, right? WRONG!!! I couldn’t believe how incredibly difficult it was to balance on a SUP in choppy water and the workout was much more intense than I imagined, it gave a whole new meaning to the word exhaustion. Paddling a SUP on nice glassy calm water is an amazing full-body workout but when you add waves, rip currents, and rough surf to the equation, the physical demands become much more extreme. Complicating matters was the fact that where I surf most often, Miami Beach, rarely has “clean” easy-to-paddle surf, most of our good surf is accompanied by rough, choppy ocean conditions. Without going into too much detail, this is due to Miami’s geographic proximity to the island chain of the Bahamas located directly to our east. On my first attempts I could only manage to stand on the SUP briefly, once the board started to wobble or bob up and down as a result of the choppy surface water, I would immediately lose balance and fall off every time.3
Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class
Christopher Hobson’s Modern Ballet Studio Melodies, The Classical Class features arrangements of classical music from Schuman to Strauss to Shostakovich.
Among familiar ballet tunes you’ll find the buoyant “First Shade Variation” from La Bayadere, the whirling finale from Paquita, Prokofiev’s charged “Dance of the Knights” from Romeo and Juliet, the “Grand Waltz” from Les Sylphides, and “Siegfried’s Variation” from Swan Lake.
Other works include the luxuriant “Flower Duet from ‘Lakmé’” by Delibes for adage at barre, Malcom Arnold’s serene, skimming “Allegretto from ‘Scottish Dances ‘” for adage in center, Schubert’s quirky “Moments Musicaux” by for petit allegro, the lilting “Skater’s Waltz” for grand allegro, and Faure’s delicate, haunting “Pavane” for port de bras.
If you’re looking to incorporate more classical music in your ballet classes or seeking to supplement popular music, this collection is a good choice.0
Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 6
Christopher Hobson’s Modern Ballet Studio Melodies Volume 6 is an eclectic mix that combines “melodies from classical, contemporary, pop, jazz and musical theatre”. The album is intended for all levels of ballet and features 30 tracks. Some of my favorite selections include:
Stranger in Paradise
This song from the 1950s musical “Kismet” borrows the melody of Alexander Borodin’s “Dance of the Maidens” from the ballet scene in the opera Prince Igor. Naturally, it’s good fit for fondu.
Ludovico Einaudi’s cinematic music often brings to mind images of dancing, so I was delighted to see that Hobson included one of the composer’s best-known works in an arrangement for port de bras.
Livin’ on Prayer
Bon Jovi meets ballet? Yes, it actually works quite well. Without obscuring the melody, Hobson adapts this signature song into a piece for petit allegro.
The CD also offers arrangements of tunes like “Someone Like You” and “Happy”, as well as works like “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?”, “Autumn Leaves”, “Seventy Six Trombones”, and the World War II-era hit “Don’t Sit Under The Apple Tree”.0