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
I had high expectations just reading the title of Debra Webb Rogers’ Dancing Between the Ears: accessing a dancer’s mind is the key to unlocking the potential of the body. Aimed at students, teachers, and professional dancers, this book does not disappoint. Over one hundred pages of ideas and images are organized into chapters for alignment, work at the barre, port de bras, turns, jumps, and traveling steps.
The value of Dancing Between the Ears can be summed up in a line from Rogers’ introduction: “For experienced students or professional dancers, the most important thing in dance class is not to learn new steps, but to discover new ways of thinking about the old ones.” This book contains many familiar images, and plenty I had never encountered. Some of my favorites included visualizing the vertebrae as jelly sandwiches and trying to keep all the jelly from squeezing out, imagining the legs as two opposite barbershop poles or two opposite tornadoes, floating the arms on imaginary water to keep them buoyant and supple, and running up a pretend ramp or runway on the takeoff for large jumps.
As an experienced teacher and former professional dancer, Debra Webb Rogers would know: Practice makes permanent! Sometimes all it takes to break an old habit is to practice a new way of thinking. Students and teachers all learn differently and think differently about their bodies in motion. Dancing Between the Ears offers a rich variety of images in multiple iterations—there is something for every kind of thinker in this work.
by Maria Hanley
When I tell people I teach 25 classes of preschoolers and toddlers a week, their eyes pop out of their head! Even though they think I’m crazy, I’m over the moon about it. Teaching that many classes can take a toll, but for me, the way to get through each week is to have clear expectations. I show my expectations for my “littles” by using specific catch phrases. I say them frequently and as the weeks go on, they catch on.
If you are a teacher with a lot of experience you probably have your favorite phrases that work to manage the classroom. If you are a new teacher just starting out, you will develop what works for you. I thought I would share mine that have developed over the years. Feel free to use them!
“Happy Dance Day!”
This is my standard greeting when I meet them at the door. If it’s ballet class I will say “Happy Ballet Day!” It’s just a little happiness to greet them before class and to let them know that they have my full attention. They say it back and they get so excited to dance. Do you meet your dancers at the door? Do you go with them outside after class to give an extra goodbye? I always do. I think that’s one of the most important touches, like two exclaimation points at the beginning and end of class!
“Watching eyes on, Listening ears up, and Marshmallows in.”
I do the motions for this one. I make glasses for eyes, and use my hands to turn up my listening ears. Eating marshmallows makes their cheeks puffy and therefore no noise can come out. It’s a fun little trick to get their attention instead of just saying “be quiet!” like a broken record.
“When I see it, I will say it.” OR “My eyes are open.”
Many times when we are exploring movement, they want me to see what they are doing. They will call out “Look at me, Miss Maria!” or “Like this?” This would be fine, except when they all do that at the same time, it gets really rowdy. Instead, I tell them that when I see it, I will say it out loud. This encourages them to continue to explore the movement while still getting the attention of their name and movement called out.
I have gathered that as attentive as I am to my dancers, they still want to know that I’m watching. Reassuring that you are is important.
“I love the way…”
Goes along with the one above. This is a phrase of praise. When you see an interesting movement or a student thinking outside the box, instead of saying “great job” say “I love the way… you are making that shape with your arms up high and your legs twisted down low.” Be specific so that the other students can hear what you like about what that student is doing with their body.
I must admit, this one takes a while to get used to. It’s important to put it in your vocabulary for added clarity and encouragement to your dance room.
“I’m looking for the quietest and most still dancer”
I use this one for picking students to go across the floor or for turning on the music. Of course once you say this phrase they want to please you. I use it mostly for management of the next exercise. Then I call out names – “Maddie looks ready” “Jessica looks ready” “Emily looks ready” and so on. It works like a charm…unless it’s Halloween!
What are your favorite “work like a charm” catch phrases to use with your preschool dancers? I would love to hear and exchange!
BIO: A passionate advocate for early childhood dance education, Maria Hanley specializes 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.
Maria authors the blog Maria’s Movers (http://www.mariasmovers.com) where she shares creative ideas and strategies for teaching young dancers. The blog unites a community of teachers who are inspiring our youngest dancers 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.0
by Lucy Vurusic Riner
I loved high school. I know, most people are kind of shocked when I say it, but I did. It’s where I first remember trying to form some sort of identity. When I look at pictures of myself from freshmen year to sophomore year I go from the bad 1980’s poof hairdo prep-ster look to a shaved head, dark goth lipstick and combat boots.
Only in high school can you pull that off.
It’s also in high school that I rekindled my love for dance. I had taken class as a small child and hated the structure. My sophomore year a lovely woman named Rosemary Doolas brought dance to my all girl’s Catholic high school and here I am now. It made perfect sense to me, at age fifteen, that I was going to be a dancer.
High school dance programs in Illinois run the gamut in terms of structure. People are usually surprised to find that there are anywhere from 30 to 40 schools in the state that actually have full-blown programs. By this I mean that there is someone in the high school that is employed to teach dance classes as part of the daily curriculum. Larger schools have up to four or five faculty dedicated to teaching dance full-time while smaller schools or programs have one full-time faculty or part time positions offered throughout the day. Beyond the actual school day, hundreds of schools in Illinois offer extra curricular activities in dance. These programs also range the gamut from dance teams and orchesis companies to other specialized dance clubs (focusing on breakdance, Latin or improv).
So when I went to college and found out that I could teach my first love, DANCE to my second love, HIGH SCHOOL it was a no-brainer for me. Almost twenty years later I have taught at three different area high schools and have had the pleasure of serving as the Chair of the Illinois High School Dance Festival.
As a dance educator, I have tried to find ways to expose high school students to dance in a number of different ways. As with any other subject in high school, teachers are always hoping to increase the number of students they can get involved in their programs. Below, I have compiled some of my thoughts on teaching dance, particularly modern dance, within the high school curriculum.
Know your audience
These are adolescents. They are completely self involved and utterly dramatic. You also have a wide range of levels and experiences. There are students that take class at their studios and students that you are trying to expose to dance for the first time. How do you develop ways to keep both of these populations interested? Your advanced ballet student that competes at her studio is a very different person than the beginning dance student who is mortified to put on a leotard and tights. You have to be sensitive to your audience and know who you’re playing to. Otherwise you have the potential of losing some really amazing opportunities with new movers that you can mold into your program as the years progress.
Build relationships with your students
These are high school students. They are social beings. The more you get to know your students and invest in who they are as people, the more they will invest in trusting you. And if they trust you, you can expose them to far more advanced ways of looking at dance.
I share at least one personal dance experience with my classes each week. It helps them to know me not only as their teacher, but also as a student of dance. It also doesn’t hurt to let them know you’re a person outside of dance class as well. I share stories and pictures of my own family with my students and it allows them to see you through different lens.
Give a little to get a little
Being an artist is a vulnerable thing. And let’s be honest, most kids don’t come near liking high school as much as I did. For many students it’s a means to the end; they imagine how they’ll get through it.
I believe in fun. I think it’s pretty basic: I love dancing because it is fun. And in it’s “fun-ness” I am able to express myself and nurture my creativity. Is it also challenging? Yes. Does it also take a lot of self-discipline? Yes. But all the hard work is worth it because I have walked out of the classroom feeling satisfied. And for me, satisfaction is fun.
(As a side bar, we as dance teachers sometimes think that having fun doesn’t mean that we are working hard or learning valuable lessons. This is not true. You are allowed to have fun in any level class you teach, in whatever content you choose to teach that day. You can be serious and still have fun. And if you allow your students to see your love and investment in dance they will relate to you more. You might become the bright spot in a potentially stressful day and they’ll be happy to see you.)
Have a well-rounded curriculum
This next point is a philosophical one and it’s just my opinion but here goes…
You have to teach more than just what you love. I love modern dance but I’m not going to assume that all my students do too. In fact, in most cases, I’m trying to expose them to modern dance for the first time. My practice initially is to include modern dance in an introductory course and than offer more specific classes after they have had a taste of it.
As students begin to realize that modern dance is a form of self-expression, they become more invested in studying it more deeply. But within that curriculum I want to offer what they “know” as well. I love hip hop and jazz. That’s what I loved as a child. I love teaching hip hop and jazz. And honestly, there is still a lot I can teach my high school students about dance forms that they “think” they already know. I value those dance forms as much as I value modern dance; I just happen to enjoy making and performing modern dance more as an adult. But I have to remember to put myself in my high school shoes. Had I not already been in a major identity crisis my sophomore year in high school, I may not have walked into Rosemary Doolas’ modern class. And the reason I loved it is because I wanted to be different; and that stuff was DIFFERENT.
But most high school kids are not trying to be different. Most high school kids are just trying to fit in. They want to feel safe in their explorations of who they are and I have found the best way to do that is give them options. This is the time in their life where they should be exposed to a variety of different dance forms and choose their own path in what they find interest in. I am there to be the guide.
Don’t take yourself so seriously
Clearly this could also be a life lesson right?
Do you have any tips for teaching teens? If so, leave one in the comments section!
Contributor Lucy Vurusic-Riner is a native Chicagoan who has been supporting and contributing to the dance community for over twenty years. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Dance Performance and Dance Education from Illinois State University. Lucy has been a member of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, RTG Dance Company and Matthew Hollis’ “The Power of Cheer.” She has also had the opportunity to be part of the community casts of White Oak Dance Project and David Dorfman Dance.
Lucy has taught modern, hip hop, and jazz at numerous studios and high schools in the Chicagoland area. She was the Director of Dance at Oak Park and River Forest High School from 1999 to 2012. In 2005, Lucy completed her Masters Degree in Education from National Louis University and also received the Midwest Dance Teacher of the Year award and was the youngest of four finalists in the running for the National Dance Teacher of the Year award. Lucy and artistic partner, Michael Estanich, formed RE|Dance Group in 2010. RE|Dance Group investigates humanity in movement through long distance collaboration.
In 2012, Lucy joined the dance faculty at New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. When she is not immersed in dance, she is at home with her two great kids, Margie and Luka, and her very supportive husband, Jim.3
(also known as “What’s happening to my body??!!!!”)
by Jan Dunn, MS
You’re a 12 year old dancer, on the path to a professional career, with daily classes / rehearsals / several performances a year. If you’re a girl, you’re getting really good at knocking off double pirouettes on pointe (sometimes triple!), or if you’re a guy, doing a double (or triple) tour en l’air. And then – you start growing fairly fast, and suddenly you can barely do a single turn – What’s going on??!!!
Well, what’s going on is that you’re starting your Adolescent Growth Spurt – AGS for short. This is the age (usually between 11-14 for girls, a little later for boys) when your body is making very fast changes, and it can be challenging for both you as a dancer, and for your teacher as well. But the good news is that it can be a lot less challenging if everyone knows what’s going on, what to expect –and that things will get better! It’s a phase everyone has to go through, so being knowledgeable and prepared will go a long way towards feeling ok with the changes that are happening.
So here’s what’s going on:
The AGS usually lasts between 18-24 months – it’s very individual, so comparing yourself to your best friend who’s the same age won’t help!
I was given a powerful visual reminder of this at an IADMS conference, when Rachel Rist, head of Dance at Tring Park Arts Educational School in the UK (a very prestigious arts school – call it the Julliard of England!) gave a presentation on AGS, and had 5 of her dancers on stage standing next to each other. Each girl was within a month of being exactly the same age (13), and every one of them looked SO different — one looked like a 10 year old, one like a 17 year old, and all stages in between.
Rachel did that presentation to show us how individual the AGS can be – and to remind teachers that dancers going through this period will vary greatly in what they can do / what their bodies need (in other words, one size does NOT fit all!).
So here are some AGS facts:2