Teaching Tips for “In School” Settings
October 5, 2017
Our award-winning everybody dance! program has been providing high-quality dance education in daytime and after-school settings for 18 years. Currently serving over 3,700 low-resourced youth, we want to share a few teaching tips for in-school settings that we’ve learned from working with students, families and school partners.
Let’s start by setting the stage for the in-school teaching experience:
Every dance teacher or teaching artist has taken at least one dance class in a studio filled with determined and focused students. Many of us have spent the majority of our lives learning dance in these high-quality environments with clean studios, eager students, order, structure, passion and a joy for the art form we love so dearly.
It’s often a different reality for professional teaching artists working in low-resourced communities during the school day. They’re often teaching in non-traditional spaces and their students are taking the class as a requirement (instead of electing to do so). While many students are filled with joy and passion for their weekly or biweekly dance class, their excitement is often juxtaposed with challenges, such as a dirty dance floor, a messy classroom (where desks are moved to make space for class), a broken sound system, or disruptive students who don’t want to be there. There may also be higher numbers of special needs students with inadequately trained aides or no aides at all. Add to this that many teaching artists haven’t been properly trained on best practices for classroom management, and that most schools don’t have the budget to offer support during dance class.
If you’re ready to walk out before class starts, please don’t! Despite these challenges, it’s possible to teach high-quality dance in any classroom setting. The following tips will show you how:
#1. Greet your students outside the dance room. With a big smile ask students to line up and encourage them to have tall dancer backs and quiet mouths as they enter the room. Teaching students to respect the dance space by entering quietly and with good posture is key to developing structure inside the dance room.
#2. Develop a seating chart. If your space allows for students to take off their shoes, ask them to line up along one side of the room and sit down for shoe removal. If not, have them stand quietly along one wall. Place students sitting/standing quietly first, creating four lines of students for warm-up spots. Pepper your lines with remaining students who might be struggling with focus and attention so they’re not near each another. Map out the room with their spots and names. This will allow you to say, “Everyone go to your warm up spots and…” between creative activities to regroup and provide a home base for each student in the wide-open dance space. It will also help you to learn their names.
#3. Teach personal space, across-the-floor space, general space, audience space and performer space as soon as you can. Help the students understand how to use the dance room space. Once warm-up spots are established, teach students that they can move very big, very fast, very slow and very small in their own personal space without bumping into anyone. Create a personal space bubble around each student, arms and legs outstretched but not touching their neighbor, and teach them to not bump or travel towards others in their lines while dancing. Once students have explored with their bodies in their personal space warm up spots, introduce “across-the-floor space” by having the students turn to face the side wall and move line by line over to the side. Remind them to be mindful and not to break their space bubbles as they travel. Explore locomotor movements across the floor in lines of four with four students dancing at a time. Bring them back to their warm-up spots and take the two front lines to the front of the room to create the audience space. Let these two lines turn and sit to watch the back two lines explore the performer space by moving in general space with a freeze dance game or other movement assignment. Switch groups and keep using the language of the different “spaces” during class.
#4. Play creative movement games and give composition assignments. Often teaching artists save games or creative assignments as rewards for good student behavior or as end-of-class activities. Try building these activities in during class as creative, big body, big space explorations mid-class to improve student focus between structured exercises at the beginning and end of class.
While teaching artists want to create idyllic learning conditions like the studio environments from their own training, it best serves the students to meet them where they are and be resourceful. Teachers can find creative ways to turn the in-school experience into something special regardless of circumstances. They can show up with the passion, flexibility and discipline that got them into the field of dance in the first place.
Were these tips helpful? Do you know a dance teaching artist who might benefit from knowing them? Please share our blog!
Stay tuned for my next article later this dance season that will offer four tips for teaching dance in an after-school dance studio setting.
Tina Banchero, Artistic Director, The Gabriella Foundation