Dance Teachers: Keep Your Students in Learning Mode!

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DI_learning_MAINBy Steve Sirico of Dance Teacher Web

As a teacher, my main goal is to teach! I know that if students learn at whatever level they are at, they will ultimately develop a deeper love and appreciation of dance. They will also have more fun in class. I always preach to my students that learning and pushing yourself can and must be fun. Let’s face it, if they never get any better or gain any confidence that they are improving, it is hard to continue to have fun. Now that doesn’t mean they have to be a technical wiz but they have to develop a certain level of technical proficiency and a deeper understanding of movement.

The key is how can you as a teacher make learning fun. It’s not just about steps, routines and knowledge. It’s about reaching your students on a deeper level and keeping them on their toes! It is also about helping them with some self-discovery!

Here are some ideas that I have found can make learning fun and break up the monotony of a long season.  

Give your class a chance to experiment with movement that they create. I love to do this. It will help you see what they are comfortable doing. I will let the class do this in groups of 3 or 4 students, or in duets and trios. The students love this once they have a basic understanding of movement and have a vocabulary of steps that they know. It will also give you an edge on which students have good musicality and overall coordination. You can pick the music or for classes that are more advanced you can let them create with music they choose. Let them spend time working on this in a class from time to time with you acting as a moderator. You can see how they interact or how they create. It is a great learning process for them and you!

Have them create goals to reach. It is important that each student has goals they are trying to attain. It must be their goals not yours. Of course you will have goals for your class but it is important for each student to set a goal or goals to reach, and then you, as their teacher, can help them achieve those goals. Each year during the first few weeks of the season we have the students write down their goals on two sheets of paper. One for us to keep and one that they will keep. We keep them in a separate file where we review them monthly to see the overall progress.  We encourage them to look at these goals before every class and see how they are progressing. It is very empowering to a student to set a goal and achieve it! This will create a powerful energy that will be infectious to your entire class. I do not let anyone in the class know about another student’s goals until one is achieved. Then I make a BIG deal out of it. The students love this recognition and are thrilled to be singled out in this way.

Think outside the box. Just because you teach ballet that doesn’t mean you always have to start off at the barre. Mix it up! Try doing something in the center first, maybe skip the barre altogether. Now I know you can’t do this all the time but if every time you have class the students are not quite sure what to expect you will have their attention and excitement to see what you are up to next! In my jazz class, I have gone right into strengthening exercises or easy movement just to change it up. Start your class with pushups or static lunge exercises.  The reality is that most students’ attention span is short. If you can keep them excited to see what you are doing new they will love it!

Have a rap session. Do you really know your students? What makes them tick and what they love outside of dance? The better you get to know your students the more you will be able to relate to how they think and the more they can relate with YOU! As a teacher you have a lot of knowledge and you are eager to impart this knowledge to your students. The problem could be that they are not really willing to learn from you because you are not reaching them. They are not really connecting with you. It might just be that they don’t know you and how important they are to you. This is important because students love to know that you care about them. It is said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care! It is true. Try spending 15 minutes before a class or to do a little exploring. Have some probing questions prepared. Kids really do love to talk. This knowledge you gain about each student will come in handy during the year! I recommend that you take notes and review them periodically.

Keeping your students ready to learn with open minds can be both challenging and fun for both you and them and keeps your classes upbeat and productive.

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