Written by Dominique Condison
Teaching dance to kids is one of the most exciting and stressful activities a dance teacher can do. It’s exciting when they finally get the moves, the formation and the timing but the process of getting them there can be an exhausting one. As a dance teacher, these kids are yours for the duration of the class, therefore it’s important for us to make the experience count and use the time wisely.
Kids have shorter attention spans than adults and if/when they are no longer interested, they will find something else to do that often has nothing to do with what is being taught in class. I stand by the fact that kids can learn complex routines and they can do much more than they are given, it just takes a few extra steps to get there.
I’ve decided to document some tips that I believe many teachers either already practise or can begin to implement in their dance classes. Here are five (5) tips:
Create a safe space
Creating a safe space for kids sets the tone for how they will participate in the class and interact with the dance teacher and the other students in the class. Immersing your students in a space that fosters openness, calmness and supports their learning pace allows for positive growth and responsiveness to the dance teacher and what is being taught. A safe space can be created simply by asking interactive questions, “how was your day today?” or “what did you do today?” AND actively listening to their response. I’ve found that the gesture indirectly shows the students that you care and are willing to listen. Verbalise the safe space being created and act it out as well.
Try gentle teaching techniques
The formation of a connection between student and teacher is inevitable. It is important to ensure that the connection is a positive and healthy one. Take a moment to think about your favourite teacher/lecturer. You still remember them because there was a bond that was formed while they were teaching you and they engaged you on a level that you were able to understand, ultimately making you more receptive to whatever they were teaching you. Try to be conscious of the connection you are building with your students. Gentle Teaching takes practise and patience, it does not come easily, but it is very possible. If you wish to learn more about Gentle Teaching, visit the link here.
Clearly communicate the class rules (for parents & kids)
Rules are important in assisting with maintaining order in the dance class. Firstly communicate the class rules to the parents. Parents usually help to enforce the rules (especially before leaving their little one in your care) because no parent wants a report on how their daughter/son misbehaved during the class. At the beginning of the class, list out the rules for the students, let them count and repeat the rules with you.
If you don’t have rules for your class, create some before you go in and stick to them. To make your life easier, you can paste/hang them up on a wall/board where it is easily visible. It’s important to remember that while a dance teacher may be well aware of dance etiquette, some kids and parents are not exposed to it regularly, therefore they will need the help with remembering.
Plan the lesson BEFORE the class
As a dance teacher, planning ahead of the class works wonders in how smoothly the class can run. Plan every minute of class, right down to the water breaks and relaxation breaks. Believe it or not, kids like structure, they like a routine that they can easily recognise and adapt to. What they don’t like is the aggression they’re me with from the dance teacher when they start doing something else while the dance teacher tries to figure out what to do next. If you are unprepared, they will know and they will take advantage of that. Express to them what can be expected from the class and what you expect from them. A plan makes the dance class easier to operate for you and the students.
Exercise patience, be patient, patience is a virtue. There are many phrases/quotes that speak about being patient but there aren’t many that speak to the extra 1000 gallons of patience you will need when encountering kids in a dance class. PHEW. Take deep breaths and control your reactions.
I implore you to try with every fibre of your being to not explode on the little one that has gotten the move wrong yet again, the one who has asked the same question for the 4th time, or the one who has zoned out completely. TRY! It is always within your best interest to not explode on someone’s daughter/son. That is a sure way to lose that student and parent.
A little dancer may not get it immediately but they will get it eventually. It usually will take some time, especially if their level of exposure to the particular dance style or technique has been limited. Exercise patience and take a breather if necessary.
For now, these are the tips I have made from teaching dance to kids. Take these all into consideration and assess how you as a dance teacher can improve on how you approach teaching or implement some of these teaching styles & techniques. You will be sure to see improvement in your students’ attitude towards dance class. Love them, guide them and connect with them. Stay tuned for Part 2 of the series.