Raise your hand if you’ve been bored in a dance class! I’ve got one hand raised as I type this, and I’m only thinking about the classes in which I’ve been the dance teacher. Training in most dance genres relies on routine and repetition to get results. While there is nothing wrong with consistency (and in fact many of us thrive on it!), there comes a time when students and teachers alike may be in need of a break from the ordinary in their dance classes. Thankfully, doesn’t require the dance educators to break up with their favorite technique exercises, divert from their cherished curriculum, or even make drastic changes to their class material. By applying some simple strategies to change up the content you are already working on, you can make class feel fresh and new, even if the students are working on pique turns or top rocks for the hundredth time! These strategies can help cut through monotony that can sometimes come with dance training, create new challenges for your students, and bring some joy and fun back into your teaching routine.
Here are 5 simple ways to shake-up your dance class routine:
Change Your Warm-Up: While keeping a set sequence of warm-up exercises can be efficient, it can also lead to monotony. Dancers can get used to the routine and either get bored, or fall into bad movement habits, or both. Changing up your warm-up, even just for a class or two, can be a simple way to reinvigorate your teaching practice. Some of my favorite warm-up options include:
- Using Anne Green Gilbert’s Brain Dance as a framework for the warm-up structure. (You can even do this in ballet!)
- Incorporating improvisation, either as the structure for the entire warm-up or in-between exercises. (Yes, this works can even work in ballet, too. One of my favorite strategies is to have students explore different movement concepts, qualities, tempos, or actions by improvising away from and back to the barre between sides of a combination.) If you need some improv inspiration, check out The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts and Activities, with 25 great improv exercises for classes of all levels and most dance genres!
- Choreographing cardio, beyond jumping jacks and burpees! In jazz, this could be vernacular movement like Charlestons and boogie steps; in ballet it could be prancing and skipping around the room with nicely stretched feet. Keep the steps and pattern simple, so you can focus on getting the students’ heart rates elevated and build their stamina. This can be a fun add-on to your standard warm-up, or it could replace it entirely when you need to focus on choreography for spring concerts or recitals.
- Switching up the playlists, sometimes drastically! Try using motown or vintage jazz in modern class, top 40 hits in ballet, or contemporary classical composers like Zoe Keating in jazz. This will help your students (and yourself!) explore musicality and performance qualities in new ways.
Incorporate Partner Work: Allowing students to truly dance with one another encourages team work, gets them out of their own headspace, and provides a playful change of pace. This can be a little tricky in the age of Covid-19, but there are still ways to get students dancing together, even when they are online or must maintain social distancing in the studio. Here are some ideas:
- Facing a partner for some or all of an exercise. This gets students’ focus out of the mirror, and encourages them to make eye contact and genuine connection with one another. It is a great way to foster natural stage presence! To maintain social distancing in class, keep students in their 6 foot boxes but have them turn to face one another. In online classes, you can direct students to look at one other student throughout the exercise. If you teacher older students, you may be able to use the “Breakout Room” feature on Zoom to separate students into pairs so that they can focus on each other without the distraction of other dancers on the screen.
- Physically connecting with a partner, especially during traveling combinations. Holding hands, linking at the elbows, and placing hands at the small of the back are all simple, safe options for exploring physical connections while dancing. Older and more mature students can try counterbalance, weight sharing, and more unusual ways to be connected, such as with the crowns of the head together. This may, of course, not be possible right now due to safety precautions. However, you could consider having students hold on to opposite ends of a prop, like a long scarf or cane, to create the feeling of being connected while still maintaining distance.
- Moving in new spatial arrangements with partner. Shake up your center practice or across the floor by having students move in relationship to one another. Try those pique turns traveling around a partner, turn an adagio or swing combination into a duet through the use of space, or perform a level-changing progression in cannon so that students are alternately moving under and over one another. There are plenty of ways to do this while maintaining social distancing in the studio. Online, you can use the Zoom “Spotlight” and “Breakout Room” features, or have students take turns turning their cameras off, to create new groupings and arrangements of the dancers on screen.
Use Space Differently: One of the easiest ways to shake up your dance class routine is to change the way students interact with the space around them. By getting them to face away from the mirror and using the space in new ways, you can help students develop balance, performance quality, and spatial awareness. There are many ways that you can do this in the studio while still maintaining social distance. For online classes, you can provide prompts to help dancers interact with their home spaces in new ways.
- Changing facings during an exercise. Start facing the mirror or camera, but incorporate changes of focus and direction throughout the combination. This provides an extra challenge when applied to turning exercises that mix up quarter, half, and full turns facing different ways.
- Trying out new across the floor pathways … U-shape, serpentine patterns, zig-zags, figure 8s, boxes and circles … the possibilities are unlimited! Even at home, students can move through small dance spaces in a square, circle, triangle, or X pattern. In the studio, try having different groups move in different patterns at the same time to really challenge their use of the peripheral vision and spatial awareness.
- Using every level. If you always stretch on the floor, try a barre or standing stretch instead. Add rolls, kneels, inversions, or slides to the floor into traveling progressions or phrases. Combine turns and allegro steps to get students jumping unexpectedly!
Provide Time for Peer Feedback: Providing time and space for safe socialization for our students is so important in these pandemic times. Peer feedback allows for students to connect with one another in a way that is productive and educational. When students observe and critique their peers, they develop important skills in analysis, critical thinking, and communication. I like to incorporate peer feedback after the students have been working on an exercise for a while, and I’ve already given the feedback I want to see a few times. This gives them a set of expectations to ground their own feedback in – they know what to look for in their partners’ dancing. Sometimes a correction will “click” for students when a classmate tells them what they need to work, even if I have been saying the same thing over and over! A bonus: Sometimes students give really unique feedback, or express things in ways I wouldn’t have thought of. I often find myself learning from them! That being said, I always walk around and listen in on feedback discussions so that I can intervene if necessary.
Encourage Creativity and Play: So often we think of dance games, “make up your own combination” days, or even improvisation as just about having fun, but they can be so much more.
- When students are given time to create their own choreography, they learn to think about transitions, musicality, coordination, and expression in critical ways. They embody the things we are trying to teach them in technique class, and take ownership of them.
- When students work together to create choreography as a group, they learn how to work as a team.
- When students teach others the choreography that they created, they learn to communicate clearly with others, expressing their ideas and vision.
- When students participate in dance games that are both educational and fun, they embody the technique skills and concepts that they have learned in class in new ways. They develop creative, collaboration, communication skills which will benefit them throughout their lives in and out of the studio.
- To incorporate play into your classes without adding to your workload, check out The Holistic Collection of Dance Games for the Winter Season, with 15 fun and educational games that are perfect for dancers of most ages, skill levels, and dance genres – online and in-person, with or without social distancing.
To help keep your lessons fresh all year liong, check out The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning. This easy to use guide helps you develop a year’s worth of lessons that keep your students engaged, having fun, and growing in dance technique, artistry, and overall well being through social and emotional learning! Save 15% on this guide and your entire purchase of resources from The Holistic Dance Teacher Collection when you use the code SNOW – ends 2/28.