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. Dance is an art for that 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. This doesn’t require you to break up with your favorite technique exercises, divert from your cherished curriculum, or even make drastic changes to your 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 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 for ballet, too – have students explore adagio, allegro, epaulment, or the 7 basic movements improvisationally as they travel away from and back to the barre between sides.)
- 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.
- 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. Some easy ways to use partner work to shake up your class routine include:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. This can be as easy as:
- Changing facings during an exercise. Start facing the mirror, 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! 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: 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!) 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: So often we think of “make up your own combination” days just about having fun, but they can be so much more. When students are given time to create choreography or their own versions of class routines, they learn to think about transitions, musicality, coordination, and expression in critical ways. They embody the things we are trying to teach them and taking ownership of them. They are developing creative skills through choreography, collaboration skills by with others, and communication skills teaching the other students their movement are all crucial parts of dance education.
In The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning, I offer a process for developing a year’s worth of lessons that include plenty of variations to keep your students engaged and encourage their technical, artistic, and social-emotional growth.