Confession time: I absolutely LOVE introducing new students to dance. I am the teacher that eagerly signs up to teach the beginner dance classes. There is something magical about welcoming a new dancer into the studio, helping them learn the basics of technique and artistry, and instilling in them lifelong love of dance. For this reason, I have always enjoyed having the opportunity to teach classes during Bring a Friend (or sibling, or parent) Week. Dance, for me, is the ultimate act of community, and inviting others into the studio is a great way to spread the word about the benefits of dance. Watching a student share their love of dance with someone special is truly meaningful, and has been one of my favorite parts of being a dance teacher.
Here are some of my favorite strategies -including games and activities – for Bring a Friend dance classes!
1.) Create a welcoming environment – It is always important to create a dance environment in which all feel welcomed and included. It becomes even more necessary for Bring a Friend dance classes. It is likely that guest students, especially those totally new to dance, will already be feeling a bit nervous just walking into the studio. On top of that, half the group already knows one another and has been dancing together for a while, which can lead to even more discomfort for guests. Getting to know one another’s name is a simple but effective way to help ease nervousness and create a welcoming environment. Make guest students feel at home by starting the class with a fun introduction game. You can check out a few of my favorites in this blog post!
2.) Lay the foundation for safety and success – Have you ever thought about how weird dance class etiquette can be? We literally line the room with what look like very long monkey bars, then try to tell kids they aren’t allow to swing on them. We have code words for everything – upstage, downstage, corner 2, wall number 5, working leg … not to mention all the specific vocabulary. We have specific patterns for moving through the room, whether it is an across the floor progression or a diagonal pass. These must be explained clearly so that students do not hurt themselves or one another. While I love the rituals and rules associated with the dance studio, you cannot assume that guest students will innately know and quickly adapt to them. It is important, for the safety and security of all involved, to clearly lay out the most essential class expectations and consequences for not meeting them. More tips for setting students up for success throughout the year can be found here!
3.) Plan a simple lesson that can be adapted to accommodate mixed skill levels– When I’m planning lessons for beginners, I try to focus on just one or two the most basic elements of the dance style I am teaching in each unit. I never want to overwhelm new students, and I think this slow but effective process helps to instill a solid technical, artistic, and social emotional foundation from which they can grow throughout their training. For Bring a Friend dance classes, it is especially important to keep it simple so that you do not overwhelm your guest dancers. You might choose to work on one element that you know your current students need some additional practice with, such as sautés or ball change. As you introduce your guest students to this element, you can “sneak in” a review for your current students under the cover of teaching the basics to the new dancers. From there, you can then create beginning, intermediate, and advanced variations of each progression or phrase so that students can choose which one is most appropriate for them to work on. This allows new students to work at a comfortable pace, while also giving them a glimpse of the potential for growth if they keep training. For more lesson planning ideas, check out The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning.
4.) Let your current students take the lead – Another approach to planning a Bring a Friend dance class is to actively involve your current students in the process. This will allow them to build leadership and communication skills, and feel a sense of agency in their training. A week or two before the class, begin the planning process by brainstorming with them:
- What do they like to do in class?
- What are their favorite steps, class activities, games, or progressions?
- What do they want to share with their guests?
- Why do they love dancing, and how can they share that?
- What do they want others to know about being a dancer?
After the brainstorm, lead the students through the process of preparing the lesson with their ideas in mind. They can each make up an exercise, or work together as a group to create a combination to teach. Allow them to choose the music, games, and order of activities (within reason, of course!). On Bring a Friend Day, designate current students to lead warm-ups, explain steps and concepts, teach combinations, and lead games or activities. Peer feedback practices can be used to allow students to watch, respond to, and learn from one another. Current students can also show the choreography that they have been working on, and guest students can offer feedback.
5.) Play relationship-building games – Lastly, be sure to include lots of relationship-building games into your Bring a Friend dance class. These activities allow all students to learn with and from one another in a way that is welcoming and fun. Some great partner dance activities include:
- Play Shadows and Mirrors: These are classic activities, and are great for developing observation skills, focus, and empathy in students of all ages. Students work with partners. To shadow, one student stands directly behind the other and copies their movements exactly. Mirroring involves the same action but students face one another, with the following dancer copying the leader as if they were their reflection in a mirror.
- Turn technique exercises into partner games: Almost any technique exercise can be modified to involve a partner! Here are some ideas:
- Students perform a simple sauté pattern while facing a partner. Add in quarter turns, half turns, etc., so that they end up facing toward their partner or away. throughout the course of the exercise, For extra fun, have them make faces at one another – whoever makes their partner laugh first, looses!
- Students can perform tendues and grand battements facing one another and holding hands – just make sure they are slightly offset when kicking to the front so they don’t whack one another! (This means one hand should be extended and one bent for each partner and they should not be standing directly in front of one another.) This is a great way to challenge students’ balance and take their focus out of the mirror.
- Students can hold hands or link elbows while performing basic traveling steps like chasses, gallops, triplets, prances, ponies, falaps, or even small leaps. This is a great way to challenge students spatial awareness, since they have to travel the same distance as their partner.
- Improv activities: Improv is a great “equalizer” in mixed level classes because it allows students to explore movement concepts in a way that makes sense in their own body. Many improv games also encourage team work, such as “Boxes and Bubbles” and “Lumps of Clay” as described here!
- The opposite game: This is a fun prompt for improv or creating simple choreography. The “rule” is that one partner always has to do the opposite of the other, but the possibilities are endless. For example, you can focus only on levels; so if one dancer jumps, the other drops down to the floor. Or, to focus on body awareness, if one moves their legs, the other moves their arms. As the teacher, you can provide specific instructions, or leave it open to interpretation by the dancers.
- Simple contact improv: Working in pairs, student can explore simple concepts from contact improvisation, such as counterbalance, weight sharing, and perching. Be sure to provide lots of support and guidance throughout the process to ensure safety!
Whether you love Bring a Friend Week or loathe it, remember that it is a great way to spread the joy of dance! What are your favorite strategies for Bring a Friend classes? Share in comments!
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