Dance teachers often fall into two camps when it comes to their dance lesson plans – there are those who take the “do it on the fly” approach and those are the “write every word out” types. I’ve definitely been on both sides when it comes to my own planning. As an experienced teacher, I can “wing it” when needed. But in my experience, a good dance lesson plan is the most effective way to ensure that my students are progressing all year long. And not only is it good my students, but a setting up a solid plan upfront also makes my life easier! Spending a few hours on dance lesson plans for each class at the beginning of the year means that I don’t have to stress about making up exercises and combos on the fly or spend hours working on my classes each week.
Over my 15 years of teaching experience, I’ve developed a lesson planning system that helps streamlines and simplifies the process for me, while also increasing the effectiveness and engaging-ness (that’s a word, right??) of the dance classes I teach. It is something in between the “only the fly” and “every word” approach. The planning is front loaded, and mostly happens before the busy dance season start. The season is divided into themed units, with room for flexibility as your students grow and improve. The entire process is outlined in the 44-page The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning, which also contains beautiful printable and fully-customizable online templates to use in your lesson planning. (Tip: Get it on sale for just $10 through Monday 7/12!) But in this post, I want to share my 5 best tips for creating better dance lesson plans:
Don’t think short term. To keep your students progressing, you need to think ahead. Too often, however, our dance lesson planning process focuses on the short term. We think about the current unit, the next lesson, or getting through the week. For more effective lessons, however, I challenge teachers to consider these questions before they start planning: Where do you want your students to be at the end of your dance season? Picture your students giving their best recital performance or rocking their exams. What dance steps are they doing? What technique concepts have they mastered? What is their performance quality? How are they conducting themselves and interacting with one another before, during, and after their moment in the spotlight? Let your end-of-year vision be the starting point, and work backwards to figure out what skills, concepts, and attitudes you have to include in your dance lesson plans to get there!
- Bonus – not only will thinking ahead keep your students learning, it will also save you time during the busy dance season. There will be no worrying about starting plans from scratch while you’re also juggling choreography, rehearsals, costumes, competitions, or exams. Planning ahead makes your life easier all season long!
Do think beyond dance technique. As dance teachers, we want to move! It feels good to get students learning new dance steps, progressions, and combinations. But we also know that there is much more to dance than just technique. For success in dance, students need creativity, performance quality, musicality, and artistry. Moreover, through dance students can develop strong social and emotional skills that will serve them well both onstage and off, such as persistence, responsibility, accountability, empathy, and teamwork. So often, we focus our dance lesson plans on technique, and let the rest of the learning happen by chance. It is critical that we actively build artistry and social-emotional development in our dance lesson plans, to help our students grow into well-rounded dancers and empowered individuals. Here are my suggestions for which skills to include – and how to fit them into your lesson:
- For a list of foundational technique skills that are important for dancers in nearly every dance genre and style, check out this blog post.
- My favorite ways to teach artistry in class, including creativity and performance quality, can be found here!
- To read about the social and emotional skills you need to include in your dance lesson plans, check out this post!
Do tie your lessons together with a theme. Having a theme or through line for your classes can help students make connections among the skills they are learning. You can organize the exercises in an individual class according to a theme or connect groups of classes (units) together around a theme. Themes are a great way to link technique, artistry, and social-emotional skills organically in your lesson plans.
Don’t forget to get your students’ input. Okay, so you may be reading this and think … if I asked my students what we should do in class, we’d be making TikTok videos and playing freeze dance all day! I get it, and of course I don’t think that you should let your students dictate every part of your lesson. However, when you know students’ interests, goals, and histories, you can use them create better dance lesson plans. You can connect aspects of your curriculum to what your students already know and like, creating a more authentic and engaging learning experience. This can be as simple as taking a new minutes at the beginning of the dance season to ask your students, “Why are you here?” and “What do you want to learn?” Tailor aspects of your dance lesson plans to connect with their responses, and you’ll see a difference in their engagement and enthusiasm all year long!
- Use the student surveys in The Holistic Guide to Getting to Know Your Dance Students to learn about your students’ backgrounds, interests, previous dance experiences, and personalities. These convenient students surveys will not only help you design better dance lesson plans, but they will also help you create meaningful connections with each student. The better you know your students, the better you can teach them!
- Help your students set and achieve new goals for the dance season with The Holistic Guide to Goal Setting for Dance Students. This guide includes a brainstorming tool to help you easily lead your students through the goal-setting process, and ready-to-use worksheets to help your students organize and share their goals.
Don’t make it harder on yourself! So often, we try to constantly reinvent the wheel in our dance lesson planning process. We come up with elaborate new lessons and fancy combos each week. While it is good to keep students on their toes, the reality is that creating a brand new class every week isn’t necessary – and it can actually be detrimental to your students’ learning, especially if they are young or new to dance. After all, students thrive on routine and learn through repetition! In fact, I usually create about 4 lessons per class during an entire 10-month dance season! By using creative ways to build on and vary your exercises and combos throughout a 6-8 week unit, you can simplify your lesson planning process and create the balance of repetition and novelty that students need to learn. The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning guides you through this process and helps you easily create a year’s worth of engaging and effective lessons – without reinventing the wheel each week!
Have you tried The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning yet? Let me know what you think in the comments! You can also share your best tips and strategies for creating your own great lessons.
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