In fond memory of a legendary teacher, we wanted to revive some timeless wisdom David Howard shared with us back in 2001. (Read the full article here.) Presenting 15 tips from the master instructor for being the best teacher you can be:

• Instead of talking to students for 15 minutes, put what you are trying to say in the steps.

• Give students a physical analysis to see the kind of bodies that they are working with. Look at the structure: the size of the head, the neck, the arms, the width of the hands, the length and width of the torso, the size of the hips, the length of the waist, legs and feet. Are they hyperextended or do they have bowed legs or tibial torsion? It is helpful to keep a file on students. What kind of exercises did you give the student? Did they work? What have you changed?

• To keep your teaching fresh, think about the way you put steps together. Teachers fall into familiar patterns in developing combinations and end up using the same kinds of steps in the same kind of order. For instance, if you work with the same group every day, give them a turning class one day. We talk about spotting but how many teachers give spotting exercises?

• Think about the kind of music that you use and try to vary the tempo. When working with CDs, teachers tend to use the same kind of music. Without an accompanist, you might do everything on a 3/4, and the CD isn’t going to say, “Hey, this is the eighth 3/4 you’ve used in a row, why don’t you do something on another time signature?”

• Study as much as you can. Learning more about music, anatomy and kinesiology will really open up your mind.

• A lot of what dance teachers say is very negative. Try saying, “I suggest you do this,” rather than “Don’t do that.” If you give the student possibilities, they won’t feel like they have failed.

• Watch other people teach.

• Make notes about what you do in class and refer back to them.

•To continue to grow as a teacher, you should go to as many seminars and watch as many videos as you can. There are also a lot of books that you can read and lots of performances you can attend.

• Take time to evaluate what you’re saying in class, and whether it’s working. Just because it worked for you as a student doesn’t mean it’s going to work for other people.

• Keep students curious by giving them new ideas all of the time. Rather than just repetition, give them information that they can work with.

• Your eye is your most valuable tool.

• The most important thing is to develop healthy human beings. Realize that not all students want to be professional dancers. Some are just doing it because they enjoy it and want to go on to something else.

• You have to establish emotional boundaries when you teach, just like a parent.

• Training a body in the healthiest, most efficient way should be your aim.

Photo by Bruce Zinger

How-To

Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico's School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 3- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.

Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.

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Dance Buzz
Panelists (left to right): Emily Nusbaum, Eric Kupers, Judith Smith, Deborah Karp and Suzanna Curtis. Photo by Aiano Nakagawa, courtesy of Luna Dance Institute

This past Saturday, I visited Luna Dance Institute in Berkeley, California, to attend the Dance & Disability Discourse & Panel—a discussion with five artists, educators and researchers about access and equity for disabled students in dance education. Here are three statements from the discussion that I found eye-opening.

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How-To
Todd Rosenlieb, left, of The Governor's School for the Arts. Photo by Victor Frailing, courtesy of Todd Rosenlieb

You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?

Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.

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Dancer Health
Neuromuscular expert Deborah Vogel with Jordan Lazan, right. Photo by Jim Lafferty

By strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and ankle, a dancer can help prevent or correct existing pronation. Having strong intrinsic foot muscles keeps the arches aligned, preventing them from dropping inward.

Here, Vogel shares three strengthening exercises to help correct and prevent pronation. She advises dancers to include these in their cross-training regimen.

Mobilize your ankles. (Step 1)

For this ankle mobilization exercise, having a TheraBand wrapped around your ankles puts pressure on your feet to pronate. By resisting that action and keeping your feet centered through the relevé, you're essentially training the ankle where center is.

  • Sitting up straight in a chair, with your feet planted on the floor a few inches apart, tie a TheraBand in a loop around your ankles. You can place a yoga block vertically in between your knees to maintain space between your legs.

Next Page
How-To
Photo courtesy of New York Live Arts

Ellen Robbins' modern dance classes for kids and teens are legendary in New York City. Robbins, who has been teaching kids how to dance since the 1970s (and whose pupils included the actresses Claire Danes and Julia Stiles), takes the standard recital model and turns it on its head. Her students—ranging in age from 8 to 18—are the choreographers for the annual concert she produces at esteemed NYC venue New York Live Arts.

If that approach sounds borderline insane to you (we know you're all deep in the throes of recital season right now), consider Robbins' unique teaching philosophy: Improvisation is present in every aspect of class, for every age group. Here are four ways she shapes her youngest dancers into choreographers—almost without their realizing it!

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Teachers & Role Models
Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

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