How-To

Why Teaching Creative Movement to Young Dancers Is So Important—and 4 Activities for Class

Photo by Nancy Adler, courtesy of Maria Hanley

When a principal, teacher, or parent walks into a room and sees 20 children rolling around on the floor and then leaping for the sky (learning about level changes), or jumping about like frogs (in a role-playing improvisation activity), they might not always understand what's going on. That's why Deborah Damast, clinical assistant professor and artistic advisor of the dance education program at NYU Steinhardt, offered up several responses as to why this type of movement—often a precursor to formal ballet/tap/jazz classes—is so very important.


While Damast has a lot of helpful practical advice to share about ideas and classroom management, one of our initial topics of discussion had to do with why creative movement matters:

- Focusing the mind
- Creating community
- Assisting with children's cognitive and motor skill development
- Preparing muscles and joints for later activity
- Developing aerobic capacity and impulse control
- Introducing movement themes and body awareness
- Building vocabulary and literacy, as well as problem-solving skills
- Increasing interpersonal skills
- Acting as an expressive outlet
- Introducing and instilling class rules and etiquette
- Helping develop strength and flexibility
- Helping schools meet arts enrichment requirements

If needed, warm-up exercises can be developed into choreography for showings, performances, or lecture/demonstrations. A few activities Damast suggested (and that have been tested out by my classmates and I to great amusement):

The Name Game: The class stands in a large circle. One person does a movement and says their name while performing it. The class mimics it, and then each student following adds their name on as a tag. By the time you've made it around the circle, the class has performed and said everyone's name. Once you are able to do the whole circle from memory, try repeating the exercise without talking. Not only do you get warmed up, but you learn all of your classmates names in the process.

Animal Alphabet: From A to Z, come up with animals and movements that correspond with them. Perform different level changes and movement qualities with them. This is also a chance to introduce some unusual animals as well, to make sure all the letters are covered. (In case you're curious, Damast uses a newt for N, vulture for V, X-ray fish for X, and a yak for Y. You can only imagine what types of movements might go with those!)

Skipping Dance: Again in a circle, one child is the "leader." Keep track with the attendance list so everyone gets a chance. The leader skips—kind of like Duck, Duck, Goose—tapping classmates on their head who then join the leader skipping and tapping other dancers who are quietly sitting and waiting. You can only skip if you get tapped; if you get tired, you can sit back down, but have to wait to get tapped again to start moving.

Color Dance: Use construction paper and associate the colors with different movement ideas. For example, red might mean the floor is burning hot; yellow might mean reaching for the sun; black might mean freeze. As the students begin to associate the corresponding movements easily, you can start switching in Language of Dance symbols in to help them build their dance vocabulary.

So the next time someone questions you about what you are doing with your students or why their child needs to be enrolled in creative movement, you now have several different reasons to illustrate its importance. And don't forget—creative movement certainly isn't limited to tiny tots—it can be done by anyone of any age.


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Most dancers are taught from a young age that no matter what happens onstage, the show must go on! Costume rips? Don't stop dancing. Forget the choreography? Don't stop dancing. Fall down? Get back up, but for the love of all things holy, don't stop dancing!

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This month's winner is a lyrical piece to "Wounded Animal" by Mary Lambert, performed at the Turn It Up Dance Challenge. Before setting the movement, Ashley Zelano, choreographer and artistic director at the Fierce Dance Academy in New Castle, Delaware, took a cautious approach with the 11 teenage dancers. The song describes the despair felt in a relationship where one party can't fully commit. But she understood that her teenage students might not relate to what inspires her as an adult.

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Q: I'm looking to hire new instructors. How can I create a competitive job listing?

A: We've found the best way to attract qualified applicants for teaching positions at our studio is to be as specific as possible with our expectations, while communicating what makes our studio a great place to work.

Here's an example of a job description we've used when seeking teachers:

Lead Dance Instructor: Tap/Jazz/Contemporary; Choreography for Dance Teams.

Kathy Blake Dance Studios is seeking new instructors to join our faculty. Our performing arts school, located in the Souhegan Valley of New Hampshire, has an emphasis on excellence and love for the art of dance, with a student base aged 2 to adult. We pride ourselves on paying our teachers well, offering a professionally managed front office and fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration among our staff.

We have an immediate opening for a dance instructor whose specialty is teaching intermediate to advanced tap, jazz and/or contemporary, as well as choreographing for competitive dance teams. We are seeking a creative, forward-thinking teacher who brings out the best in dancers. Schedule of 5 to 10-plus classes a week, based on availability. Position begins in August (or sooner, based on teacher availability). The school year runs from September through June. Pay is competitive and commensurate with experience and credentials.

Interested instructors: Please e-mail or reply to this ad with a current resumé and phone number, as well as what you love about teaching and what matters most to you in working for a dance studio.

Can't teach on our regular schedule? Please let us know if you'd like to be considered for our guest-artist master-class events.

Kathy Blake (Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire) and Suzanne Blake Gerety co-founded DanceStudioOwner.com.

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XOXO

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