Problem Solved: Something Old, Something New

Solution #1: Make Connections.


Too often you mind find that a few of your students are having trouble with a basic movement- and that you're running out of ways to explain it, especially when the rest of the class has already moved on. In these situations, use movements and concepts these students may already be familiar with to aid them in grapsing something new.


Because some of your students may participate in sports and other athletic activities outside of dance, try throwing in relevant movement analogies when you can. For example, compare chaînés to the footwork involved in basketball: When passing the ball, one foot has to stay in place while the other pivots around it. Sound familiar? Students can pretend to be passing a basketball to the student in front of them when they’re doing chaînés across the floor.


Similarly, a student who takes karate might see the correlation between a front kick and a battement developpé, since both come through a bent knee to straighten in the air. Pointing out where the two are different (in a karate front kick the foot is flexed and the hips tilt forward) could also help them identify how they’ve been executing the battement developpé incorrectly.


Visual analogies, in general, can be helpful in cementing concepts in students’ minds. That is, if a tap student doesn’t understand how to bring her weight forward in a flap, compare it to leaning forward to push open a door. Velma Buchanan, who teaches at Song’n Dance in Lewisville, Texas, elucidates ballet steps for her students by teaching them the meaning of their French names. For example, she explains that fondu means “to melt” in French, and relates the ballet movement to eating fondu: The leg that pliés is the melting chocolate, while the working leg is the dipping strawberry.


Solution #2: Repeat in Different Contexts.


If a student is struggling with a step in one part of class, Jenna Fisher, another teacher at Song ‘n Dance, tries to put the same problem step in a combination. Students who’ve grasped the step get more practice, while students having trouble get a second chance to learn it.


Buchanan builds her classes from end to beginning. Starting with the final routine, she picks out key moves to introduce in warm-up and during across-the-floor exercises to give students an extra opportunity to practice.


Solution #3: Make the Familiar Less Familiar.


Rather than always having your class face front, utilize your entire studio space to break students’ habit of relying on the mirror or other classmates. For example, Fisher occasionally has students face to the back of the room. To self-conscious younger dancers, worried that others are watching them in the mirror as they mess up, this may free them from anxiety so that they can finally get a step.


Janis Owl, who teaches at Murphy School of Dance in Murphy, North Carolina, is also a fan of this technique with more advanced students, as she feels it can help them “better feel the movement in the body.” Owl also faces toward students rather than facing the mirror to engage them more directly, which can serve as a motivational tool.


Ann Bergeron, who teaches at Ann’s Studio of Dance in Kenne, New Hampshire, moves younger students to the floor to master barre exercises. For example, she asks them to sit facing the wall to learn sautés. With their feet in first position, she’ll teach them to bend their knees and push away, turning it into a contest to see who can push themselves back the farthest. This way, they learn to plié before a jump.


For kinesthetic learners, consider using physical cues on your own body to help them better understand movements. To explain the mechanics of a grand plié, Buchanan places her right hand on her sacrum and her left on her abdomen; the movement of her right hand shows how the sacrum rotates under as she starts to plié and the stability of her left shows how the core remains stationary. She’ll then have students try this on themselves.


Owl has students who aren’t turning in the correct direction give themselves a small tap on the correct leg as a physical reminder of which way to turn. Alternatively, have students place one hand on their hip to help them remember which leg to pick up or start on. DT

Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Arizona State University

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