Teaching Tips

5 Easy-Travel Prop Tips for Teaching Tots

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Any teacher who works with little ones knows that props can make class time run much more smoothly. That said, it's often difficult to find the right mix of tools that will both capture a child's attention and are manageable enough to carry around from one location to another—or pack up and store easily. Anything too big or too heavy is out, and some of the props you love to use with little ones may not be the most practical choice if you're a freelance teacher traveling to multiple studios throughout the week.

We asked two experienced teachers to share a couple of their favorite tips for easy-travel props for those who teach young ones. Here are five solid suggestions you can choose from, to incorporate into your overall teaching plans.

The Airy Loofah

Maria Hanley is an early childhood dance educator in Cleveland, Ohio, and she loves using loofahs to explore movement in her classes. "With little ones, I guide them to paint polka dots all over their body," she says, adding, "it's great for tactile movement." Hanley packs 15 to 20 in a small mesh laundry bag and tosses them in her tote. "They are light and easy to travel with," she says.

Super-Portable String

String is an inexpensive and easy-to-transport item that Hanley also employs in her classes with small children. She points out that it's a versatile tool to use with little ones because they can dance with it, use it to practice jumps and leaps, and do many other things. "I cut string up into pieces and place into a zip-lock bag," she explains, saying, "it's easy to pass out from there, and light to carry in your bag."

Colorful Ribbon Rings

Charlotte Foster Williamson is the founder and studio director at Atlanta Dance Central and she suggests trying out "ribbon rings" as a catchy, easy-store prop for small children's classes. "They're simple, plastic rings with ribbons attached," she says, adding, "they're fun, celebratory and light!"

Flat Mat Shapes

Another prop they use at Atlanta Dance Central is something Williamson originally purchased but has also thought about making herself—flat, yoga mat–like material shapes in a range of different colors. "I use them to mark a spot where a child should go," she says. You can use different colors to mean different things, such as red for stop. The material is flat, and it doesn't weigh much, so the shapes can be tossed in a bag or easily stored at a studio.

Convenient Cubes

Hanley also recommends using a packing cube to keep props together. It makes it very easy to locate items quickly during a class. She explains, "It zips up on the inside and then zips closed as a cube," adding, "you can switch out the props when needed, but I always keep the staples in the cube, such as a drum, ribbons, short cones and tape." This tip also helps keep props organized for fast packing—before or after class.

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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