Q: I have combo classes for two age groups: 3–4 and 5–7. At age 8 the students switch to separate classes. I know parents like the combos, but as a teacher I don’t feel the students get much dancing. By the time they get water, change shoes, etc., they only have about 20 minutes in each technique. Is there a better way to run combo classes?
A: Combination classes are designed to teach basic skills and instill a love of dance. Forty-five minutes is generally a good amount of time to accomplish an exciting dance experience with a balance between two styles. If you focus on the fundamentals and the joy of learning, young students will become the backbone of your studio as they progress.
Reduce the amount of time spent on nondancing tasks by encouraging students and parents to have fun with preparation for class. Praise them for practicing putting on and taking off shoes, always starting with tap, since it is easier to transition out of those into a ballet or jazz shoe. Students ages 4–8 who bring a dance bag into the studio will enjoy quickly changing on the side of the room into their second pair of shoes, with younger students released to parents for help. Suggest that trips to the bathroom and sips of water should occur before and after class whenever possible.
Combo classes help students discover the style of dance that suits their personality and interest. Regularly include time for free dance/improv to inspire individuality, and applaud them for having fun with what they are learning. When you make the recital routine a compilation of the basic skills they learn throughout the year, you instill confidence in your dancers, and it will delight their parents as well.
Kathy Blake is the owner of Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire. She and Suzanne Blake Gerety are the co-founders of DanceStudioOwner.com.
Photo by B Hansen Photography, courtesy of Suzanne Blake Gerety