Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: Any Tips for an End-of-Year Show That Pleases Everyone?


Q: What tips do you have for creating end-of-year performances that teachers, students, parents and administrators will all be happy with?

A: This can be tricky. When I worked as a teaching artist in public schools, the classroom teachers would ask me to help them prepare a dance primarily made by the teacher or by someone on YouTube. Groups of students would do gestures relating to the lyrics of a popular song in unison. This type of sharing would not have been representative of what the students actually did with me, which was work in groups to make their own dances based on a topic we studied. While there are benefits to mastering others' choreography, I believe that dance should also be a creative act.

The teachers I worked with complained that parents wouldn't understand my abstract dances, which use different choreographic structures and elements. I tried to explain that a performance is an opportunity to teach the administration and parents, who may have limited exposure to dance. Many believe that "real dance" is only what they see on TV on dance competition shows. I take advantage of my class performances as a chance to advocate for my work and a more open idea of dance.

When I show my students' work, whether it's on my video blog or live, I take the time to explain what the process was to create the piece, and what they as an audience should look for in the dances. Parents learn to see their children making conscious choices about levels, groupings, directions and steps to express themselves. My students' parents and my administrators are always thrilled to see students mindfully (and joyfully) expressing themselves.

Teachers Trending
Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.

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Dancer Diary
Claire, McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet

Former Houston Ballet dancer Chun Wai Chan has always been destined for New York City Ballet.

While competing at Prix de Lausanne in 2010, he was offered summer program scholarships at both the School of American Ballet and Houston Ballet. However, because two of the competition's winners that year were Houston Ballet's Aaron Sharratt and Liao Xiang, dancers Chan idolized, he turned down SAB. He joined Houston Ballet II in 2010, the main company's corps de ballet in 2012, and was promoted to principal in 2017. Oozing confidence and technical prowess, Chan was a Houston favorite, and even landed himself a spot on Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch."

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