Teaching Tips

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

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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.

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

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

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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Higher Ed
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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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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