Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: How Do You Approach Gender When Teaching in 2020?

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Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2020? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?


A: Yes, dance is changing. Masculine and feminine performance has blurred more and more, and I love watching the direction we are traveling in. It's common to see girls lifting girls, and boys lifting boys in choreography now. It's also not unusual to watch a performance with a male dancer in a skirt, or a female dancer in a suit and tie. In my opinion, dance educators should give children a strong base for their training at a young age. To me, this means that young boys should be taught to be strong in their movement, and girls should be taught to be feminine. But, as a dancer matures, expanding on traditional training to blur the traditional gender lines is beneficial.

Some ways you might approach this in class is by not assigning movement a gender. I think a "lifts class" that isn't expressly male or female is a great addition to your students' training. Similarly, jumps that were traditionally only performed by men are now being performed by both genders. There shouldn't be a male-only jumps portion of class. Both male and female dancers should have the opportunity to train in them. As dance educators, we should give our students (regardless of their gender) the opportunity to expand and diversify their training. This is a great way to do that.

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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