Teaching Tips

Ask the Experts: What Should I Do About Students Falling Behind Their Peers?

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Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

A: It's not uncommon for dancers who start on the same level when they are 5-year-old minis to progress beyond that at a different pace. We have a group of 21 dancers, with several students who cannot keep up with their classmates. We've tried everything: private classes, extra assistants to work with just them, special attention in class—we even asked them to double-up on their schedule by taking the level below them as well as their regular classes. All of this just overwhelmed them, and they continued to struggle.

This year we have decided to place them in our part-time competitive level classes. Prior to this decision we made sure to speak to their parents individually and let them know how much their child was struggling with technique and corrections, and that this was affecting their self-esteem. We expressed that we want their children to love dance, but that the classes they were currently in had become too difficult for them to succeed in. This was not an easy decision, but it was the best decision for all concerned.

Layeelah Muhammad, courtesy DAYPC

This summer's outcry to fully see and celebrate Black lives was a wake-up call to dance organizations.

And while many dance education programs are newly inspired to incorporate social justice into their curriculums, four in the San Francisco Bay area have been elevating marginalized youth and focusing on social change for decades.

GIRLFLY, Grrrl Brigade, The Alphabet Rockers and Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company fuse dance with education around race, gender, climate change and more, empowering young artists to become leaders in their communities. Here's how they do it.

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Teacher Voices
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I often teach ballet over Zoom in the evenings, shortly after sunset. Without the natural light coming from my living room window, I drag a table lamp next to my portable barre so that the computer's camera can see me clearly enough. I prop the laptop on a chair taken from the kitchen and then spend the next few hours running back and forth between the computer screen of Zoom tiles and my makeshift dance floor.

Much of this setup is the result of my attempts to recreate the most important aspects of an in-person dance studio: I have a barre, a floor and as much space as I can reasonably give myself within a small apartment. I do not, however, have a mirror, and neither do most of my students.

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Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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