Games or Consequences

I teach at Groove With Me; it's a volunteer-based dance school with over 200 students, who all will perform in one spring recital in two weeks. Because there will not be a tech or dress rehearsal, and because there are so many students and so few adults (many are only volunteering for this event) the directors organized a special meeting for all volunteers to go over the day-of-show’s flow. At the meeting, we reviewed games to keep younger students occupied and quiet backstage, and a behavior management specialist offered tips for handling challenging situations that may arise.


Here are a few games that not only work backstage; but also are great in-class activities:

  • Split students into pairs, and assign each student the role of “sculptor” or “clay.” Call out a theme, (like sports) or an action (like eating). Without talking, the sculptor molds the clay into a pose that fits the theme. The clay has to hold each position, and cannot direct the sculptor. Switch roles.

  • This game reminded me of a silent, improvised Pilobolus piece: Split students into groups of 4 or 5 and call out an object. Without talking, directing or motioning other students, students in each group must fit themselves into the shape of that object.

  • Tell students to freeze in a position of their choice. Students can pretend they are trapped in cement, or a gigantic sticky web. One body part at a time, the cement or stickiness dissolves, and they can move only that one joint—little by little wiggling their selves free. When playing with younger students, call out the body parts they can move.

  • Instruct students to walk when you say, “walk,” and freeze when you say, “stop.” Then switch the meanings, so they stop when you say, “walk” and they walk when you say, “stop.” Adding more instructions to the game will make it very tricky!


Students in an environment of heightened stress—like backstage at a performance—may act differently than they would in a normal situation. Before performance day, have your backstage staff rank certain behaviors or situations in terms of emergency or toleration. It will help them effectively and appropriately handle each circumstance. Here are some quick tips:

  • Present choices: “You can either (insert misbehavior), or not participate in the performance.” Saying, “You can either keep crying, or take a deep breath and tell me what happened,” often halts crocodile tears.

  • Communicate rules: Explain why a student should not be doing something. “If you run, you may trip and not be able to perform.” Redirect bad behavior: “Please don’t run backstage; walk instead.” 

  • Remember: Children usually do not know what they’re supposed to be doing, so only using “Don’t” without an explanation or an alternative is ineffective. Yelling or using sarcasm shows frustration, which often provokes poor behavior.

  • I loved this comparison: “Yelling back or getting frustrated is like playing Tug of War. When you pick up the other end of the rope, you have already lost.”

  • Asking a student to help find her own solution or consequence often helps her keep up her end of the bargain.

  • Let students know what consequences may be, and enforce them. Be consistent, clear and realistic. Nonrealistic consequences—those that far outweigh the behavior—invalidate the punishment.

  • Most importantly: Praise good behavior. Especially praise it when it's from a student who previously was misbehaving.


To read more advice when helping  students battle stage fright, click here.  

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, 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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.