Dance Teacher Tips

Why Teaching Creative Movement to Young Dancers Is So Important—and 4 Activities for Class

Photo by Nancy Adler, courtesy of Maria Hanley

When a principal, teacher, or parent walks into a room and sees 20 children rolling around on the floor and then leaping for the sky (learning about level changes), or jumping about like frogs (in a role-playing improvisation activity), they might not always understand what's going on. That's why Deborah Damast, clinical assistant professor and artistic advisor of the dance education program at NYU Steinhardt, offered up several responses as to why this type of movement—often a precursor to formal ballet/tap/jazz classes—is so very important.


While Damast has a lot of helpful practical advice to share about ideas and classroom management, one of our initial topics of discussion had to do with why creative movement matters:

- Focusing the mind
- Creating community
- Assisting with children's cognitive and motor skill development
- Preparing muscles and joints for later activity
- Developing aerobic capacity and impulse control
- Introducing movement themes and body awareness
- Building vocabulary and literacy, as well as problem-solving skills
- Increasing interpersonal skills
- Acting as an expressive outlet
- Introducing and instilling class rules and etiquette
- Helping develop strength and flexibility
- Helping schools meet arts enrichment requirements

If needed, warm-up exercises can be developed into choreography for showings, performances, or lecture/demonstrations. A few activities Damast suggested (and that have been tested out by my classmates and I to great amusement):

The Name Game: The class stands in a large circle. One person does a movement and says their name while performing it. The class mimics it, and then each student following adds their name on as a tag. By the time you've made it around the circle, the class has performed and said everyone's name. Once you are able to do the whole circle from memory, try repeating the exercise without talking. Not only do you get warmed up, but you learn all of your classmates names in the process.

Animal Alphabet: From A to Z, come up with animals and movements that correspond with them. Perform different level changes and movement qualities with them. This is also a chance to introduce some unusual animals as well, to make sure all the letters are covered. (In case you're curious, Damast uses a newt for N, vulture for V, X-ray fish for X, and a yak for Y. You can only imagine what types of movements might go with those!)

Skipping Dance: Again in a circle, one child is the "leader." Keep track with the attendance list so everyone gets a chance. The leader skips—kind of like Duck, Duck, Goose—tapping classmates on their head who then join the leader skipping and tapping other dancers who are quietly sitting and waiting. You can only skip if you get tapped; if you get tired, you can sit back down, but have to wait to get tapped again to start moving.

Color Dance: Use construction paper and associate the colors with different movement ideas. For example, red might mean the floor is burning hot; yellow might mean reaching for the sun; black might mean freeze. As the students begin to associate the corresponding movements easily, you can start switching in Language of Dance symbols in to help them build their dance vocabulary.

So the next time someone questions you about what you are doing with your students or why their child needs to be enrolled in creative movement, you now have several different reasons to illustrate its importance. And don't forget—creative movement certainly isn't limited to tiny tots—it can be done by anyone of any age.


Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

We're nearing the dog days of summer when the heat is unbearable and your patience is thinning. Dancers are exhausted and distracted by the bright sunshine outside your windows, and you can't stop dreaming of the vacation you get to take in just a few weeks. Everyone is wanting to give in to laziness, but you know that that won't bring you the joy you're looking for. You know that jumping in and educating your students and filling their passion for dance is the only way you will feel fulfilled by your work.

You need to get pumped up. You need to be inspired!

Don't worry, we have just the trick. Here are 10 inspirational quotes that will get you through these long (and sometimes grueling) days.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Joanne Chapman gave an entertaining rendition of what not to say during a parent/studio director conversation at the New York City Dance Teacher Summit. This panel was created by our team of studio-owner ambassadors, including Chapman and Dani Rosenberg, Becca Moore, Carole Royal, Sue Sampson-Dalena and Jody Phillips. While we enjoyed laughing at the absurd situation, it felt all too familiar to most in the room. The goal of the panel was to model constructive and proactive responses that will support a strong and successful studio business.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo Courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Martin Harvey brought a little movie star charm into morning ballet class at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. (His acting credits include Gossip Girls, All My Children, Dirty Dancing, A Chorus Line, Carousel, plus Metropolitan Opera productions of Carmen and Manon Lescaut.) Educated at the Royal Ballet School in London, he danced many principal roles for The Royal Ballet during his 12-year career.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox