Teaching Tips

How to Pace Class and Why It Matters

Getty Images

James Payne, director of The School of Pennsylvania Ballet, starts class each day by asking students how they feel. "If they're collectively hurting, and I know that the day before they were working hard on something new, I might lessen the intensity of the class," he says. "I won't slow it down, though. Sometimes it's better to move through the aches and get to the other side."

A productive class depends, in part, on how well it is paced. If you move too slow, you risk losing students' interest and creating unwanted heaviness. Move too fast and dancers might not fully benefit from combinations or get sufficiently warm, increasing their risk of injury. But even these guidelines may differ depending on the students' age and level. Good pacing is a delicate balance that can facilitate mental and physical growth, but it requires good planning, close observation and the ability to adapt mid-class.


Be Prepared

Planning your class in advance will limit unnecessary pauses, like reading your notes or taking time to think of new combinations. "Class needs to be well-choreographed," says Tanya Chianese, artistic director of ka.nei.see | collective and freelance teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. "I like to keep class the same for two weeks. The first week I'll throw material at them and only show exercises once or twice. The second week we'll spend more time talking about what specific muscles are doing, since they already know the combinations."

The right music selections can help foster the pace of a class and facilitate a certain tempo or feeling. "Have a good relationship with your pianist and be able to say 'No, that's not what I want,'" says Payne. "But a pianist is a luxury. There are many discs out there, and you should listen to them beforehand so you don't have to fiddle with the music and lose the flow of the class."

With recorded music, it helps to make the playlist before class. If you use online streaming, you may have internet connection problems that can cause disruptions. "I always arrive early and make sure my laptop is on and ready to go," says Chianese. "The music should be downloaded and in order. It saves so much time!"

Use Your Instincts

Even with a good lesson plan, things might change. "When you see signs that class is too fast or too slow, you have to change your approach," says Maria Torija, director of BalletMet Dance Academy. If students are not picking up the steps, and they're rushing through exercises without being able to point their feet or fully stretch their lines, class might be too fast. If class is too slow, you might find students daydreaming and getting cold muscles.

Torija warns against talking too much in between combinations. "Find a way to say things without giving a long speech, or the dancers will get bored," she says. Instead, you can engage students in ways appropriate to their age and level. Ask young students questions, so that they can raise their hands and participate verbally. For advanced students, articulate the goal for center practice so they know what they're working toward that day.

Chianese engages students by asking them to reverse things on their own, without her help. "We all have students who are introverted, scared or embarrassed," she says. "The expectation in this practice is that no one will judge them." While she challenges students with these kinds of intellectual exercises, Chianese does not encourage questions during class unless they relate to technique or body mechanics. "Questions about combinations will slow the pace and can be a disservice to other students who need to figure out the material for themselves."

Read the Room

Different classes need different pacing. "With the young ones, you have to work slower to build muscles and place them, so the tempos are much slower. But you cannot teach an adult or advanced student the same way, because the muscles will get too big and feel too heavy." Instead, adults may just want to feel their bodies moving through space and not stop for lengthy, detailed clarifications.

The key to creating a well-paced class is to be able to read the room. "Be willing to let go of your plan and make changes," says Chianese. "Good pacing will maintain the students' interest and take care of their bodies. It's part of training students with skills that they'll use the rest of their life."

News
Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading... Show less
Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.