The back is an essential focus of Cynthia Harvey's ballet classes, especially as a part of port de bras. Here, she offers "plain," en face port de bras, followed by the same position with épaulement, to show the difference the back (and head and neck) can add to any position. Aspirational imagery helps students find their best épaulement: "Feel as if you have a tiara on," says Harvey. "Don't look like a student—look like a ballerina."
Dancers who dare to sing increase their marketability, according to voice teacher Jan Horvath.
It's one thing to master a triple pirouette, she says. It's another to be a well-rounded performer who can tackle any challenge without being discouraged.
Horvath teaches voice at Steps Conservatory, a two-year professional dance program in New York City. Once a week, she leads two groups of 10 students in a 90-minute vocal course.
"It's like a ballet barre," she explains. "We focus on one little thing of the day and perfect it and move on."
There are roughly five songs almost every studio will dance to during competition season. They're fantastic, of course (that's why we're all using them), but by the time Nationals comes around, everyone's heard them a few too many times.
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Creative dance means creative teaching, too. Though leading a class of 3-year-olds may sound like fun and games to the uninitiated, there's a serious side to early childhood dance education. Each activity has a purpose: to develop cognitive, social and physical abilities. There are also specific teaching strategies for working with this age group. “It's important to understand how children think," says Rima Faber, who developed The Primary Movers, a curriculum for early childhood. “They don't think abstractly the way adults do. Children have to experience, to know what it feels like. They don't understand if you're telling them to feel this muscle or that one. You have to provide images that they have experienced." For example, she says, “In second-position plié, I tell them, 'You're like a park bench.' They already know a park bench is wide and open, so you give them that picture, then they can internalize it."
Dance Teacher asked Faber and four other early childhood dance specialists to share their favorite tools and advice for success with pre-K children—an age group that is increasingly regarded as key for the growth of any dance studio.
Even the most disciplined dancers admit to weeping in class sometimes. Sorrow and fear are human expressions, but teachers may not always know how to navigate a sudden burst of waterworks.
"Stress is in the body," explains Linda Taylor, a school psychologist in Idaho who has taught ballet to all age groups, from toddler to professional. "Sometimes the release of it can bring on tears, especially for older students."
"We all need to cry sometimes," says Joel Hall, founder and director of Joel Hall Dancers & Center in Chicago. An instructor who has taught for 46 years, he admits he used to feel panicked at the sight of watery eyes. Now, he has a better understanding of students' feelings and how to work with them.
Here are five expert tips from Taylor and Hall for navigating grief in dance class.