Though she loved choreographing, the high school student showcase wasn't quite enough for Julie Deleger, a recent graduate of The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California. The answer for her was an independent-study project during her last semester there. "Choreography is so personal that sometimes you need to take more or less time with it," she says. "Doing it on my own was really helpful. I let the project guide me rather than having to adhere to a specific set of rules."


Independent studies teach valuable life skills, inspire passion about specific interests and give students the opportunity to earn high school credit in a nontraditional way, while catering to their individual learning styles. "I think that when students aren't being dictated what and how they have to learn, they make really personal discoveries they can take ownership of," says Deleger's mentor, College Prep teacher Erica Hartono.

Curriculum Choices

Essentially, independent studies let students develop their own curriculum. Driven by a research question, students plan and implement their own projects and present their findings. There are two main models: an independent-study course in which students earn class credit, or a research project housed within an established class, such as dance history, production or choreography.

At College Prep in Oakland, seniors have the option to take independent study for one semester and work with a mentor to design a project on a topic of their choosing. In contrast, at Berkeley High School, dance students can do what's called a capstone project through the honors option in Linda Carr's dance production class. This past year, Carr gave them from September until June to complete it.

Choosing a Topic

Students should choose a project that sustains their interest for the semester or year. "Get passionate and read up before you get started," Deleger says. "Pick something you're not going to get bored with."

Deleger chose to focus on choreography, creating three dances. College Prep students have to submit their ideas to the dean of academics for approval. Hartono helped Deleger realize that an exploration of three different choreographic methodologies would encapsulate her interests.

At Berkeley High, Carr made a requirement that, as part of their research, students needed to interview one industry professional. "It got them beyond books. In the best cases, they got to meet people," she says. Project topics included college dance programs, dance history, body image in dance and dance in disenfranchised communities.

A Teacher's Role

One of the vital elements of independent study is working with a mentor. The feedback, guidance and insight a student gleans from them is invaluable. From helping students decide what to study to helping them create a workable timeline with benchmarks, mentorship is key.

Hartono helped Deleger create benchmarks in the form of works-in-progress showings for her dances. This helped her stay on track and allowed her to receive feedback. "She made sure I didn't get too stuck on one way of choreographing," says Deleger. "She told me what was working and what wasn't."

To connect all 18 of her students with a person to interview, Carr actually took on the task of finding professionals for them. It was more work for her, but well worth it. Students were able to see how their interests were applicable to jobs in dance. "I think so many of the jobs in the dance field are a little mysterious to high school students," she says. "They feel like the only thing that they're grooming themselves for is a job in a professional dance company."

Independent Challenges

Developing the discipline and organization to see a project of this magnitude through is the greatest challenge of independent study. Deleger found it took her a while to establish a functional schedule for developing material—choreographing for half an hour a day instead of, say, eight hours on a Sunday. "The discipline I learned is really valuable, since I'm going into my first year of college," she says.

Hartono notes that it can be challenging for students to find the balance between having the autonomy to problem-solve and knowing when to ask for help. "The amount of leadership skills that they garner from being given ownership of the process teaches them about accountability, facilitation, and how to talk about dance and the creative process," she says.

Creating Community

Carr had her students present their projects to one another in class. Though she anticipated positive results from the research phase of the projects, the presentations were an added bonus for all. "It was a happy surprise how compelling it was for the class to listen to each other," she says. Students felt validated by presenting something they were truly interested in and enjoyed learning from their peers.

Independent study can foster a strong sense of community among students. When Deleger put out a call for dancers to dance in her three pieces, she had really positive responses. "The adults are out of the way, so it's a very special, student-driven community that is built," says Hartono. "That is really exciting to watch."

Personal and Global Discoveries

For Deleger, independent study gave her an opportunity to learn more about dance, and learn more about her own tendencies. "It turns out the way I had been choreographing for so long was actually not the easiest," she says. Taking risks and making mistakes enabled her to discover new tools.

The capstone projects let Carr's students gain a broader perspective on dance in general, which they can take with them. "The kids are beginning to see dance within a greater context, where it's not just about their own creativity and athleticism," she says. "They are starting to see how dance fits into the larger world and how they can continue to envision dance as part of their lives even after they leave their high school community."

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading...
Site Network
Getty Images

Dancers certainly don't need anyone to tell them how physical their profession is. But now, we have the data to prove it.

Researchers at InsuranceProviders.com analyzed data from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), a national organization developed through support from the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration, to determine the 20 most physically demanding jobs in the country. They analyzed the level of strength, stamina, flexibility and coordination required for a host of jobs, and each category was assigned

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: How do you approach gender when teaching in 2020? When I was training, male dancers were encouraged to make their movement masculine, while female dancers were encouraged to keep their movement feminine. Today, gender has become much more fluid, and the line between masculine and feminine performance has blurred. How does that impact the way we should be teaching?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Going upside down can be scary. It's spatially bewildering, and young students who have spent their lives upright often lack the strength required to feel confident putting their weight on their hands. But, don't fret! There are safe and pleasant ways to build the muscle and the might for dynamite inversions.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

I love this level. I see it as the true origin of a student's dance journey. Intermediate students have bought in, caught the fever, chosen to move beyond inquiry about dance to investment in dance. They are yearning to advance past their beginner training and label.

As teachers, we begin to set more stringent expectations for them to commit to class, take ownership of their learning, and comprehend more terminology and skills. Yet, they are still a bit disheveled in their movement and engagement. They still sometimes forget their dance pants and confuse upstage with downstage. Some of them are still, well, terrified.

Keep reading...
Site Network

2019's movies featured some truly fantastic dancing, thanks to the hard work of many talented choreographers. But you won't see any of those brilliant artists recognized at the Academy Awards. And we're (still) not OK with that.

So we're taking matters into our own jazz hands.

On February 7—just before the Oscars ceremony—we'll present a Dance Spirit award for the best movie choreography of 2019. With your help, we've narrowed the field to seven choreographers, artists whose moves electrified some of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
Kathryn Alter (left). Photo by Alexis Ziemski

In every class Kathryn Alter teaches, two things are immediately evident: how thoughtfully she chooses her words, and how much glee she gets from dancing the movement and style of modern choreographer José Limón. At the 2019 Limón summer workshop at Kent State University, Alter demonstrated a turning triplet with her arms fully outstretched, a smile stretching easily across her face. "It should be as if…" She paused to think of the perfect analogy that would help the dancers find the necessary circularity of the movement. "As if you live in a doughnut!" she finished, grinning broadly. The dancers gathered around her laughed—her smile and love for something as foundational as a triplet was contagious.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Melanie George (right). Photo by Grace Corapi, courtesy of George

Teachers from coast to coast are pushing students to move outside the constraints of popular music. There is a consensus that the earlier you introduce varied musical forms, the more adept and adaptable a dancer's musicality will be.

New York–based jazz scholar and teacher Melanie George notices that many students' relationships to music can be reductive: They may think exclusively about lyrics or accents. But jazz, for example, is about swinging: an embodied comprehension of instrumentation that only comes with musical acuity. "Students are ready for this specificity, even if we aren't giving it to them," she says. When her students understand that there is a technique to listening, it becomes less about going forward, and more about going deeper into the sound and into their bodies.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in a scene from An American in Paris. Courtesy Fathom Events.

If you loved Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris on Broadway, you can now see the 1951 Oscar-winning movie it's based on in all its Technicolor glory. Fathom Events will present MGM's An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and French ballerina Leslie Caron, and with music by George and Ira Gershwin, in select theaters nationwide January 19 and 22.

Keep reading...
Dance Teachers Trending
"Music is magical," says Black. "It just transforms kids." Photo courtesy of Black

After 31 years of teaching, Kim Black has mastered how to reach young dancers. Between a studio and private school, she teaches 34 classes per week in Burlington, North Carolina: That's 238 kids from ages 2 to 6 years old. "You have to make them fall in love with dance," says Black. The music, she says, cues this engagement.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy of PNB School

Naomi Glass, teacher at Pacific Northwest Ballet School, knows firsthand the advantages and challenges of hypermobility. As a young dancer, she was told to keep her hyperextended knees in a straight position far from her full range of motion. "It felt too bent to me," she says. "But once I was able to access my inner thighs and rotators, I found strength and stability and could still use the line that I wanted."

Hypermobility occurs when joints exceed the normal range of motion. Dancers can have hypermobility in specific joints, like their knees, or they can have generalized laxity throughout their bodies (which is often measured using the Beighton system—see below). While this condition may enable students to create beautiful aesthetic lines, it can also increase risk for injury. Help dancers gain the strength they need to stay healthy while making the most of their hypermobility.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Photo by Rachel Papo

Alicia Graf Mack's journey to become director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division—the youngest person to hold the position, and the first woman of color—was anything but a straight line. Yes, she's danced with prestigious companies: Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. But Mack also has a BA in history from Columbia University and an MA in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis; she pursued both degrees during breaks in her performing career, taken to recover from injuries and autoimmune disease flare-ups.

As an undergrad, she briefly interned at JPMorgan Chase in marketing and philanthropic giving, and she later made arts administration central to her graduate work, assuming that she'd eventually take an administrative role with a dance organization.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox