Mastering the 30-minute lesson plan

 

 

First-grade dance class at Saluda River Academy for the Arts, West Columbia, South Carolina

K–12 teachers are no strangers to the time crunch. By the time students have changed clothes for class, your 45 minutes can easily become 30. Especially with younger grades, your entire class period might be 30 minutes total. With less time than many dance classes devote to warm-ups alone, how can you impart technique, history and composition—and ensure that students retain what they’ve learned?

Luckily, K–12 teachers are good problem solvers. “You can accomplish a lot in 30 minutes,” says Diane B. McGhee Valle, head of dance education at the University of South Carolina. “The key is to be not only time-conscious, but also organized and well-planned.” A few time-saving tricks can’t hurt, either. With preparation and a little creativity, you can make every moment count.

Prepare for Success

McGhee Valle says that one of the easiest mistakes to make is to introduce too many variables within one 30-minute class. For example, you might devote one elementary class to skipping in different ways. But adding hops and gallops in the same class is more than students will retain. If you feel that you’re breaking down dance into even smaller bite-sized pieces than you would for a 50-minute class, you’re doing it right, she says.

This doesn’t mean you must abandon your end-of-term goals. “You still want to reach those goals, just maybe on a different level,” says Laurie Brongo, who teaches grades 3–8 at The Town School in NYC and has 19 years experience. “You just have to figure out how to get there a different way.”

For both McGhee Valle and Brongo, a multipurpose warm-up is essential. McGhee Valle recommends getting students’ blood pumping while reviewing prior material—having them execute known skills, before adding in the day’s focus, such as skipping. Brongo emphasizes routine with a set rhythmic warm-up. Because the students grow to rely on muscle memory, she can add layers that vary by the day; in one class, she might prompt the students to face different stage directions as they execute the steps. The goal is to save time by layering concepts, like locomotor movements and stage directions, while warming up the body—and in a way that doesn’t overwhelm.

McGhee Valle’s essential elements for a 30-minute class include the multitasked warm-up, guided improvisation and composition, rehearsal time, performance for classmates and a quick review. “Everything in the body of the lesson should give them food for creating a new dance. Everything should be carefully linked,” she says.

She thinks of this plan as an accordion with elements that can be expanded and contracted as needed. But teachers should guard against getting bogged down in details. In general, she recommends limiting the warm-up, improvisation and composition elements to the first 19 minutes of class, followed by a few minutes to practice, a few minutes to perform and a quick 60-second debrief of the day, when she’ll ask questions like, “What happened today?” and “Can you give a compliment to someone who was working very well today and tell me why?”

Though the most successful short lessons are thoroughly choreographed, they also require flexibility—and a degree of lightheartedness. “Everything takes time, so give it the time it needs,” says Brongo. “We all think, ‘Let me cram this in,’ but they won’t retain it. They won’t enjoy it, and neither will you. It takes flexibility, with a capital ‘F.’ And if you have a sense of humor, you’re ahead of the game.”

Time-Saving Tips

Trigger a dance mind-set by giving students a task to complete immediately upon entering the room. “Transitions are always tough for kids, so as soon as they come in, I have a challenge on the board—anything from ‘count the squares in the ceiling’ to ‘make a round shape with a partner,’” says Brongo. “A fun activity immediately turns the mind around, and they start the class with success, having solved a problem already.”

Don’t waste time changing CDs or searching through playlists. McGhee Valle recommends using one instrumental CD through the whole class (lyrics can distract young dancers), creating a playlist for each class, or better yet, using a drum or other percussion instrument to seamlessly integrate music into your lesson plan.

When a student needs one-on-one time, give the rest of the students a task. You can save this for the end of class, when students are changing their shoes, or you might talk with one or two students while others are rehearsing with a partner.

Use every possible moment to reinforce class concepts. For example, once class is over, challenge your students to skip a certain way to get their shoes.

Use homework to extend the lesson. To minimize time spent watching videos in class, Brongo posts videos on the school website for students to watch as homework; they then discuss them in class the next day. She also posts videos of the students’ compositions, so that they can evaluate and critique their work from home. DT

Dancer Ashley Rivers is based in Boston.

 

Photos by Diane B. McGhee Valle, courtesy of the photographer

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...
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...
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...
Dance Teachers Trending
Morrissey (left). Photo courtesy of Interlochen Center for the Arts

When Joseph Morrissey first took the helm of the dance division at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan, he found a fully established pre-professional program with space to grow. And his vision was big, with plans to stage the kind of ambitious repertory he'd experienced during his dance career. But the realities quickly set in. During his first year in 2015, the department was denied by the George Balanchine Trust to license any Balanchine ballets—the dancers were not quite ready.

This early disappointment didn't derail Morrissey. In just four years, he has not only raised Interlochen's training standards, he's staged ambitious full-length ballets and been granted the rights to works by Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille and, yes, Balanchine. Guest artists regularly visit, and he's initiated major plans to expand the dance department building. Morrissey is only 37, but it should come as no surprise that he's done so much so fast—his entire life's journey has prepared him to be an artistic leader.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Valerie Amiss with students. Photo by Tracie Van Auken, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet

Jared Nelson, artistic director of California Ballet, demonstrates a tight fifth position as he talks to his class about the importance of rotating from the hips. "Having a visual image helped me as a dancer, so I try to demonstrate as much as possible," he says. "But I am also very conscious of word choice. Every dancer is different, and you have to phrase things in a language they will understand."

Teachers should always be aware of how they communicate with their students, including how they choose language for different individuals, classes or situations. Using the right terminology in early stages of training will ensure that students learn the proper names of steps. This foundation is crucial, particularly when so much of the classical vocabulary has been substituted by nicknames and phrases. (Think "lame duck" or "step-up turn" in place of piqué en dehors.) But good use of language also means using imagery and positive reinforcement to ensure the right kind of messaging. What teachers say in the studio could make the difference between dancers who listen—and ones who really hear.

Keep reading...
Site Network
Dance Theatre of Harlem's Derek Brockington and Da'Von Doane in Claudia Schreier's Passage. Photo by Brian Callan, courtesy of DTH

Back to your routine after the holidays, but still looking for something to watch? Then this new PBS documentary titled Dancing on the Shoulders of Giants is for you. The hour-long film tracks the creation of two dance pieces: Claudia Schreier's Passage for Dance Theatre of Harlem, and Sir Richard Alston's Arrived featuring students of Norfolk's Governor's School for the Arts. Both works were co-commissioned by the American Evolution 2019 Commemoration and the Virginia Arts Festival last May, in recognition of the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of Africans to English North America and the history of slavery that followed.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Getty Images

Q: My tween is begging me to go to a faraway summer intensive, claiming "all my friends are going." How do I know if she's ready?

A: It can feel like a rite of passage for serious dancers to attend an intensive at a major ballet school. They dance all day and often explore the area's surroundings or attend performances on weekends. But living away from home, having a roommate and living the "dorm life" can be a challenge.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox