Freddie-Lee Heath wins over PE instructors with his pop culture-inspired choreography

Freddie-Lee Heath wins over PE instructors with his pop culture-inspired choreography.

Lady Gaga’s voice reverberated through the hotel’s multilevel atrium. It was the second day of the Arkansas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance’s convention, an annual gathering of instructors and college majors from throughout the state. Freddie-Lee Heath’s “Get your ‘Glee’ On!” packed dance workshop was held in the atrium, in full view—and earshot—of other guests. Susan Mayes, an instructor in the Health Science, Kinesiology, Recreation & Dance department at the University of Arkansas, looked up at the floors above her and spotted two girls dancing Heath’s choreography. “They had heard the music and came out of their room,” Mayes says. “There they were, in their pajamas, learning combos four floors above!”

Best known for his musical theater and tap choreography, Heath has used his tenure as the National Dance Association’s 2010 K–12 Dance Educator of the Year to encourage PE teachers to incorporate contemporary choreography into their dance units. He hopes that using dances modified from popular movies and TV shows, such as Stomp the Yard, Honey and “Glee,” will help PE instructors overcome their fears of teaching dance and encourage them to make dance engaging for their students.

“In a perfect world, I would have dance teachers teaching dance units,” Heath says. But with budget cuts, many states have rolled dance standards into PE classes. While sports and dance both rely on physical aptitude, strength and discipline, making the leap from teaching one to the other can be daunting for PE instructors. Those with little or no dance experience can be intimidated by teaching moves they themselves don’t feel comfortable doing. Other teachers, such as Kayla Daniels, a PE instructor at John Tyson Elementary School in Springdale, AK, have dance backgrounds but remain wary of teaching complicated choreography to reluctant students. “I was concerned about my students’ maturity level,” says Daniels, who attended both of Heath’s workshops at the ArkAHPERD convention.

Heath, who teaches at an inner-city magnet school in Raleigh, NC, is sensitive to their fears. He has worked as a dancer, choreographer and educator for over 20 years, and many of his students have little or no dance background. “I have to bring them gently into the fold,” he says.

Heath has presented his workshops at conferences across the country, and his upbeat, lighthearted manner quickly sets participants at ease. He begins the hour-long sessions with warm-ups and isolations. Then he introduces 8-count phrases slowly, giving participants a taste of more complex choreography, but always returning to basic movements. “He has so many variations of how you can do one step,” says Daniels. To execute a 180-degree turn, for instance, he has beginners take a single step toward the back of the room, while more advanced dancers might make a three-step turn completing one and a half revolutions. Heath checks in with participants frequently, asking them if they’re ready to move on and repeating the step if they’re not.

Rather than use unfamiliar dance terminology, Heath uses descriptive phrases and everyday terms—Beyoncé booty, robot hands—that participants can relate to. He slowly brings in more technical choreography, including attitude turns and syncopation, but always allows beginners to keep practicing basic steps if they don’t feel comfortable moving on. At the end of the workshop, he hands out sheets reviewing the music and steps in shorthand, often using the same language he uses in the workshop. One 8-count for Heath’s Honey routine, for example, reads: “Walk R/L/R/L; pop fist by head on 5; turn over back shoulder 6, 7; look right 8 (sucker punch).”

Throughout his workshops, Heath references ways to incorporate steps into a variety of classrooms. “He’s constantly talking about muscle groups and developmentally appropriate techniques,” Mayes says. For younger dancers, for example, a simple hop might substitute for a more complicated footwork pattern. Heath also considers age-appropriate music, telling elementary teachers that they can swap Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” for a more familiar and less controversial song such as “Thriller.” What’s important is that dance is relevant to students’ lives, says Heath. He uses choreography and music inspired by “Glee” because it’s popular among middle schoolers. It’s a way to capture students’ attention while also “tying in levels, spacing and slow, sustained movement,” he says.

While Heath acknowledges that some participants might forget the specifics of his choreography, he hopes the experience will break down their inhibitions to teaching dance. The temptation, he says, is to rely on a DVD or a video game like Dance Dance Revolution. Between his cue words and the actual steps, he hopes they’ll use even a small excerpt of his routines and build on it to make it their own. He wants to foster creativity in teachers and thus their students. “I always preface choreography with ‘What I’m giving you is just a skeleton,’” Heath says.

His workshops gave PE instructor Daniels the confidence to try his approach with her elementary-aged students. This year, she revamped her dance unit to focus less on traditional square dances and more on contemporary moves and music. “I honestly underestimated my students in thinking there would be no way they’d get it,” she says. “They do get it, as long as you have variations that start very, very simple and let them add as much as they want to a step.” DT

 

Sara Versluis is a freelance writer and former English teacher who lives in Virginia.

Photo by Nathan Acosta, courtesy of NCAAHPERD

Dance Teachers Trending
Barbara Bashaw in Thompson Hall of Columbia Teachers College. Photo by Kyle Froman

Barbara Bashaw has always been a pioneer. Since kicking off her career in education by building a dance program from the ground up at an elementary school in Brooklyn, she's gone on to become an inspiring force in teacher training. Now, as director of the new doctoral program in dance education at Columbia University's renowned Teachers College and as executive director of the even newer Arnhold Institute for Dance Education Research, Policy & Leadership, she's in a position to effect change nationwide.

"The study of dance education is a young field," Bashaw says. "Music and visual arts are far ahead of us, in terms of the research that has been done, as well as the foothold they have in education. Anywhere education is being discussed, we want to put dance on the table—and that means developing researchers and championing research that will push public policy." In a climate where arts education feels both more endangered and more necessary than ever, Bashaw is ready to blaze a trail.

Keep reading...
Instagram
Karen Hildebrand (center) with 2019 DT Awardee Marisa Hamamoto and members of Infinite Flow. Photo by Joe Toreno

Every year in our summer issue, we honor four dance educators for their outstanding contributions to the field. Recipients have included studio owners, professors, program directors, K–12 teachers and more, whose specialties run the gamut of dance genres.

We need your help to identify this year's best in the profession. Do you have a colleague or mentor who deserves to be recognized as a leader and role model?

Send your nomination by March 1, 2020. You can e-mail us at danceteachereditors@dancemedia.com with the following details:

Keep reading...
Sponsored by Akada Software
Photo by Jenny Studios, courtesy of Utah Dance Artists

Running a dance school used to involve a seemingly endless stream of paperwork. But thanks to the advent of software tailored specifically for dance studios' needs, those hours formerly spent pushing papers can now be put to better use.

"Nobody opens a dance studio because they want to do administrative work," says Brett Stuckey, who leads Akada Software's support team. "It's our job to get you out of the office and back into your classroom."

We talked to Stuckey about how a studio software program can streamline operations, so you can put your energy toward your students.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Photo by Melissa Sherwood, courtesy of MGDC

Martha Graham Dance Company created The EVE Project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of U.S. women's right to vote. The female-focused initiative includes new works, as well as the company's classic repertoire highlighting Martha Graham's heroines and antiheroines. In April, the company is showing the newly reconstructed Circe, Graham's 1963 interpretation of the Greek myth, at New York City Center. Dancing the role of Circe is company member So Young An. Here, she shares thoughts on The EVE Project and how she's approaching her role in Circe, the 57-year-old work that invites audiences to consider pressing conversations about womanhood.

Keep reading...
Dance News
Instead of letting 1920s stereotypes of black dancers define her, Josephine Baker used her image to propel herself to stardom and eventually challenged social perceptions of black women. Photos courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

In honor of Black History Month, here are some of the most influential and inspiring black dancers who paved the way for future generations.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I'm having such a love-hate relationship with mirrors right now. They can be distracting, as well as cause emotional distress for my students. At the same time, they're a really useful tool. I know some teachers remove theirs altogether. Is this something you recommend?

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading...

To celebrate Valentine's Day in the most dance-centric way possible, we sat down with five powerhouse dance-teaching couples to talk about their love stories. What do they admire about each other? What are their couple goals and their teaching philosophies, and how do they make their relationships work, especially when they work together? Get ready to swoon!

Keep reading...
For Parents
Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of BAE

Watching through the studio windows—or even from the sidelines in a Mommy and Me class—can surely make parents wonder what exactly our little tykes are getting out of weekly ballet lessons. After all, they're repeating the same things class after class. Are they bored? Are they progressing? Why are they doing that again?

Keep reading...
Site Network
Photo by Nina Lokmadzhieva, courtesy of Varna IBC

The oldest ballet competition in the world doesn't have the funds for the show to go on: The 29th edition of the Varna International Ballet Competition, scheduled for July 12–30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely.

Keep reading...
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?

Keep reading...
Site Network
The eight 2020 Prix de Lausanne prize winners. Photo by Rodrigo Buas, courtesy of PdL

The 2020 Prix de Lausanne has officially come to a close after a thrilling week of classes, coaching sessions, competition performances and networking forums. The annual competition, which was live streamed around the world and watched over 1.1 million times, gave 77 dancers an opportunity to perform and take class in front of an international panel of judges. In addition to a classical variation, candidates had to master a contemporary solo by Mauro Bigonzetti, Jean-Christophe Maillot, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Heinz Spoerli or Richard Wherlock.

Keep reading...

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox