Enhancing creativity and coordination with props

Beverly Spell introduces a prop to her students.

The highlight of a creative movement class is often when the teacher brings out a box of props. “Props excite young dancers and increase the level of pretend play in the classroom,” says Beverly F. Spell, director of Leap ’N Learn, a company that sells early childhood dance syllabi. “Props can also help children understand movement quality, and they increase brain activation, which accelerates learning.”

But how can you incorporate props most effectively into classes, and which props should you choose? From using ribbon rings to mimic the movement of jellyfish to using balloons to teach triplet steps, Spell and two other dance educators explain how prop exercises help young movers gain fine motor skills and a better understanding of technique.


What to Choose

When working with younger students, you’ll need props scaled to little bodies—think short ribbons, small scarves, teddy bears or balls. Otherwise, the sky is really the limit, as long as the prop is safe and durable, and it can help a child understand a concept or increase her level of pretend play, says Spell.

Deborah Lipa-Ciotta, a K–12 dance educator at the Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, New York, and the director of Creative Dance for Children Classes in Cheektowaga, NY, has a few favorite props, including ribbon rings (very safe for young dancers since there are no pointed edges), hula hoops (for moving over, around or through) and beanbags (ideal for balancing exercises). “They should be colorful and fun, because creative movement works best when it’s fun and engaging,” she says. “I love color because it catches the students’ attention.” 

When to Use Them

Spell most commonly introduces props toward the end of class, during the across-the-floor portion or free-dance period. That way, she can begin class with a familiar warm-up routine that will get students focused.

When it’s time for your students to use props, first “explain what the prop is and make it clear what you want to teach them, even with your youngest students,” says Sanja Korman, a dance instructor at Bellaire High School near Houston. “Tell them why you are doing it and why it is important.” Explain, for example, that they’ll be using ribbon rings to mimic the movement of jellyfish and will then copy the rings’ movements with their bodies, which will improve their creative thinking skills. This helps your students understand that props are not just playthings and need to be treated with respect.

Before jumping into the exercises from her lesson plan, Lipa-Ciotta sometimes likes to let her students experiment with the props on their own. “I like for them to familiarize themselves with the props, and to explore the creative possibilities they might come up with themselves,” she says.


Prop Exercises

Lipa-Ciotta recommends having children creatively solve prop-related “problems.” How can three dancers make shapes with one hula hoop? How many different ways can you incorporate a scarf into your dancing? How can you travel across the floor with a balloon?

To help your students understand the mechanics of a grand jeté, consider bringing out a cardboard fence for them to leap over, pretending they are horses, Lipa-Ciotta says. Or, if you are working on “up, up, down” triplet movements, have your students toss a balloon in the air, do the two “up, up” steps, then catch the balloon on the “down” step, which will help them get a sense of the rhythm. (See the box below for more exercise ideas.)

But remember that props are just that—props. While they can help young dancers improve movement skills, don’t let students become reliant on an object. “Once a skill has been mastered,” Spell says—like the triplet step—“try removing the prop, and then have the dancers perform the same movement.” DT


More Exercises to Try 

Here are some prop-related exercises to jump-start your next creative dance class.

 

Age range: 3–6

Prop: Small ball

Purpose: Teach the difference between right and left

* Give one ball to each student. Have the students hold the ball in both hands, reaching toward the right while they stand in second position, with their weight leaning toward the right. Then, instruct them to plié in second position, swing the ball in front of their body and transfer their weight so that the ball ends up on their left side and their weight shifts to the left leg.


Source: Sanja Korman, dance instructor at Bellaire High School near Houston, TX



——————

 

Age range: 3–6

Props: Stuffed pumpkins, play leaves

Purpose: Improve memory recall

* Make a large “plus sign” on the floor with blue painter’s tape. Put one pumpkin in two of the sections and a pile of the leaves in a third section, leaving the last one empty. Have students dance around the first pumpkin, jump over the second pumpkin, pick leaves up and let them fall, and finally, in the empty section, copy with their bodies how their favorite leaf fell to the floor.

Source: Beverly F. Spell, director of Leap ’N Learn, a company that sells early childhood dance syllabi

——————

 

Age range: 7+

Prop: Stretchy fabric sack ($16 from the Oriental Trading Company)

Purpose: Encourage creative movement

* Give one sack to each student. Ask them to climb inside the sack and show, through shaping and levels, various emotions or feelings while inside of it. Have them experiment with what a movement looks like with and without the sack. (For safety reasons, make sure a spotter is nearby and that the students don’t travel through space.)

Source: Deborah Lipa-Ciotta, dance teacher at Tapestry Charter School in Buffalo, NY, and director of Creative Dance for Children Classes in Cheektowaga, NY

 

Hannah Maria Hayes is a NYC writer and editor with an MA in dance education (American Ballet Theatre pedagogy emphasis) from New York University.

Photo by Jason Cohen

Show Comments ()
Dance Teacher Tips
At CPYB, students learn from an early age the importance of strong corps work. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of CPYB

Dancers at the University of Arizona recently performed Jerome Robbins' Antique Epigraphs, an ensemble piece for eight women that requires intricate linear formations and walking in unison. "It was super-challenging for us," says dance professor Melissa Lowe. "Students needed a heightened sense of awareness, or it wasn't going to happen." Lowe asked dancers to use their intuition and aural sensibilities to help determine where they needed to be, when they should be there and how to get to those places—together.

Teaching dancers to work in unison, whether as a large corps de ballet or small ensemble group, is an integral part of their training. It requires teamwork, attention to detail and thoughtful preparation for a successful group effort. Teachers need to provide the right steps and counts to ensure cohesiveness, of course. But how you set the material will also encourage dancers to be in line and in sync—while still allowing them to be individuals.

Make sure they show up

Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy of University of Arizona

University of Arizona students at the end of Balanchine's Serenade

Missing dancers can be disastrous for a group piece. "If it's a studio production, there has to be an agreement up front for students who want to be involved," says Lorita Travaglia, ballet mistress at Colorado Ballet. "When one person is missing and doesn't know what they're doing, it really does affect the whole group." Understanding the importance of commitment is a crucial part of dancers' (and their families') training. "They have the responsibility to everyone, not just themselves," she says.










Showstopper is the nation's leading dance competition. It provides the perfect platform for dancers, teachers, and choreographers to showcase their talents and hard work. Showstopper's environment is inviting, motivating, and above all, inspiring. If you haven't experienced it, now is the time!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

After returning from my first summer intensive away, I started my first diet at 13. My teacher patted my thigh and told me, "that wasn't there before."

Without any nutrition education and because I was too embarrassed to tell my mother what had happened, I started restricting food and only eating things that contained three grams of fat or less. Clearly, as a young teen, I didn't have the knowledge to safely wade through dieting tips and formulate a plan for myself.

Now as a health coach for dancers, I approach the issue of weight with a new found sensitivity–and urge dance educators to do the same.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe. Modeled by Anna Greenberg of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Planks are one of the most popular exercises for core strength, but they're not just about flat abs. Julie O'Connell, physical therapist and performing arts program manager at Chicago's Athletico Physical Therapy, says that dancers can use them to maximize their conditioning: Look at the corrections you're getting in class or the choreography you're learning and mirror those concepts in your strength work.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
On June 9, we showcased the first group of the IMPACT program in Florida at MAD Performing Arts. Photo courtesy of MTEAF

This weekend, The Maria Torres Emerging Artists Foundation is making the dreams of 12 young girls come true.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Thinkstock

Though a new studio year brings with it its own stressors—class scheduling, orientation, newly sore muscles—you'd be remiss if you didn't also use this opportunity to carefully consider what's been working (and what hasn't) for your studio. Is it time to repaint your lobby? Get rid of that more-trouble-than-it's-worth vending machine? Finally add a social-media clause to your student handbook? August is your chance to roll up your sleeves and give every aspect of your business the mental elbow grease it needs.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via @tilerpeck on Instagram

One of my favorite questions to be asked is, "What does your perfect day look like?" I love it so much because I have my response down to a science! As a dance lover, it's simple. My perfect day would be filled with ALL dance ALL the time. It would be HEAVEN!

Because I know our readers are dance addicts, too, I thought you might relate to my oh-so-dance-obsessed 24 hours as well. Check out what made the list, and let me know if there are any "MUST-DO'S" that we should have included over on our Facebook page. On your next free day (lol, cute right?) give it a try, and let us know if it's as fabulous as we think it is!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Booker T. Alum Celeste Robbins and Linda James. Photo by Brian Guiliaux

Linda James, a dance teacher who retired in June from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas, recently wrote for Arts+Culture about her 36 years of teaching.

"I am proud to say that I am a former member of the dance faculty at Booker T. (an affectionate name given to the school by recent alums). In June 2018, I retired from BTWHSPVA—a privileged position that fed my soul. When school resumes in the fall, I know that I will miss the hugs, boisterous clamor and rhythmic outbursts of spontaneous movement as students dart down the halls on the way to class and rehearsals."

She goes on to praise the success of the school's graduates, including the five male dancers in 2016 who were accepted to The Juilliard School, which admits only 10 males each year. She also thanked the local dance schools that have enriched the community:

"Thanks to the outstanding training provided by area dance studios and schools, the skill level of incoming BTWHSPVA dancers has grown steadily. The Booker T. dance faculty eagerly amplify the students' technique and foster the development of their artistry."

For the full story published at Arts+Culture, visit here.

Dance Teachers Trending

After 14 years teaching on the convention circuit, Kim McSwain's known for her positivity. And in 2017, she started a dance education and consulting agency to offer personalized training for dance studios. Through Changing Lives, she and a network of 10 experts advise on faculty training, studio-business management and consultation, parent education classes, curriculum development, choreography and private lessons for teachers and more.

McSwain is particularly known for her work with the "littles," the 5-and-under dancers, having begun as an assistant teacher in the preschool room of her local studio at age 19. Combining her own dance background (her resumé includes dancing for Britney Spears and *NSYNC) and her genuine love of children, McSwain went from assisting classes to running the studio's performance and competition teams.

"It was better than anything I'd ever felt dancing professionally," she says. "I never looked back. I always tell my faculty that their class can either light up a kid's world or it can add to the darkness most kids are already dealing with. There's nothing in-between—so let's light up their lives."

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
It doesn't have to be diagnosable by the DSM-5 to be dangerous to your health. Photo by Dominik Martin/Unsplash

When the cat food started smelling good, I knew I had a problem.

I'd always considered eating disorders to be extreme. Someone who never eats. Someone who weighs less than 100 pounds. Someone who gets hospitalized.

My behavior didn't fit the mental health definition of an eating disorder. I ignored it because I didn't know how to articulate it. It took me several years after the cat food smelled good to have the language to describe what was going on.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Thinkstock

We asked and you answered! Here are the top 11 things dance teachers wish their students understood. Let us know if you agree with these over on our Facebook page!

Thanks for being fabulous and keeping your students' best interests at heart. We vow to love you all forever and ever! xoxo

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored