What is age-appropriate and what is not? In many cases, children under 14 are given choreography, music and costuming that may be acceptable for an 18-year-old, but are too suggestive for younger teens.
There is a lot of pressure from music videos for dance teachers and choreographers to follow the most current trends. However, if you can present age-appropriate material to your students in such a way that it seems like just the best and coolest around, you can help students realize that it’s possible to be trendsetting without coming across negatively. Here are some suggestions on how to select and present numbers that offer plenty of excitement for both your dancers and the audience while remaining tasteful.
Music to Your Ears
There are so many wonderful musicals that have suitable music for younger children such as The Wiz, Thoroughly Modern Millie, My Fair Lady and Lion King, to name a few. Please, no Chicago for preteens—it is too sophisticated. With the wide variety of music available, don’t be afraid to try something new and different, and remember that there are plenty of selections without parental advisory warnings.
Look in the world music sections at your local music store: Songs with an international flavor (especially instrumental tracks) give you great opportunities to choreograph something out of the ordinary. Compilation CDs such as the “Buddha-Bar” series are excellent, as are CDs by artists such as Keiko Matsui, Herbie Hancock and Carlos Santana. It does take time to research and listen to music until you find something that moves and inspires you, but the end result will be fully appreciated by all.
Dress for Success
The way that you costume dancers will greatly affect the way the audience perceives them as well as how they feel about themselves. Dancers will perform better and more confidently in a comfortable costume that is structurally sound and leaves them with no fear of “falling out.” In today’s day and age, it’s not unusual to see young students dressed in bra tops, black leather or thigh-highs at competition. While it’s normal for young teens to want to emulate what they see on MTV, they may not even realize it’s sexy; they just think it looks cool.
Keep in mind, too, that popular street styles such as low-rise pants and skirts often don’t translate well onstage and give dancers unflattering lines, making torsos appear too long and legs too short. We’re not suggesting that students wear tents that cover their bodies, since you need to see their lines, but you should dress them so they look their best and feel comfortable.
Just be more creative in your thinking (using vibrant colors and interesting fabrics, for example), to convince students that a costume more off the beaten path is just as cool and up-to-date as what they are accustomed to seeing on TV.
The Right Moves
Age-appropriate choreography starts, above all, with the music and the lyrics. Jazzy hip isolations could be performed, for example, to a Spanish-style song, but not to one with suggestive lyrics.
Lastly, remember to keep the technique in your numbers age-appropriate. For beginners, use creative staging with multiple formation changes, and keep your choreography simple, clean and, most importantly, at a level the dancers can handle with confidence.
Utilize a theme that the dancers can identify with. If the students have fun with it, the audience will, too. For those who are more advanced, pay attention to details with leaps, jumps, turns and layouts. Make sure, once again, that they have mastered the technique in the studio before you ask them to perform onstage.
As dance teachers, we have a powerful influence on the dancers with whom we work, and it is important to remember that we are the ones who set the standards, not the dancers. At the end of the day, letting preteens and younger teens ease gently into the adult world is more important than trying to keep up with MTV. DT
Angela D’Valda Sirico and Steve Sirico are directors of the D’Valda & Sirico Dance Company in Fairfield, CT, and have served as adjudicators for many major dance organizations. They teach and choreograph nationally as well as abroad.