A Showstoppin’ Guide to Preschool Dance Basics

Dance education for preschoolers has many benefits. It exercises the whole body and the mind. It also creates a love for dance that develops into a lifetime desire for being fit. If you have the insight to get your preschool age children to love learning dance, you have taken the first step in establishing a core of students who will be with you for years to come. Preschool age is when you cultivate an early love of dance, and that is a major responsibility. Studio owners should always have preschool teachers that are high energy, creative and love children.


Here are some of my best tips…

Studio Etiquette

  • Always start and finish class on time.
  • Never eat or talk on your cell phone in front of students or their parents.
  • Keep your social life separate. Don't discuss personal issues with students, parents, or teachers.
  • Be warm and affectionate. Love the children in class through actions and expressions.
  • Always be genuine to students and their family members! Your job is all about love, peace, and happiness.
  • Be prepared. Freestyling can be a fun exercise, but classes should be well planned and structured.

  • Have an opening and closing statement for every class. These are encouraging and inspiring to your students.
  • Be receptive to training. You have to believe in the program you teach.

In the Classroom

  • Limit parent observations. Parents can sometimes be a big distraction for tiny dancers who are learning to focus in class.
  • Learn their names quickly. Calling children by their names makes them feel very important.
  • Be flexible and intuitive enough to know when something isn't working and be ready to change it.
  • Strive to make each child feel important and special.
  • Break down skills to the minutest parts.
  • Be a sharp observer. Watch for the safety of the students.
  • Be an actor! Entertain, but keep the group disciplined.
  • Be authoritative but patient. Keep the children in line, but make sure that you maintain a caring and understanding attitude.
  • Maintain a high energy level always. If you seem bored, they will get bored. (Breaking the class into 5-10 minute increments is perfect for keeping the fun going!)
  • Be enthusiastic and extroverted to keep the class fun.
  • Make time to break into groups. Even large classes should feel small and personalized to every student. No one wants to dance in the back of the room for a whole class.

Performance Essentials

  • Have great music that everyone LOVES. This can make or break a class, and it is just as important on stage.
  • Never use anything that's in question. Parents and teachers are very sensitive about the word "sexy" as it applies to moves and music.
  • Just like music, keep costumes kid friendly and PG. (It's never too late to stay current with music, though! There are some great, clean pop songs out there that get kids excited and ready to have a blast.)

Keeping Their Attention

This approach to preschool teaching keeps the children's attention spans in mind. If children are attentive, you can teach, but if not, you can waste half of your class time just trying to keep them quiet. Keep everything moving. This means having your music ready to go so you don't have to walk back and forth between the speakers – even this can give them enough time to lose interest. Just put the music on and go with it.

Showstopper's Dance Conventions offer special Teacher Seminars to help teachers and studio owners with the daily challenges of dance studio life. In our Kids Pre-School Ideas seminar, you will learn timeless principles and fundamental ideas that will make your pre-school program even more amazing, including prop ideas, song lists, and many other creative ideas.

Click here to register your teachers and your dancers for Showstopper's 2018-19 Dance Conventions!


By Debbie Roberts, Founder of Showstopper
Edited by Veronica Good, Writer for Showstopper VIP

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.


The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'échauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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