Teaching Tips

Check Out This Teacher's Tips for Teaching Tiny Competition Dancers

Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.


Goldie Ford- Jada www.youtube.com


On what her 5- to 7-year-old jazz class looks like

"I do a full class from warm-up to center to jumps—I don't baby it down for them. In our warm-up we include abs and correct push-ups (I believe they need to start getting strong at a young age so they can hold themselves correctly, rather than look like noodles). I teach them the basics like passés, pirouettes and how to open from second to first for chaînés. I don't skip over things, but I'm also not afraid to give them something challenging."


On pushing her littles

"I like to give them something beyond their present skill level and then help them reach it. Some will grasp things at different times than others. Some will be amazing at leaps while others will be amazing at turns, and they may need to work extra hard at what doesn't come easy to them. Even still, I want to give everyone the opportunity to grow through challenging work. Different teachers will have different opinions on this, but I've found it's the best way to help them make progress."

Tessa Ohran - Feeling Good www.youtube.com


On using analogies as teaching tools

"I like to use visuals to help my students understand different concepts. I teach them that their hip bones are headlights, and if they turn them off the road, they'll wreck. As they pull into passé, I like to use the analogy of a rocket. Our legs are like the flames that push toward the ground as it blasts off, while our body is like the top of the rocket in the air. I'll usually show them a picture as well, just in case they don't know what a rocket is—they're 5 after all. During Halloween I bring a skeleton to class to show them the proper position of the hips, where the tailbone is and how everything should be placed."


On choreographing routines for this group

"Similar to my classes, I try not to dumb my choreography down. They will perfect their movement in technique class, so I start by giving them difficult stuff to work with. I can always pull back if it ends up being too much. Throughout the whole year they work on the technique in the pieces I gave them, and they rise to the challenge."


Ruby Taylor - Wind It Up www.youtube.com


On her secret weapon

"I almost always have an assistant in class with me. One of us is always walking around the room and correcting the students, while the other is demonstrating. This is really helpful for this age group. They can both see and feel what their dancing should be like."


On helping young dancers pick up choreography

"I use a lot of repetition—we do each movement over and over and over again. I also send home a video of me or my assistant doing it with the dancers. I tell them to watch it a few times before they go to bed, because I feel like it really helps them remember."


On keeping her students' attention

"I have to have a lot of different incentives. I have a star chart for their attitudes, and then I have a star chart for reaching goals. When they reach certain goals like right splits or left splits, I will try to reward them for it. A couple of my kids are very clingy to their moms, so I will say 'OK, if you come into class without crying, you get a star!' Some teachers disagree with this, but for me, it's really helpful."


Center Stage Performing Arts Studio - Queen of Hearts www.youtube.com

Music
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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