Teaching Tips

Learn This Teacher's Secrets for Holding Preschoolers' Attention

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Teaching young dancers ages 3 to 5 can be incredibly fun and rewarding. However, it can quickly turn chaotic during those transitional moments in between activities.

Weighing in on the subject is Julie Crothers, a creative movement teacher at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. Here, she shares five tips for keeping in-class transitions seamless and fun.


1. Create an imaginary world.

"If I need to transition them to another part of the room so I can set a prop up, I have them pretend that we are traveling through a swamp and have to walk with big stomping steps across the room. While they do that, I sneak behind them and set up the props for the next activity."

2. Give them a specific task.

"I might say, 'Can you travel like this to this part of the room?' 'Can you pick up your [colored floor] spot and hold it like a pizza?' or 'Can you balance this prop on your head while you travel over here and put it away?' I also like to have them 'fall asleep' or make snow angels."

Julie Crothers teaches both toddlers and teens in the San Francisco Bay Area. Photo by David DeSilva

3. Pique their curiosity.

"Another thing I do is draw a lot of attention to myself during the transitions. If I have them all sitting against a wall and I need to set up some props, I do it really animatedly so that they think, 'What is she doing?' Sometimes I'll even ask them, 'What am I doing?'"

4. Limit distractions.

"It is really helpful to make it so that I don't have to fiddle with the music too much. I have a playlist that is set and in the correct order. Also, I make sure I don't ever have them travel near where the props or music are because they get easily distracted."

5. Follow their lead occasionally.

"Sometimes, when a student tends to do something other than what I've planned, rather than say, "No don't do that,' I'll say, 'OK, that's what we're doing now. Let's all do that!" Sometimes seeing what they want to do is an educational moment for me."

Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi (Courtesy Leap!)

Since its inaugural season in 2012, Leap! National Dance Competition has been all about the little things.

"I wanted to have a 'boutique' competition. One where we went out to only one city every weekend, so I could be there myself, and we could really get to know the teachers and watch their kids progress from year to year," says Leap! executive director Drew Vamosi. According to Vamosi, thoughtful details make all the difference, especially during a global pandemic that's thrown many dancers' typical comp-season schedules for a loop. That's why Leap! prides itself on features like its professional-quality set design, as well as its one-of-a-kind leaping competition, where dancers can show off their best tricks for special cash and merchandise prizes.

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Thankfully, we're (mostly) past the days when authority figures felt free to openly mock a dancer's appearance. But body shaming remains a toxic presence in the studio, says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, psychologist for Atlanta Ballet: "It's just more hidden and more subtle." Here's how to make sure your teaching isn't part of the problem.

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While perhaps most revered as a master tap instructor and performer, Russell also frequently taught hip-hop and musical theater classes, showcasing a versatility that secured him a successful career onstage and in film and television, both nationally and abroad.

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