Our latest assignment is to create two pieces of ballet choreography, each about a minute long to classical music. One piece is for ages 8 to 9; the other for ages 11 to 12. Using American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum as a guideline for what steps to use, we've been given a strong suggestion to tailor the movements to one level below what the students are currently dancing, so they are showcased in the best light.

This exercise, once we start showcasing our pieces and teaching them to each other next week, will allow us to talk about what elements worked well and what could have been done better – not to mention the chance to learn some choreographic ideas from our peers. Check back and I'll let you know how it goes.

So, curious minds want to know: No matter what genre of dance you teach, how do you go about choosing music, and what steps do you take to make sure the student is dancing a piece that’s appropriate for his or her level of development? Share your thoughts on the Dance Teacher messageboard.

In early April, I wrote about a dance production class that involves a broad overview of what it's like to put on a performance, including lighting design, costuming, backstage management, choreography, and programming. The final project of the course, which we presented on April 13, was performing a short piece of any dance genre in duos and trios, complete with costumes, a basic lighting design, and a press release.

We had a tech rehearsal in class, followed directly with the 15-minute show featuring seven original dance pieces. It was filmed by our instructor Deborah Damast, and I uploaded several of the videos in case you're interested what kind of things we came up with, mostly on the fly.

Here are direct links to some of the pieces that were performed:


Leselle Robinson and Jee Yun Hong perform their piece "Ocean Sunrise"

Adam Holms and Megan Philipp perform their piece "Flipper Ballet"

Barbara Angeline, Nicole Frangione, and Julie Garcia perform their piece "Again"

Aya Wallace and I perform our piece "Another Star"


If you'd like more details about the class structure, check out my original blog entry: http://www.dance-teacher.com/sections/blogs/435

I'd love to know what you thought of the pieces, as well as if you have choreographic workshop ideas for older students. Are there any ideas that you've used that have really helped inspire creativity? If so, share your thoughts on the Dance Teacher message board.

As I mentioned in my last post, one of our latest assignments is to create two pieces of ballet choreography, each about a minute long, using classical music. One piece is for ages 8 to 9; the other for ages 11 to 12.

We've spent the past week observing the choreography created by our peers and then getting a public critique on it by our instructor Raymond Lukens. Actually, it's not quite accurate to say that we get to observe the choreography--many times, we are cast as dancers in the pieces, so we get to experience what various movement choices would feel like for little legs, arms, and bodies.

I haven't shown my pieces yet, but here’s the way the process works: I will need eight dancers for my younger piece, and four for my older piece. I will have about 15 minutes to set one piece, while another choreographer sets one of her pieces in another studio. We then come back to the main studio, have a mini showing, and then start all over again. With 20 students in the program, we'll end up seeing 40 different pieces.

This exercise has not only been a unique way to channel the inner child, but also to learn about creative music and choreography choices. We’re using ABT's National Training Curriculum as a guideline for what steps to use, and it was strongly suggested that we tailor the movements a level below what the students are currently dancing, so they always look their best on stage.

At first I was alarmed at the 15-minute timeframe to set an entire piece, but it turns out that some of the best pieces are those that use steps that would already be in the dancers’ vocabulary along with simple basic patterns and counts. Lukens said that when he owned a private studio, he never spent more than two weeks rehearsing a piece for a demonstration. So, if the timer starts to run over the 15 minutes, the instructor has an indication that perhaps the choreography (or the way it is presented) might need a second consideration.

Here are some additional tips and thoughts from Lukens about this process:

- Always, always, always showcase the children in the best possible light. They should feel special on stage and the parents, of course, want to see them looking beautiful as well. For example, in a class where all the students had weak arms, he choreographed an ice skating scene and all the dancers wore muffs.

- Music choices, especially for young children, should have a clear, easy-to-follow beat or rhythm.

- Children love props, such as baby dolls, stuffed animals, Spanish fans, etc.


- Make the best use of the performance space. Avoid segmenting dancers into groups on either side of the stage as this will cause a tennis match effect on the audience.

- Remember that running in patterns and using clean movements can look gorgeous. Think of some of the elements of Balanchine's Serenade.
 
I’ll likely have more to say as we continue to view the choreography of my classmates this week. In the meantime, I'm curious: No matter what genre of dance you teach, how do you go about choosing music, and what steps do you take to make sure the student is dancing a piece that’s appropriate for his or her level of development? Share your thoughts on the Dance Teacher message board.

This week in our jazz class, many of us are presenting our final project: a lesson plan that includes some form of vernacular jazz that we will teach to our peers. The overall course gives an overview of the history of jazz dance and its African roots. (Read more about it here) For our midterm, we each had to write a proposal on how we would implement a similar course in a studio, high school, college, etc., and why it is important to do so. For our final project we're supposed to teach a short lesson plan to the hypothetical students in that proposed setting.

I happened to write about a private dance studio where students can choose to take pre-professional or recreational classical ballet or flamenco. My reasoning for adding a similar jazz course once a week for one hour over the course of the school year was because ballet dancers need familiarity with vernacular jazz to be better prepared for contemporary choreography, and flamenco dancers can draw many parallels from tap, improvisation, and the grounded nature of African dance.

We were given an option to pair up or go alone for the final, and I choose to go alone because I wanted to teach my classmates something about flamenco. But given our time restraints for the length of the presentation - about 12 minutes - I recently realized I had a real challenge ahead of me because it's difficult to draw parallels to two dance forms when the entire group had never even tried flamenco before.

At first I wanted to explore jazz fusion and compare it to flamenco fusion - think Gypsy Kings, who took flamenco and made it "modern." But after exploring that topic, I couldn't really ask the group to make their own dance fusion with flamenco and say hip hop because most of them don't know anything about dancing either dance form.

So I ended up thinking about how flamenco involves two types of clapping, finger snapping, and even slapping of the upper chest, hips, and upper thighs. It seemed an easier concept for a newcomer to grasp. And when it comes to vernacular jazz parallels, there's the hambone dance, stepping, and if you want to use your whole body, you can beatbox.

So my lesson will illustrate how you can use your body as a percussion instrument, moving into syncopation and improvisation - the cornerstones of jazz music and many jazz dance forms. After teaching my classmates some easy body percussion from the flamenco realm, I plan to review the vernacular jazz dances and beatboxing. Then, I will have them break into groups of four people and create a 16-count movement phrase incorporating clapping, stomping, slapping, and vocalization, preferably with syncopation and even improvisation if they're feeling comfortable with the assignment. Then there will be a class showing and a discussion. All in 12 minutes. This should be interesting ...

 

Hannah Guruianu is a master's degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.

One of our courses this semester, Jazz Dance Technique, explores jazz dance through experiencing and deconstructing approaches to technique, improvisation, and cognitive content. Since there is a strong focus on the historical and cultural context of vernacular (traditional) jazz, as opposed to stylized forms of jazz dance, it is not quite a technique class as the course title suggests, but instead a history lesson of jazz’s continual change and growth and a celebration of African-American artists – all through peer teaching, guest lectures, and guided exploration through movement.

Instructor Patricia G. Cohen designed the course so that it starts with the roots of jazz dance. Our first class involved guest instructors who taught a West African dance class. Each week thereafter has tackled highlights from future eras, including the dances associated with slavery and plantation life (17th to late 19th century); Ragtime era (1890s to teens); the Jazz Age (1920s); the Swing era (1930s to early mid-1940s); World War II and its aftermath (1940s); politically conservative 1950s-1960s; The Love Generation (1960s); Disco era (1970s); breakdancing and hip hop culture (1980s); and “hip hop evolved” (1990s to now).

Student group presentations on these eras begin each class session, followed by video clips and pictures, and then we explore movements from the era that we happen to be looking at that week. We’re going to head into the disco era this week (which also covers Bob Fosse, Michael Bennett, and socio-economic influences). So far I have presented on the development of tap dancing related to the 1920s Jazz Age era (the Nicholas Brothers, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, soft shoe tapping), and will present on Rennie Harris, krumping, and current dance trends later this month. Other class assignments involve written observations and reflections, as well as a vision statement and rationale for inclusion of jazz dance in a curriculum and a presentation based upon that vision.

Some interesting readings on the topic to consider:
- Hubbard, K. W. (2008). Valuing cultural context and style: Strategies for teaching
     traditional jazz dance from the inside out. Journal of Dance Education, (8)4, 110-116.
- Ambrosio, N. (1993). Jazz dance in the dance curriculum: What educators should know.
     Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, (64)2, 41-43,52.
- Kerr-Berry, J.A. (2004). The skin we dance, the skin we teach: Appropriation of black
     content in dance education. Journal of Dance Education, (4)2,45-47.

 

Hannah Guruianu is a master's degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.

In addition to all of the required courses that we have to take for the NYU/ABTprogram, we choose one elective - either an existing course or an independent study. I've always been fascinated with costuming, so I decided to create my own course so I have more background information to help me as a future studio owner. So far, I've been reading texts, making site visits to costume shops, having discussions with costume designers, and even attempting to sew a leotard.

I've had the opportunity to tour the costume shop at Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, NY, where I learned that they spray the arm pits of the costumes with vodka after shows to help neutralize any odors. I also took a two-hour tour of the Metropolitan Opera House, which allows visitors to see all of the inner workings of a major theater - from set and costume design to even the wig shop.

During a chat with Maggie Raywood, costume director and associate arts professor at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, she illustrated how important it is that costumes are also safe in addition to being aesthetically pleasing. She said something as much as how one cuts a piece a fabric can impact a dancer's balance. For example, she's seen first hand the effects of putting someone in a heavy coat with an asymmetrical hem -- it literally threw the dancer off his center during turns.

And Katherine Patterson, wardrobe supervisor for Mark Morris Dance Group, showed me book after book of "costume bibles" for various pieces in the company's repertory. They include the original sketches done by the costume designer (including Isaac Mizrahi), fabric samples for each item, and then several photographs of the final product on a dancer, so that if anything needs to be repaired at some point, the wardrobe department can see what was used, where items were purchased, and how it originally looked. She also recommended storing most dance costumes - once they are cleaned - folded and flat in a cool, dry space, rather than hanging to prevent the clothes from stretching out from the hangers.

I still hope to talk to master pointe shoe fitter Judy Weiss at Grishko, sit in the corner and observe the costume shop at New York City Ballet, and take some time to browse in the fabric shops in the Fashion District. I've already got the material for the leotard, but am still unsure whether it will actually be wearable in the long run .... luckily, I still have time to work on it before our classes wrap up this December!

 

Hannah Guruianu is a master's degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.

Well, after three semesters of full-time coursework, the first graduating class of the NYU/ABT program has said its goodbyes. Frankly, it's a bit surreal that we won't all be returning to class in January. I don't think it's entirely set in for most of us.

NYU hosted a gradation party for us in early December, but the formal graduation won't be held until May at Radio City Music Hall. NYU waits to do one giant graduation ceremony in the spring at Yankee Stadium, and smaller ceremonies for those receiving higher degrees from specific schools. But since we've already dispersed at this point, it's unlikely that all 20 of us will come together as an entire group one more time -- even for graduation.

At this point, some of us have landed new jobs (company schools, adjunct positions at colleges/universities, teaching positions at private schools). Some of us are still seeking jobs. It's to be expected, but it will be interesting to see what kind of jobs the graduates of this program will get - both now and the future classes. In the meantime, the second graduating class in the NYU/ABT program will soon be entering their second semester, and a whole new batch of students will begin in the fall.

Strangely, this last blog post has been the most difficult one for me to write. Wistful and sappy aren't really things that I do ... but what does one say when something comes to an end? I guess I'll say this:

- The faculty and staff at NYU were certainly telling the truth when they told us to look around at our peers during orientation and understand that we were going to get to know our classmates very well. They would become our friends, sounding boards, and professional network after graduation. It turns out some of us are already asking who is available as a guest teacher during the summer or if anyone is available to substitute teach in the future.

- After spending several hours together almost every day in all of the same classes, there is most certainly a special bond among our group - not just as friends, but knowing that we all had the same shared experience of working hard to become better dance instructors while learning from two prestigious institutions.

- And for me personally, writing weekly and documenting the hints and tips I've learned from my instructors has actually helped me better synthesize the entire experience and I'm thankful for the opportunity from Dance Teacher magazine to share my posts. It's been a pleasure ... thank you for reading!

 

Hannah Guruianu is a master's degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.

This semester in our Seminar in Dance Education course, we’ve been working toward our final culminating project for the NYU/ABT program. We’ve all chosen topics related to dance education and have written literature reviews. (My research has focused on a holistic approach to classical ballet instruction.) Now, some of us may choose to turn our projects into a curriculum proposal.

Dr. Susan Koff, our instructor and the director of the dance education department at NYU Steinhardt, gave us some direction on curriculum design: She suggests first focusing on what you hope your students will accomplish by the time they have completed the curriculum. Then you work backward to develop specific objectives, learning experiences, and ways of assessment to help students achieve the overall goal.

Sections and content of the proposal should include:

1. Introduction: Cover why you have written the curriculum, who the population is, and where the curriculum would take place.
2. Philosophy: State the educational belief system the curriculum is based upon. (For example, John Dewey, Margaret D’Houbler, Lev Vygotsky, etc.)
3. Rationale: Explain why the curriculum is needed, and what prior knowledge supports it.

4. Objectives: Outline your aims, goals, and objectives along with a sample lesson plan to illustrate proposed learning experiences.
5. Assessment: Describe the type and frequency of assessment and insert at least one rubric (a tool that describes what the instructor expects of her students, usually with ratings--Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Needs Work, etc.).
6. Materials required: List all the materials (for example, Marley floors, piano, stereo system, wall-mounted barres) you need to make the curriculum successful.
7. References: Provide a list of your sources, preferably in APA (American Psychological Association) style.

Hannah Guruianu is a master's degree candidate in dance education at New York University. She is a freelance writer and editor, flamenco student, and someday hopes to own her own studio. Before returning to school, she was the features editor at the newspaper in Binghamton, New York, and taught ballet classes at a local studio and community college.

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