Technique
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Sometimes, offering the right image or resource can make the difference between a student dancing in a crunched and compact way or feeling the freedom of their fullest kinesphere. Helping students to find their biggest movement potential takes creativity and persistence, but should always find its way into your teaching toolbox—especially as students navigate a variety of dancing spaces, from confined areas at home to the stage.

Here, University of Iowa visiting assistant professor of dance Britt Juleen shares five tips for teaching students how to access a more expansive range of motion (even when they're dancing at home).

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Teachers Trending
Photo by Yvonne M. Portra, courtesy Faulkner

It's a Wednesday in May, and 14 Stanford University advanced modern ­dance students are logged on to Zoom, each practicing a socially distanced duet with an imaginary person. "Think about the quality of their personality and the type of duet you might have," says their instructor Katie Faulkner, "but also their surface area and how you'd relate to them in space." Amid dorm rooms, living rooms, dining rooms and backyards, the dancers make do with cramped quarters and dodge furniture as they twist, curve, stretch and intertwine with their imaginary partners.

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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.


Racial equity work is ongoing.

King began his presentation with a powerful disclaimer: "I'm not a magical negro. I don't have all the answers. I'm not going to have the answers to end racism in a two-hour webinar." Workshops like Dancewave's are important first steps, but they aren't a one-off solution.

It includes examining your own biases and blind spots.

King pointed out that, as teachers, we are the gatekeepers of knowledge and should examine the ways in which we've been complicit with systemic racism. It can be as simple as taking notice of who you're inclined to call on in class or as complicated as uprooting deep-seated organizational structures that promote inequity.

King urged educators to take a close look at who their organization has centered and who it has othered. Even something like language can be a barrier: He used the word "elite" as an example of a word that could be potentially exclusionary.

It requires continuous self-education.

Dance educators should also invest in their own personal anti-racism education. "Pursue learning opportunities. Seek new ideas that check your biases. Get out of an echo chamber," said King.

In addition to attending events like Dancewave's webinar, familiarize yourself with books such as How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, or Nyama McCarthy-Brown's Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World. King also recommended the following Instagram accounts: @sonyareneetaylor, @rachel.cargle, @browngirlcurator, @atabey.rev, @therealrynnstar, @thenapministry and @theconsciouskid.

It can be collaborative.

Having the opportunity to divide up in breakout rooms and connect with other workshop participants demonstrated that sometimes getting out of your echo chamber can mean simply talking to your fellow colleagues or even your students.

King suggested getting students involved in equity work by giving them a project that addresses a class, student or school need. If you choose to delve into sensitive territory with students, make sure there are support mechanisms in place for them.

It can be an embodied experience.

Dancewave's workshop included movement activities, which provided an additional layer of fun and embodied understanding. To warm up, we had to respond to an action command, such as "jump," with its opposite action, such as "crouch." This exercise in challenging assumptions was surprisingly difficult, and would be great for K–12 students.

Later, we reconnected with our breakout groups to create short movement phrases based on implicit bias. The activity provided a visual component to a heady concept and inspired both an individual deep dive into our personal biases and a collaboration to create our final dance.

It should be specific to your students.

King encouraged educators to take a step back, look at how your students learn, and analyze whether what you're bringing is actually relevant to them. For example, if the majority of your students' only dance experience is with cultural social dances, consider inviting them to teach those dances to one another in groups rather than jumping right into pliés and tendus. King also encouraged giving students ownership of the class by inviting dialogue and investigation.

"Consider your curriculum, the artists you bring into the spaces and the leadership opportunities you bring to your students," he said. "Are you bringing in people who look like the students you're teaching or share their background? Be intentional about that."

Dance Teacher Awards
Courtesy Dye

Missed the 2020 Dance Teacher Awards? Watch them on-demand here.

If you were to walk into Patricia Dye's dance class, you might notice something unusual: the high number of young men dancing.

"Where I come from, men danced. My first teachers were men," she says. "To motivate and inspire men to dance, I show them the cultural relevance of dancing."

Almost 70 percent of the student body at Science Skills Center High School for Science Technology & the Creative Arts in downtown Brooklyn is Black, and more than half is male. With a curriculum rooted in the African diaspora, Dye, born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, gets her students excited about dance by drawing connections to their cultural heritage. "Dances from the continent and dances from the Caribbean give them meaning," she says. "I also brought in Dr. Chuck Davis. They were hypnotized!"

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Teaching Tips
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Though this school year comes with uncertainty due to the pandemic, and classes may be online where you are, it still holds true that how a teacher conducts class at the start of September can set the tone for the entire year. Taking the first few classes to establish expectations and break the ice can mean the difference between a harmonious classroom and total chaos. Here are eight ways to put your best foot forward.

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Studio Owners
Outdoor class at Lake Tahoe Dance Collective. Photo by Scott Rokis, courtesy of LTDC

With restrictions on large gatherings still in place in many parts of the country, finding a way to keep classes running is very much at the top of studio owners' minds. While hundreds have taken to online platforms like Zoom to stay in business during the pandemic, some are finding that as social distancing guidelines gradually lift, there's another way to keep dancers engaged: outdoor dance classes.

Gathering outside in a small group to dance can be tricky, but these studio owners are finding that the boost in morale at their schools is well worth the effort. Here, they share how they set up their COVID-compliant outdoor dance classes this summer.


Finding a Space, Setting the Stage

For Tara-Caprice Broadwater, director of Love2Dance in Novato, California, the parking lot behind her studio was the perfect location for outdoor youth classes. "We've had to limit our dance styles to mostly urban jazz and hip hop—things you can do in tennis shoes on the asphalt," she says. Though she doesn't have to pay extra to use the lot, a fair amount went into preparing it for the first day of classes. Broadwater and her husband spent three days zip-tying privacy screening to the chain-link fence, clearing out debris and posting signage around the area with social distancing reminders. Her husband even created an outdoor hand-washing station.

At Lake Tahoe Dance Collective, a portable stage purchased five years ago is now being put to use in a vacant lot across from a family's house. The landowners were kind enough to let them use the land free of charge. "We gave the landowner proof of liability and added them to our insurance the same way we'd do if we performed at a theater," says artistic director Christin Hanna. Hanna brought portable barres from the studio and divided the stage into quarters so that each of the six dancers allowed in class can have their own taped off section of the stage. She also taped off diagonal lines for across-the-floor.

When Lisa Collins Vidnovic decided to have Metropolitan Ballet Academy's 2020 summer intensive outside, she found the solution at a nearby Ukrainian church in Jenkintown, PA. "They have an outdoor stage that is really lovely," she says. "It's spacious, completely shaded and right up the street from us." She does worry about the sustainability of paying double rent (for the outdoor stage and her home space) but is excited to have found a way to bring dancers together.

A teacher, wearing a mask, and two young students pose in a parking lot. There's a "Love2Dance" sign in the background, and students are spaced out with hula hoops.

Photo courtesy Love2Dance

Considering the Costs

With current class sizes limited to ten at most in most places, the profitability of outdoor classes is not guaranteed. "It's a fraction of the students we usually have," says Collins Vidnovic. "It's not going to be a revenue positive situation." Collins Vidnovic finds the classes worth the cost because they allow her to continue serving her student body.

Broadwater had to raise her prices slightly to accommodate for both the loss of income and the increased staffing needed to run outdoor classes. "We are definitely in a break even situation, especially since we are playing catch up on the lost income from the complete shut-down," she says.

Because classes are smaller, both Broadwater and Hanna have to offer more of them spaced throughout the day. "There's only so many hours in the day and with only 6 students in each class, it's hard," says Hanna. She has been able to make a profit though through a pay-what-you-can sliding scale of $0-$20. "We have families that have been paying $20, which is more than our regular per-class tuition, but they want to support us and make sure we're still around," she says. "It has enabled us to have an income and still pay our rent at our regular studio that sits empty."

Keeping registration fair has been a challenge as well. For MBA's summer intensive, Collins Vidnovic gave families a heads up that it would be first-come first-served. Within four minutes of opening registration, classes were completely full. Hanna requires that everybody register for every class ahead of time, and takes a credit card number so that she can charge $10 for no-shows. At Love2Dance, where outdoor classes are capped at nine students, Broadwater gave priority registration to students who had the studio's new Zoom class membership, but may explore other registration models if outdoor classes continue through the fall.

Four teen students\u2013two boys and two girls\u2014take barre on an outdoor stage.

Photo by Tracey Scott-Hall, courtesy of Metropolitan Ballet

Keeping Classes COVID-Compliant

Despite being outside, it's still necessary to take precautions to quash the spread of COVID-19. All three organizations implemented rigorous cleaning procedures and safety checks to keep their outdoor classes as safe as possible.

Broadwater requires teachers and dancers to do a temperature check and wash their hands upon arrival. She's made signs and videos detailing cleaning procedures, so families are apprised of the protocols. Teen students volunteer to help with cleaning the dance space after each class. For summer camps, she ordered individual bags of props for each kid so that they will not have to share.

At MBA, Collins Vidnovic has a parent volunteer for every class session. "I wanted an extra set of eyes on the class to make sure we're doing what we need to at all times," she says. Each student has a number and a designated spot at the barre. She leaves half an hour between each class to sanitize the space.

A young woman in a mask washes her hands at an outdoor hand washing station

Photo courtesy Love2Dance

​Best Practices for Dancing Outside

With changes in the weather to consider, having a back-up plan is a must. "If it rains, we have to show up on Zoom. If there's extreme heat, we'll Zoom," says Collins Vidnovic. Likewise, Hanna says she's never looked at the weather app on her phone so much. "I basically have to understand where the sun is at every time of the day," she says. "Cloudy in 63 degrees is very different from sunny in 63 degrees. I have had classes where we had to do jumping jacks at the beginning before we could start barre."

Teaching under these circumstances is drastically different as well. Without a mirror, students have to rely more on auditory feedback and less on the visual. To address this, Hanna has taken to mirroring her students more. Because students learn so much from facial expressions, Collins Vidnovic ordered see-through masks for all her teachers. She is also considering using an advanced student demonstrator for beginning classes.

In addition to the "how," the "what" may need to change too. "You have to be aware of what you can do safely," says Broadwater, "Since we're on asphalt, we can't do the groundwork. All students stay in tennis shoes. Because of COVID, you can't do partner-work or lifts."

Photo by Scott Rokis, courtesy LTDC

Keeping Up with Community

After months of social isolation, the response to outdoor classes has been extremely positive for these teachers. Though not the most profitable, they all consider the classes well worth the time, energy and money spent to operate, as they have helped to maintain a connection to their community during an especially difficult time. "I'd like to continue working outdoors as long as possible," says Collins Vidnovic, who says the fresh air and ability to be together has done wonders for her teen dancers. Broadwater agrees: "I definitely think it's worth doing to maintain a sense of connection to your students and families. The students really appreciate it."

Technique
Christopher Lam and Aria Gerking. Photo by Christian Peacock

In a spacious upstairs room in his San Francisco home, ballet teacher Christopher Lam gently holds on to an ironing board as he pliés, tendus and dégagés in his socks on the wood floor. He is leading students in a virtual ballet class on Zoom in light of the San Francisco Bay Area's shelter-in-place order that has closed the doors of every dance studio where Lam normally teaches. After a particularly speedy and challenging frappé exercise with fondus, he steps up to the camera and says, laughing, "Dancers, I think that one was a bit ambitious for home—juggling the slippery floor and ironing board."

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News
University of Houston dance students outdoors in 2019. Photo courtesy of UH

Since March, hundreds of dance majors have been using platforms like Zoom to continue their educations, dancing from the safety of their homes as coronavirus has swept the nation. What many educators initially hoped would be a temporary setback—a few weeks of online learning before a triumphant return to in-person classes—has turned out to be a new way of life, with distance learning essential well into the summer.

As department heads look toward the fall term, the decision of how and when to return to dancing together is at the forefront of their minds. Here, three dance department heads share how they're approaching the decision.

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