In your class this year, you have a great group of students eager to learn and explore. But, you only meet once a week. What is the best way to choreograph a final dance for the year, given your limited amount of time together? How best to set up the students, and you, for success? Jill Randall, artistic director for Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California, shares this advice.

The First Big Question

Before launching into a list of strategies and techniques, take 15 minutes and discuss with the director of your school: What is the goal and benefit of a once-a-week class performing in a show? Jot down the pros and cons; consider some great alternatives, including an open class for families at the end of the semester, or your class sharing with another class some combinations a few times a year. Maybe learning a full dance, and performing it onstage, isn't the ideal end-goal. Plus, do you teach on a Monday or on the weekend? How many classes might your once-a-week students miss this semester due to school holidays and family trips? What will happen if a student is absent and you don't see them for two weeks at a time?

If the "pros" on the list are robust, here are seven strategies to leverage your creative skills and support your once-a-week students.

Back-Planning

This is a well-known idea from K–12 education. You can call it back-planning or back-mapping. You figure out your goal and your end date. Then, you pull out the calendar and count the number of classes and number of hours to get to that goal.

Decide on the date you want to complete the dance, and determine how many classes are simply about running the dance (not learning new choreography). During spring semester 2018, I taught a once-a-week Level II Modern Dance class for children ages 10 to 12, and I aimed to complete the dance five weeks before the show. This greatly eased the stress, and I already anticipated some absences due to spring school obligations of my students. Plus I taught a Monday class, and I had to factor in the Memorial Day holiday.

Whatever way you describe it, you are parsing out and chunking out the material over the course of several months. If your song is four minutes long, how many seconds of choreography might you accomplish per class? This is an important skill to hone and fine-tune as a teaching artist. Consider 20 to 30 seconds of choreography per class time.

Related to back-planning, determine how much time per class is devoted to the learning of the dance. Be consistent for yourself and for your students. If your class is 60 minutes in length, consider how many warm-ups in the center you want to teach, as well as traveling work across the space. Don't let the warming up and technique fall to the wayside. Consider 15 to 20 minutes per class for the choreography.

Note-Taking

Once you start to choreograph, words and phrases can serve as memory devices for you and the students alike. Take notes in your teacher's notebook or on large chart paper on the wall. Take one minute to write down ideas with the students—this will also jog their memory next week. Come up with the words and phrases together. (For example, you might write down keywords for the choreography, such as: "jumping phrase," "zig zag travel," "group shape," "scatter.")

Videotaping

Now with phones and tablets, we have quick and easy technology to capture the choreography. You can review the video clip from last week by gathering around the iPad; you can post the video on Vimeo or YouTube (set up a password to keep the casual rehearsal videos under wraps). Also possibly ask parents to pop into class to take a video for their own child to review at home during the week.

Sharing Music

As with the videos, sharing the music will offer another opportunity for students to practice at home and feel the music. Send them an mp3 file or send out the YouTube link.

Setting a Modest Length for the Whole Dance

Maybe choreography averages five minutes at your school, but are those five-minute dances with classes that meet twice or three times a week? Carefully decide on the dance length and err on the side of brevity. If your class meets once a week for 60 minutes, a dance 2 1/2 to 3 minutes in length sounds reasonable.

Squeezing in an Extra Rehearsal

Yes, the class meets once a week. But adding one or two extra rehearsals during the final month of the semester can be highly beneficial for all. Talk with your director about this option. Book the space, message the families and confirm what your extra payment will be for you as the teacher.

Combining Combinations

The once-a-week class might not be your opportunity for your most original choreography this year. There is nothing wrong with taking the combinations you taught the group over the semester and creatively piecing them together. Simple choreographic tools like formations, groupings and facings can easily spice up the phrases. Maximize concepts like A-B-A form and canon in the choreography.

The once-a-week class poses some unique challenges for choreography. But you can strategize and plan accordingly to make it a great experience for students and teacher alike.

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Unlike the majority of my students and colleagues, my journey in dance has been unorthodox. At age 14, I enrolled in modern dance at my high school, and something about the large open studio with room to move thrilled me (and still does). I immediately set out to impress my dance teacher with my complete repertoire, a solo interpretation of "Bohemian Rhapsody" created in my living room, infused with several badly self-taught ice-skating moves. In that moment, an awareness of the power of movement, music, space and performance aligned, and I instinctively knew I was someplace special.

My high school dance teacher was smart. Knowing that she did not have the time to mold us into technically proficient dancers, she introduced us to the craft and skill of making dances. I spent four years opening the door to my creative voice, becoming a confident choreographer. As a dance major in college, however, I quickly realized I was lacking something very important: actual dance training. So I began an intense regimen of studying, analyzing, copying, stealing and emulating every movement language, quality and nuance with which I could connect. Later, I completed a master's degree in choreography and choreological studies, formed a small dance company and set out to fund my artist's life with teaching.

As a modern dancer, and having come to dance late, communication and imagery were significant in managing the demands of my training. I had to ask a lot of questions, because I had not yet developed a physical vocabulary of answers. I needed a sense of humor, to prevent me from quitting. I had to negotiate, rationalize, moderate and articulate, both verbally and physically, a pathway through much of what I was performing in or choreographing. This allowed me to solve problems more creatively, from a place separate from a perspective of pure technical ability. I now use these same methods for teaching students.

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Valentina Bagala and Rafael Savino held their studio's very first registration at a Subway. "We didn't even have an office," says Bagala, who heads the artistic side of Ascendance Studio in Doral, Florida. "This lady called us over the phone, and we said, 'OK, we can take your registration. Would you mind meeting us at the Subway that's downstairs from our studio?'"

Now, five years later, Ascendance is thriving, with a growing competitive team, a 5,000-square-foot space and 300 students—one of whom is the same dancer who was registered in that Subway. Today, registration mostly happens online, as do many of Ascendance's processes—attendance, billing, e-mail marketing campaigns—thanks to Savino, who heads the studio's marketing, finances and administration. To what do Bagala and Savino credit their impressive growth? Digital advertising. Despite working in an industry where many still rely on old-school methods of operation—manual registration, tuition paid in person by cash or check, fliers handed out in parking lots—they took the plunge to modernize their advertising strategy and found it a game changer for their studio.

Slow, but consistent

Bagala and Savino admit Ascendance got off to a rocky start. They rented space from a fitness studio for three months. "We didn't get the best schedule," says Bagala, who could only rent the space by the hour when it wasn't being used. Still, she managed to amass 25 students. Eventually, she found a small, 550-square-foot space of her own in a shopping center. "I remember for our first classes, we would have people who were supposed to show up but didn't," says Savino. "If we had one student in class, we had to teach to that student. That happened multiple times."

When two more spaces became available in the same shopping center, the couple grabbed them, despite the inconvenience of the units not being connected. "You had to step outside," says Bagala. "It wasn't very comfortable."

"The fliers weren't working."

With more space came more responsibility—to increase enrollment. They had been passing out fliers at nearby schools, but that approach, Savino says, "became unscalable. That's when I started looking at digital advertising." He didn't have much money to spend on it—his budget was $5/day—but he began looking into advertising on Google. He also enrolled in a local digital marketing course at nearby Miami-Dade College. "That gave me strategy," he says.

His most successful venture has been with Google's AdWords. With this advertising strategy, business owners create a search ad. (Search ads appear above Google search results when people look for local services the business offers.) The Ascendance search ad, for example, includes the studio website and phone number, plus: "Dance classes for kids. All ages and styles. Try a free class today." Then, you choose keywords—the words or phrases potential customers might type into their browser—and set a daily budget for how much you'd like to "bid" on each keyword. You're charged only if users click your link. During his first AdWords campaign, Savino often bid less than $1 on keywords like "ballet classes," "hip-hop classes," "jazz" and "dance studio."

How much you bid affects in what order your search ad appears among other businesses. But a business with more money to spend on keywords won't automatically see their ad pop up first. Multiple factors—keyword bidding price, how long a user stays on your website, your click-through rate—determine what's called your quality score. And it's your quality score, ultimately, that decides in what order your ad appears on Google.

"For example, let's say there's a huge competitor who's bidding $10 a keyword, while I'm only bidding $1," says Savino. "Google is tracking everything. If users stay on my website for a while and don't click the back button to get back to the search page, Google knows my website is relevant and a good experience." That increases his quality score and gives his search ad odds a boost.

Experimenting, wisely

Savino ran his initial AdWords campaign for about a month in 2013, starting in mid-September—prime back-to-school time. Each week, he wound up getting 10-plus interested customers. He offered each a free trial class. Of that weekly number, more than 80 percent enrolled in classes. By the time the campaign was over, Ascendance had 45 new students. And it all cost him less than $150. Though he risked spending more than his daily allotted $5, he knew it would pay off in increased enrollment.

As they became more comfortable with AdWords, the couple experimented. Bagala asked her mom what words she would use to search if, for example, she were looking for ballet classes for a 5-year-old. Her responses became part of their strategy: "ballet classes in Doral," "dance classes in Doral," "dance studio in Doral." They also interviewed parents of new students, asking 'How did you hear about us?' "If they said, 'Google,'" says Savino, "we'd ask if they remembered what they typed."

Now his daily budget is $20, though he's careful to time campaigns with high-enrollment periods. "During back-to-school season, August and September, I know a lot of people are going to be looking for classes," he says. "But I also know that January is another high-enrollment period—that's when we see an uptick in our baby program. Those moms are operating on a calendar year, not a studio year."

When Google came to town

Last spring, Google itself took an interest in Ascendance, and it featured Savino and Bagala in a national video campaign as a small-business case study. Of particular interest was the studio's dual advertising campaigns: one in English and one in Spanish. Savino and Bagala are bilingual, and their community is largely Spanish-speaking—so they capitalized on that. "Since we were advertising in Spanish," says Savino, "those people were sure that they were going to come through our door and someone would be here who would speak their language."

Of course, digital advertising can only take a studio so far. You have to follow through with a great product—and that, Savino says, is Valentina's greatest contribution to the business. "At the end of the day, if the product isn't good, people are simply going to leave," he says. "She's the heartbeat of the studio."

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