American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).
Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.
On utilizing the Zoom camera:<p>"I like to play with virtual backgrounds, as well as going in and out of the camera frame. I've had the dancers come close to the screen, or hide from view. I also use games that play off the sides of the room and other silly illusions that the camera can make. The kids really like how it shakes things up from their regular, virtual school classes."</p>
Her favorite teaching attire:<p>"I'm a walking poster for lululemon—I worked there on and off for five years. It looks professional, the fabrics are flexible for teaching/demonstrating, and are so comfortable. I love the Align leggings and dance-studio pants. I'm normally rocking one or the other when I teach. I also love to wear Allbirds sneakers. The wool-fabric sneaker is flexible for showing footwork, and spacious so they don't hurt my bunions or feel too tight on my foot. Allbirds also have great arch support and make all my other joints feel better after long hours."</p>
How support for the arts differs in the UK:<p> "I've spoken with dance friends in the States as well as dance friends in Europe, and it seems like everyone in London is getting by, while those in the States are really struggling. Even with my visa, I have been fortunate enough to apply for scholarships and grants that aren't dance-related in order to maintain a base income. Those opportunities are just much less available back home."</p>
Nondance hobbies:<p> "I tend to have a really anxious personality, so I've found Ashtanga yoga to be really helpful. I also love how it parallels barre in that you do the same poses each practice so it feels like something to go back to. Beyond that, I enjoy bouldering, cooking and anything that gets me outside."</p>
Her go-to warm-up for teaching:<p> "I warm up mentally more than physically when teaching. I prefer to make sure I can step away from anything bothering me to be focused and available for my students. I try to take about 5 minutes alone, and that lets me focus my intentions for the classes. For more physical classes, I'll warm up with some dynamic movements that incorporate light stretching and get my heart moving."</p>
Recommended reading:<p>"Peer-reviewed journals like <em>Research in Dance Education</em>, <em>Dance Research Journal</em><em> </em>and <em>Journal of Dance Education</em>. These offer research-based information that can help build syllabi and offer new ideas for training."</p>
On taking care of her dancers during this time:<p>"Zoom can feel so isolating for the kids right now. They're dealing with this pandemic too, and it's so scary for them. So I'm open to hearing how hard they want to work that day, and fitting class to their needs. I also allow small chat breaks with water so they can feel connected to the other students."</p>
Whether you're in need of some wintertime inspiration or searching for new material for your classes, these six titles—ranging from personal stories, classroom materials, detailed essays and coursebooks—are worthy picks to add to your pedagogy bookshelf.
Jill Randall<p>Blackburne's book opens up her classroom to fellow middle school and high school teachers. Composed primarily of notes, assignments, forms and rubrics, the information is practical and applicable—you might end up using some of the forms yourself or allow the book to inspire your own material for your classroom. Blackburne emphasizes that written material is integral in teen classrooms, from syllabi to self-reflection forms.</p>
Jill Randall<p>Author Maricelle Peeters, a ballet and character-dance teacher from the Netherlands, first published <em>Ballet Recipes</em> in July 2018 in Dutch. Now available in English, this delightful and fresh take on ballet pedagogy describes the key "ingredients" of ballet classes, including themes, imagery and vocabulary.</p><p>Using playful text and sprinkled with illustrations, Peeters' book caters to the enthusiastic ballet student in grades 5 to 7. But Peeters' text is also a perfect offering for dance teachers to help distill key concepts and practice how to introduce ballet vocabulary—it almost reads like a script for educators. Part 1 of the book is one of its highlights, exploring the broad themes of posture, muscle tension, turnout, weight distribution, placement and lengthening/counterpull.</p>
Jill Randall<p>Longtime dance educator Dawn C. Crouch's book includes personal essays on what she believes are the essential components of pre-ballet classes. As Crouch emphasizes, pre-ballet classes with 3- to 5-year-olds are some of the most rigorous to craft and teach, and are essential to the growth of your student enrollment and school program. Her essays convey her love of this age group, and cover a wide range of concepts, including class size, helpers, class rituals, physical awareness and class format.</p>
Ethical Dilemmas in Dance Education: Case Studies on Humanizing Dance Pedagogy, edited by Doug Risner and Karen Schupp<a href="https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/ethical-dilemmas-in-dance-education/" target="_blank"><img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2NTM0OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjkxMzkxNX0.Khguyk1y6L_r004mLbVAd3xvx-feEhPOFfT8x1B4rFQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="a7a24" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ab834e2b7e38684441d88cb6ddd2f8a7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Ethical Dilemmas in Dance Education lays flat on a wooden table. It has three images of dance of different styles, and large white text" data-width="3024" data-height="4032" /></a>
Jill Randall<p>Best for seasoned dance teachers and graduate-level courses, <em>Ethical Dilemmas in Dance Education</em> uses fictionalized case studies to present scenarios that cover a wide range of dilemmas—those tricky moments and ethical binds we encounter as dance educators. Case studies in the book range from advocating for a student's IEP plan and participation, to a sexual harassment allegation in your class, to pedagogical concerns involving guest teachers.</p><p>The book is divided into four sections: "Early Childhood and Elementary Dance," "Middle School and High School Dance Education," "Dance Teacher Preparation and Postsecondary Dance Education" and "Community Dance," and includes reflection activities after each case study.</p>
Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design: Comprehensive K-12 Dance Education, Second Edition, by Gayle Kassing and Danielle Jay-Kirshenbaum<a href="https://us.humankinetics.com/products/dance-teaching-methods-and-curriculum-design-2nd-edition-with-hkpropel-access" target="_blank"><img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY2NTM1MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNDI5MDkyN30.ga6_YBTh9s0MeNIjQ4lY8wLg1qU4L1-9xDCnzKyp8H4/img.jpg?width=980" id="46885" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8e5078c60250088016de4dd6e5b821c7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design lays flat on a wooden table. It is a large book with large purple print, and an image of four middle school-aged girls in leotards and tights posing" data-width="3024" data-height="4032" /></a>
Jill Randall<p><em>Dance Teaching Methods and Curriculum Design </em>is a hefty 500-plus-page textbook, with additional online content—perfect for an undergraduate dance pedagogy course or for dance educators without formal training. The text covers everything from child development, class formats, teaching styles, and scaffolding learning for K–12 dance education classes, and includes a variety of unit-plan examples in various dance styles.</p>
Courtesy Human Kinetics<p>Useful in both high school and college-level courses, <em>Dance Appreciation </em>offers an introduction to dance productions and Western dance forms. Covering the history of ballet, modern, jazz, tap and hip hop, plus information on what happens behind the scenes to make dance productions come to life, the text offers digestible, bite-sized information for new students and audience members. Also included are additional dance forms from around the globe, photos and artist spotlights, vocabulary lists and reflection questions.</p>
The day that your class of young dancers learns they're going on pointe can be just as exciting for you as it is for them. It's gratifying to be able to announce that their—and your—hard work has led them to this milestone moment. But what if there's one student who's not as ready as her peers? The one who's not yet strong enough physically or technically, or whose foot structure may make pointework extra-challenging or dangerous? Having to deliver disappointing news is never easy, but there are ways to make the conversation positive and motivating.
Set the Stage<p>Lay out clear guidelines well in advance about what dancers need to achieve in order to get their pointe shoes. Students who know the technical and strength requirements needed for pointework will understand for themselves why they may not be ready. Pam Levy, director of Steps Youth Programs in New York City, says she and her faculty emphasize pointe readiness for at least a year prior to the level in which students receive their shoes, making sure they see what they're working towards, and why. "If a student appears to be falling behind during the preparation part of the process, we can take them aside and let them know what they need to work on and what their goals should be," Levy says. "That way, they have some control over the situation and can make sure they're ready at the right time."</p>
Pointe students at The Washington School of Ballet
Kelsey Arrington-Ashford, Courtesy TWB
Steps Youth Programs instructor Gretchen Gunther teachers a beginning pointe class.
Alexandra Fung, Courtesy Steps on Broadway
The Conversation<p>When a student clearly is not ready to go on pointe, it's best to alert the parents first. Jody Schissler, director of Skye Ballet Center in Herndon, Virginia, says that it is important that all involved understand the decision and its reasons. Schissler strives to reassure parents that the decision to keep their child off pointe is not made frivolously and centers on safety.</p><p>"I emphasize that I have the student's best interest in mind, that we want to avoid long-term injuries, and that our intention is for them to ultimately have a positive experience, not a frightening one," says Schissler. "I also convey that I speak often with my own mentors for guidance and follow the medical understanding about what's safe or not safe."</p>
Jody Schissler (center) poses with her pointe students at Skye Ballet Center.
Jan Hanus, Courtesy Skye Ballet Center