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Teaching Basic Modern Dance To Beginner Adults

Updated on October 5, 2013

How to teach beginning modern dance to adults with no previous dance experience

This lens will be most useful for dancers who have enough dance training to teach it but maybe have no idea about how to start and may not realize just how hard dance is for those who have never done it. For example, a dancer will know what a chasse is and when trying to teach an adult beginner may just show the move and say something like, "It just goes like this", insinuating that it is extremely easy and expecting that student to just automatically execute it perfectly so they can move on to another move. Now for dancers yes, a chasse is easy, and for some beginners, they pick up the basic movement in one lesson, BUT everyone is different and individuals will pick things up at different paces. With modern dance there are many moves which can be broken down to their most "pedestrian" form and taught in such a way that a beginner can start to attain a feel for the style within a few lessons. Now, this is not to say that anyone can become a modern dancer in just a few weeks, in fact just like many other dance forms, becoming a modern dancer takes years of training, BUT not every single person who takes a modern dance class is trying to become a professional dancer. Some just want to use it as their form of exercise, some enjoy dancing as a hobby, and many you can turn into modern dance lovers if you teach it in a fun and accessible manner. Oh, and no, when you walk into a modern dance class, you will not be asked to pretend to be a tree..which is what I have heard from many who avoided modern dance over this misconception. If the teacher is asking you to be a tree, you must be in a creative movement class. That is for another lens. :)

Fundamental Ideas for Your First Couple of Lessons

How you can introduce your adult beginners to modern dance basics

The first thing I do when I have my first class with adult beginners is briefly explain proper alignment by having them do a few basic body moves and then I get them moving as soon as possible with those basic moves. Most people can stand in somewhat of a parallel position, they can bend their knees (plié), press up to their tiptoes (releve) and curve their spine downward and upward (roll down/roll up) . Repeat a sequence of those moves several times and you have started a warm up with your beginners. Now, there are many small details that will need to be fixed with these moves, BUT the idea is to get them moving with something they can do and not to scare them off by jumping into something that is way too difficult right off the bat.

Floorwork- Someone with no dance training can lie down on the floor, make a "X" shape with their body, have one arm pull them into a diagonal stretch, or curl their body into a ball, or roll over, or flex and extend various joints, or do abdominal work...they won't execute everything exactly the way they should at first, BUT it's getting them acquainted with the floor, which modern dance uses ALL THE TIME and it's good for them no matter what. Having a pliable body is healthy whether you dance or not.

Swings - a person with no training can take their arms above their head and release forward and sideways into an upper body swing accompanied by a double knee "bounce" (two plies). Now, again you will have to fix things, it won't be perfect the first time, BUT it's a fun move, a big move and something that can start to introduce a basic concept of modern dance to a beginner which is releasing, the giving into gravity. Do these in varying degrees of size and direction and it can be an exercise unto itself temporarily until they are ready for more. I usually start off the swing pattern with some shoulder rolls and plies, which a beginner can do and in the middle of the swings drop into a push up position, do some push ups, maybe press back into a downward dog position for stretching, and then walk the hands back and roll up.

Traveling Moves - Because modern dance uses so many "pedestrian" moves, you can start off simple with walking and running and let them do their ordinary version and then change the quality and shape of them, such as keeping the knees bent and torso still while executing a light, fast modern dance run or having a heavy weight and heel to toe step for a powerful modern dance walk. Being a little silly here and there , making them laugh is getting you on the road to hooking them. They will only WANT to do what you are teaching once they are on your team, so to speak. For example, with the first day of introducing runs, I may insert an abrupt stop with a pivot step and maybe a crouch down or jump, maybe a cartwheel..things that get them moving in a big and fast way, things that REALLY are used in modern dance but also things they can start executing without tons of technical training and since they are going to be self conscious anyway, and they will sometimes feel silly anyway, acknowledge that, encourage it and make everyone do it, including yourself. It will put beginners at ease and make them more willing to do the more complicated movement that you will have them doing in the near future.

In reference to my chasse example above, you could in the first or second lesson start them off galloping with either the right or left side, I remind them that they probably did a lot of this when they were kids. Then start to add the space, height, point of the foot, arm shapes into the gallop so it is gradually becoming a dance chasse. Once you start having them switch sides, do not be surprised if some of them mess it up at first, the shift of weight that dancers take for granted is like breathing is not so easy for someone who has never called on their body to do this type of thing. Later when you introduce a step and leap to that chasse, be prepared for confusion and frustration on the parts of some students. You have to have a lot of patience and understanding to teach beginners.

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    • RainColorStudio profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @salsa-dancing: You should definitely try it if you ever get the chance. You don't need to understand the choreograohy in order to benefit from the movement! :)

    • salsa-dancing profile image

      Salsa Dancing 

      5 years ago

      I've never really understood Modern dance, but have always wanted to give it a try.


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