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TIPS FOR TEACHING DANCE TO TOTS
Children Dancers, Teaching Tips - 101
If dance is your passion and a career you are pursuing, teaching younger children dance will come up at some point in your career. Teaching kids dance, is not as easy as it may seem. Psychologists have proved through studies that children under the age of 12, generally have attention spans as long in minutes as they are old in years.
For example a five year old will probably only have an attention span of 5 minutes. What this means is that as a teacher, you will need to be creative in ensuring they are always entertained, as to hold their attention, to prevent them from goofing off.
Keeping dancers entertained while still making sure they are working hard and learning can be difficult, but this article will help you be a better teacher for those tots.
Tip# 1 - Use Analogies
This is one of the best dance tips I have ever received, to use analogies. Kids learn best when they can visualize something they know. For example when we stretch, I have them imagine several things to help them stretch correctly and have fun.
- Butterfly Stretch - Pretend you are flying to your favorite place in the world.
- Straight Legs Sitting Stretch - Sit in a circle with dancers to make a "flower." Your feet are the petals. Flex your feet to open the flower, point them to close the flower. As you stretch forward to touch your toes you can pretend bugs are crawling to get into the flower, (while feet are flexed) and then hurry and close the flower, (point your feet) to stop the bugs from getting into the flower.
- Standing, bend legs like a "froggy" and the jump as high as you can! (They love that one.)
- Stratal Stretch - Pretend your pockets are glued to the floor, but their is a yummy cake in the middle of the circle so you have to reach as far as you can, without moving on the floor, to reach it!
These little fun scenarios, help the dancers enjoy stretching and stay focused for the entire 10-15 minute stretch.
Using Analogies also works great across the floor!
- Shanae Turns - Arms hold a big beach ball, or are snowman arms.
- Leaps - Pretend you are jumping over a puddle. (With this one, I sometimes let them hold a little umbrella when they leap to pretend it is rainy and they have to jump over the puddle on their way home.)
- Barrel Turns and Cheerio "C" Jumps - As you leap, give your feet a high five. This helps them remember to keep their arms down and hands by their feet.
Using these types of analogies with your young dancers will help them understand what to do and how to do it correctly, while also keeping them entertained.
Tip# 2 - Play Games
There is nothing kids love more than playing games. However, as a teacher, you don't just want the class to always play games. You want the opportunity to play games in class, to be a reward for good behavior. As a dance instructor, I always like to refer to my dancers as "smart dancers." I tell them that to be a smart dancer they need to listen, watch closely, and dance only.
Smart dancers always get treats after class.
If the dancers are extra smart dancers in class, for the last 15 minutes we can play a game! This always encourages them to be even better in class. Here are some of the games they get to play if the are extra smart dancers:
- "Simon Says," or as we say it, "Miss Alaina Says." This is played just like Simons Says, but each time you say it, they do a dance move like a punch leap, toe touch, high kick, pirouette, etc. If we have enough time, I let the winner of the round be the next leader.
- Follow the leader. For this I usually start as the leader, since I am the teacher. We turn on music, (usually calm, peaceful music) and flock around the dance studio doing chasses, skipping, shanaes, and improve movements. This teaches the dancers how to watch and learn movement quickly and as they are a leader, helps them improve as well. The girls usually love this game and get excited to be the leaders.
- Dance Move from a Hat. This game is especially fun for the holiday seasons because I like to tie the dance moves in with the holiday. So this Halloween, I am using a Witches Hat, for Christmas I use a Santa Hat, Easter I use an easter basket, etc. Inside the hat I write dance moves and each "smart dancer" gets to take a turn pulling a dance move from the hat for us to do. ( Make sure you have at least one for every dancer.) I let them be the leader for that move too. Here are some examples of movements I would put in the hat for Halloween:
- Zombie Walk into a Stag Leap
- Pirouette holding a pumpkin
- Toe Touch & Land as a scarecrow
- Shanae Turn while stirring a witches brew
- Freeze Dance. This is a classic that all dancers love to do. All you do is play a song and let the dancers improv to it, until the music freezes. When the music freezes, they are not allowed to move and must freeze. Sometimes when they freeze I like to mix it up and say "Freeze, now do a pirouette." This lets them dance as they want when the music is going, but when the music stops they have to do the move I say. The only rules they have are: No Running, No Talking, No Acro, Freeze when the music stops of course and Dancing only! I usually only do this for one song, otherwise the class gets too rowdy.
Tip# 3 - Use their Names
Especially for little kids, this is a huge step to being a better dance teacher. Learn your dancers names and use their names for all positive critiques. The dancers get so excited when you say things like, "Great job Gracie!" "Nice pointed toes Mackenna!" "Beautiful straight legs Sydney!" Making it more personal will help your dancers feel special and WANT to try harder. My dance girls always do a better job when I compliment them by their names.
Another thing to remember while doing this is to try to stay positive!
Children don't respond well to negative emotions. Often times, it is hard as a teacher, because you will always have that one student who doesn't like to listen or do the right moves. This can be difficult to remain positive.
After many years, I have found that the best way to handle these children is to almost ignore their bad behavior. If they are not joining the other dancers, I always say, "Lyndsey, I would LOVE it if you would join our circle to stretch." If the dancer decides not to join, I just let them be as long as they aren't disrupting the other girls. If the dancer DOES come join the group, I immediately start complimenting them on all the things they are doing right. "Wow Lyndsey, look at those pointed toes!" The positive comments after they start doing something good, encourages the dancers to want to be good and want your attention. The whole reason kids act out is for attention. So, if you can ignore the bad actions and be really excited about the good ones, the dancer won't want to act out any more.
Beginning Dance for Ages 8-10. The girls LOVED this routine by Lai Rupe's Choreography!
Tip# 4 - Move Quickly
Because of the short-attention-spans of young children, moving quickly is a must. If you focus too long on one thing or in one position, the kids will become bored and rowdy. To avoid this, I like to move to new formations every 5-10 minutes, even if the changes are small, it makes a big difference to the kids to mix it up. For example:
- We stretch in a circle for 10 minutes, using the analogies above.
- Then move to lines for across the floor for 10-15 minutes. In the across the floor lines, I have them rotate who is in front, to keep this formation changing.
- After Across the Floor, they get a quick drink break. If they don't talk while on their drink break I tell them they can play a quick game.
- If they are good, I usually let them play Freeze dance for one song.
- Then we get our wiggles out and move to Center Floor for about 15 minutes. I always rotate my lines to have different dancers in the front each time. This helps them all feel special and stay focused by moving them around.
- If we have a dance routine or combo we are working on, we move them to these spots next and practice our dance.
- Last, if there is any time at the end, then we can play a fun game from above. I don't do games every time, only on days they are EXTRA good.
Moving your classes along quickly, always changing the "scenery" for the dance children, will help them stay focused and want to dance longer, without worrying about the time.
What Tricks do YOU Use to Teach Younger Dancers?
Conclusion. . .
Teaching tots dance can be a little difficult at first, but these tips should definitely help you be a better teacher with the children, as you help them learn a lot and have fun at the same time.
Have any dance questions, concerns, or topics to discuss? Don't hesitate to reach out to Lai Rupe's Choreography. I am here to spread the beauty of dance.
Also, feel free to check out the article, "All About Lai Rupe's Choreography" to hear a bit more about my story as a dancer. By following my articles here as well, you will be able to learn more about ALL aspects of dance!
Thanks for your LOVE and Support!
~Alaina (Lai) Rupe