Dance is a prominent part of my identity. As my teaching methods develop, cultivating confidence, a sense of self and of independence in my students is just as important as teaching technique. I wrestle with priorities in the dance classroom. Strong ballet technique leads to confidence in dance capabilities, especially when compared to other dancers. However a love of creativity and dance composition can bring the same result. So how to plan a curriculum, what to prioritize, when integrating dance into the school day and working with academic schedules?
I always bring my lessons back to rigor and joy. Will this lesson have a high level of rigor so students are challenged yet still feel successful (joy)? How am I defining rigor? It’s no longer debatable: extra curricular activities are essential to fostering discipline, work ethic, social skills, and structure. Dance is no exception and can also include body awareness, aesthetic development, and self-expression to list a few. I believe lessons that balance technical skills with composition assignments have the most successful results for long lasting growth in these areas.
Ok but what does this balance look like in a lesson? My classes always work towards an end project. This can be a music video, live performance, or any other culminating group event our students might think up. My favorite way to build a dance is through improvisation structures. Improvisation is the free flow of movement. It is similar to freestyle; not planned and originates from impulse. It can often just look like a big jumble, a brain dumb, not tailored to a theme or rhythm, and many times needs structure.
Our theme last year was “revolution.” Our most successful composition lesson and improvisation structure was as follows:
Since a superhero is an imaginative being, the movement possibilities when acting like a superhero are infinite. Focusing on drawn objects gives boundaries and can help direct movement making, to limit feelings of being overwhelmed by movement possibilities. Rigor comes in when editing. As movement makers, we’re never married to a movement just because we did one. We have the power to edit until as a dancer and choreographer, the movement serves our purpose and meets our standards. If a movement pattern seems sloppy or too easy, it is during the editing that high levels of technique can up the rigor of the initial improvisation.
Improvisation and Composition structures, like the Superhero one, are infinite. As a teacher, I love coming up with new structures and challenges and testing them out. No students compare to those at NOLA Micro Schools. Their openness, dedication, and level of thinking are unmatched, compared to my other teaching experiences. It is a joy to be in classrooms that have similar values to my personal beliefs and the benefits are endless and mutual.
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