Choreographing a Kid’s Dance Routine – Not for the Light Hearted

Kids under seven are difficult to work with in any classroom let alone a dance classroom.  They yell because they want to be with their parents. If they aren’t use to public interaction with kids, it is difficult for them to get along with other children their age. And finally they can’t sit still for more then two seconds.  Over the last eight years I have been a dance teacher I have grasped an understanding on how to handle young kids and teaching them a routine.  There are three rules to follow:

Firstly, keep it simple. As a child, they are still learning the world and trying to understand everyday life, like their right from their left, why they can’t hit someone if they don’t get their way, or tying their shoes.  In a class where the kids are four to seven years old always kept feet and arm movements separate.  Trying to put them together is disastrous and you will end up with kids slamming into one another and falling down. Use simple dance movements that they have been learning all year. For a tap class some moves would be toe taps, heel digs, and big arm movements. If you tie in the movements that you do all the time in class, the kids are more likely to retain the dance when they get to the stage performance.

Secondly, relate to their lives.  I know relating to a life of a five year old can be hard since your an adult, but I promise you were a child once. When I start to develop a children’s dance the first thing I do is start listening to a ton of music.  Depending on what kind of dance you are teaching will depend on the music.  Let’s take tap as an example.  Back in 2008-2009 I was teaching a tap class for five to seven year olds.  I decided to use the song ‘My Girl’ which was probably one of the greatest kids dances I ever choreographed.  Since the song is super slow and has a repetitive chorus it gave me the opportunity to utilize the words in the song for arm movements, and during the instrumental parts we did toe taps, knee bounces,and shuffles, as well as gave the kids something easy to sing-a-long to.  Also, using imagery that they can relate to is important to get them to perform, like pretending that mommy is in the front row.

Finally, keep repeating the routine for fifteen minutes at the end of class every week. This sounds tedious and boring, but it is difficult for many children to remember things that are not repeating everyday.  So, when a child is only going to dance class once a week it is even harder.  This repetition will get the kids to understand the patterns of the movement, to understand the song, and how the two mesh together.  Routine is important for a child to have consistency in dance classroom is just as important as the child’s everyday life.

Just a little My Girl throwback for you to sing along to:

Dance Competition Survival Kit

Dance_sports_bag_large_Energetiks_DB21_Blk_turquoise__79496.1405440585.1280.1280For most studios, competition season is done, and it is the beginning of dancers going off to summer intensives.  So, this post is really to prep you for the Fall season and get you ahead of the curve.  You should have three types of bags walking into every competition.

First and most important is you dance bag. This bag should include every type of dance shoe you own.  Don’t take a risk that even if you don’t need a certain shoe, don’t take them out of your bag. You never know when a fellow dance may have forgotten his/her shoes and you happen to be a perfect match for their feet.  At that point, you’d be able to come in like superman and save the day.  Second, you should always have a small first aid kit including neosporin, band-aids, medical tape, gauze, peroxide, and an ice pack. It may sound silly to have something like this in your bag, but having cut myself more then once at a competition I had to keep learning the same lesson multiple times.  Third thing is extra tights.  Tights are constantly getting runs in them, and you never know when you are going to snag them on a piece of wood of the stage in the middle of a performance and they become unfix-able.  Fourth thing is a change of clothes, because who seriously wants to be constricted by tights or have to explain yourself when you walk into some place public like a restaurant? No one.  Final and fifth thing in your dance bag should be multiple bottles of water.  Always stay hydrated.  Find where the closest water fountain is and continue to refill as needed.

caboodleThe next thing you should have is a caboodle.  I’m not sure if that is what they call it anymore, but it is basically a makeup case.  It has every kind of makeup from foundation to eye shadows to lipsticks, to eyebrow pencils.  Being a competition kid you learn about various kinds of makeup at a young age.  You should also have miscellaneous items, like tweezers, nail clipper, clear nail polish (to stop runs in tights), make up remover, cue-tips, cotton balls, and nail polish remover.  This little kit was everything that was needed to make me not look washed out under the harsh lighting on stage.  I have very fair skin, so I had to wear a lot of makeup…I always felt like I had to shower three times before I could get it all off my face.

Third and final bag is your food survival bag.  I wish I had known now, what I didn’t know then about food, because I feel like I would have had more energy at shows and better eating habits as an adult.  Anyway, don’t have your parents or another parent get you fast food like burgers, french fries, chicken nuggets, or soda.  You are not helping yourself in anyway!  Bring nuts, apples, bananas, water, Zero Vitamin Water, and veggies that you can pick at in Tupperware.  Don’t, and I repeat do not eat starbursts and goldfish all day.  It will give you a high and then you will seriously crash and feel like crap.

Do yourself a favor and follow my bag rule. You will be a much happier dancer, performer, and student.

Dance Studios – Choosing the Right One

Every dancer has a teacher that has inspired them to dance. From the time I was five years old to high school graduation at eighteen, I had gone to the same dance studio one town over. I had two teachers, who were mother and daughter that instilled my love of dance. Mary Carrow (daughter) and Joan Condlin’s (mother). Liverpool School of Dance was my second home. When I got into high school I was pretty much there every day of the week either taking class or helping as a teacher’s assistant.

Mary was the ballet, lyrical and jazz instructor. She had a grace to her that when she turned she could make it look easy and stop on a dime without any kind wobble. She had a knack for making dance patterns and phrases complicated, but they always looked beautiful on stage by intertwining dancers, developing levels and canons, and speed changes that brought in an audience. Joan had knowledge of tap that could rival anyone. She had been trained by the infamous Al Gilbert (professional tapper and choreographer). Lisa Henson was my lyrical solo instructor who believed I had a real talent and supported me where ever I was performing. We performed at dance competitions, traveled and participated in dance workshops, and developed a team orientated mentality with the other students I danced with in class.

So how do you know the studio you chose for your child is the right one? Firstly, I think a lot of parents push their kids into dance because they want a dream for them that they didn’t have as a child. At least these are a lot of the stories I hear from parents being a dance teacher. I think you as a parent need to first figure out if this is a commitment your child wants to make. Kids know what they like and have a lot more brain power then adults give them credit. Next comes the hard part – the research.

In small towns or big cities you would be surprised how many dance studios there are in thirty mile radius. I cannot stress this enough. Do your research. Check out the websites of the studios. See what kind of experience the instructors have that will be teaching your child not only currently, but as they get older. Go check out a class. In many cases studios will have open houses where instructors will be teaching classes throughout the day, you can meet and talk with the studios and faculty, and you have the ability to view the venue. These are all important aspects to consider when choosing a studio location.

Finally, every studio that you view is going to be expensive and it is a year commitment for not only the child but the parents. Unlike classes at a YMCA or a Boys and Girls Club where the sessions are ten or twelve weeks long, studio classes run from September until June. There are perks to being in a studio instead of a community facility, like consistency of the same children in class so the kids can form friendships, there is a recital at the end of the year along with various viewing days in class, and the student also begins to feel comfortable being with instructors they know and a facility that doesn’t change.

Finding a dance family that fits the needs of your family is important and that dance family can be a support system if your child decide to go to college for dance or make a decision to dance professionally. Also, know that if anything happens tragic or happy in your life that dance family will be there to help you pick up the pieces or join in the celebration. Either way it is important for you as a parent to do your research in the beginning.

Cliques at the Dance Studio

anti-bullyingEveryone deals with bullies at some point in their lives, but in a dance studio it is unacceptable.  When students have been dancing together from the time they are nine to eighteen years old there should be a sense of comradery among the dancers.  Of course, some students are going to have more in common with others, but students shouldn’t ever feel they are being left out or that there is favoritism in the classroom, at a performance, or at a competition.  As an instructors, it is our job to protect, encourage, and support students in their dance endeavors; and parents should be setting this example.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where their are mean girls and boys, and no matter what their age, bullying has a tendency to be inevitability.  Growing up at a studio the owners were a second family to me.  They always supported me in my desire to go to college for dance by allowing me to become an assistant dance teacher, giving me the opportunity to take more classes, as well as took some of my suggestions to heart by creating a competition team to give students the ability to be on stage more as well as developed opportunities for more classes.  I would love to say that the competition team was always a great experience, but their became this inner turmoil that was unnecessary during my senior year of high school.  The twenty-three year old competition team instructor still had a high school mentality and treated certain students like they were the stars and that the rest of the students didn’t deserve to be there.  It created small cliques within the eleven person dance team, put a wedge between students that had been together for years, ultimately ended the job of the instructor, and led to the disbanding of the Saturday competition team by the time I left for college.

So, how can you prevent this from happening in your own dance classroom or studio?  Firstly, know the instructors you hire.  Not everyone that comes through your dance school or studio as a student should be teaching.  Watch classes and see how the instructor interacts with the students.  View the student’s reaction to the instructor’s direction.  Second, create a team player mentality in the classroom as well as at performances.  Having a support system between the students is the key to a successful choreographed routine and harmony among the students.  And thirdly, have the parents understand and execute kindness and support between one another as well as the dancers.  As the old saying goes there is no I in team and you need everyone to be a team player if you are going to be successful in the dance world.

Dance Moms – Where to Begin…

Where do I start about dance moms, and no I do not mean the TV show.  Anyone who is a dance instructor knows all about the types of mothers and/ or fathers that are over barring and think their kids are the next Sylvie Guillem or Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Don’t get me wrong, I think parents should be supportive and take an interest in their children’s hobbies, but when you come into my classroom and are yelling at your five year old to pay attention, it is neither productive or helpful.  There are two types of parents, “parents who want their kids to be a dancer,” I’ll call these parents “forceful parents” and “helicopter parents.”  These parents may sound like their the same, but personally I think the helicopter parent is worse.

First you have the “forceful parents.”  These parents makes their kid take dance class even though they do not want to be there.  For example, lets say you have a daughter named Lucy.  Every time she steps into ballet class she cries, or she sits in the corner and pouts until it’s time to go home.  Not only does this disrupt the class, but Lucy is not having fun because she doesn’t want to be there.  Now you may wonder why I call these parents “forceful parents.”  Anytime I have a conversation with these types of parents they always tell me how they wished they were in dance classes when they were little or as an adolescent and they want to be able to give their child that experience.  Newsflash – Your kid hates it and doesn’t want to be there.  Lucy would rather be in soccer.  Want to know how I know that?  Because I asked her.

Second you have the ‘helicopter parents.”  Helicopter parents are those parents that are trying to give their kid an edge in someway.  Whether it is becoming buddy buddy with the dance studio owner or the instructor so your kid gets a good part or taking the blame when your kid forgets something of vital importance for a competition and you expect another kid to give up theirs because their child has a bigger part in the dance piece.  Dear helicopter parents, your kids are going to become the most dependent babies and/ or continue to make stupid mistakes their entire lives because you have never let them fall flat on their face.  Without failure their is no learning process.

My parents were supportive people in any thing we did.  They had three very different children, one that was into music, one that was obsessed with baseball, and me – the type A personality that had to have control of everything all the time dance fanatic.  While we were growing up, my parents were firm believers that kids needed to learn to fight their own battles at an early age, which is why when something was unfair at an activity we were involved with they stayed out of it and let us handle it in our own way.  My parents were also the type of people to ask us if we were still interested in an activity at a young age.  We were never allowed to quit something in the middle of a season or year, we always had to finish the activity out.  Your children are smarter than you think.  Let them be involved in the decision on whether or not they want to be in dance class and don’t be so involved that they never fail at that activity, your children need to learn and grow, and the only way to do that is with failure.  As the saying goes if you have never failed than you have never succeeded.