Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Variety is the Spice of Life

Cheesy, but true. I'm the kind of person who always needs to have a routine. This started around age 3 when I created a bedtime ritual that I made my mother do with me every single night. The whole ordeal leasted about five minutes. But, I do believe there are certain areas in life where you should switch it up and try something new. Even if it is alternating between a couple different choices, it's better than doing the same exact thing every day. For example, I've been working on changing up my diet and eating habits. I am the world's pickiest eater, so it's always been difficult for me to come up with creative, healthy meals. My choices usually consisted of fruit, any kind of bread, potatoes, and pasta. Not a very good diet, right? Ever since I started reading Bethenny Frankel's book, Naturally Thin (see my post, "Healthy Habits According to Bethenny"), I've been trying the included recipes and adding variety to my meals. I've even found a new vegetable that I absolutely love!

But what I want to talk about here is adding variety to my lesson plans. I teach two dance classes every Saturday at my dance studio. One is ballet for students who are between the ages of 8 and 10, and a modern class with students ages 9-14. This is my first year being a teacher and I am currently half way through the year. It has been very successful so far. I've had a few challenges along the road, but ones that taught me a lot about being a great teacher, leader, and role model. I'm discovering what challenges my students in a good way and how to adapt the movement for each person so everyone understands it and performs it at their very best. I'm also learning that it's ok to have some fun every once in a while, especially with younger dancers. At times, it's been hard for me to balance going to school for dance and teaching dance to younger girls because sometimes I forget that the class I teach will not be as strict and advanced as the classes that I take at Towson. It's very important to have discipline in the classroom, but it's ok to laugh and play games and create a fun environment as well. I'm in a weird position where I'm a student and a teacher at the same time, so I'm still learning, but I enjoy making dance fun for my students.

This is me teaching my ballet class at Cecil Dancenter.

Here's some ways to spice things up:
  1. Change the structure of the class from week to week. Even if it's every couple weeks, children love doing something new. For example, in my modern class, I never do the same warm-up twice. One week we'll go across the floor, the next week they'll follow me for a warm-up in the center and we'll do a lot of stretching. Recently we've been working on our recital dance, so the class has been more of a rehearsal, but last week we spent the whole class period working on lifts for the routine and the girls loved it. For ballet this week, I'm going to try a center barre with a few less exercises to add something fresh and exciting. My students have gotten used to spending 40 minutes at the barre every week with the same order of exercises. I'm hoping a brief warm-up in the center will keep them interested because we haven't done it before. It also helps with alignment and balance since there is nothing to hold on to, so it's a win win!
  2. Play games! I don't do games very often, but I would love to incorporate more of them in the future. I don't mean typical games that you would play on the playground in elementary school. I'm talking about games that will help educate your students and relate to the dance style you are practicing. You could even take some of those typical games and turn them into a dance game. I taught a summer workshop this past summer for girls under the age of 9, so they love any kind of game. We played four corners, but when you went to a corner, you had to do a certain dance step and be as quiet as possible. In my ballet class a few weeks ago, I taught my students a couple ballet positions, French names and everything, and turned it into a memorization game. I put them in pairs and when I said the name of the position, they had to raise their hands and demonstrate what that position was. The pair with the most points won a small prize. They still remember those positions a couple weeks later! An easy one to do in any class is have them race their partner when traveling across the floor. It's not about speed and they still have to do the movement technically correct, but it's about seeing who can travel the furthest and get to the corner first.
  3. Have a theme. I have a chart that lists every single Saturday up until the end of the year recital with a spot where I can write in notes about what we are going to do that week. It helps me to think ahead and plan out what the students will be learning during the year. I like to make class interesting by having a theme every once in a while. Some of my themes for ballet include: dancing to music with words (they call it "real music" and they can't get enough of it), learning a dance routine, or having the students come up with their own exercises at the barre. When the class is not just the same old, same old, the students will be more likely to be fully invested in what they are doing.

Stretching can actually be fun!