The structure of almost any dance/Musical Theatre class can be distilled down into the following template: Generic warm-up, followed by a style-specific warm-up. Preparatory exercises to introduce and break down stylistic movement patterns, actions and sensibilities(often emphasising alignment and technical concepts)
In order to assure that students are continuously and actively engaged in class, effective class structure and time management is vital to the success of any lesson. Teachers are expected to deliver all course content without the need or use of outside “assistants”. Additionally, it is crucial that our teachers do their best to assure students are appropriately challenged while also given attainable goals, especially considering the wide range of skill sets that may be present in each class. Below are some key elements to helping achieve those goals:
Keeping content appropriate to student skill sets Class exercises and combinations are always focused on detailing and defining technique and performance energy. Content is never given that is outside of a student’s ability to execute safely and in a controlled manner. Our goal is to train for solid foundational technique and train in a way that is suited to the individual. Here is no rush to accomplish feats that ultimately might cause injury by introducing them to students prematurely. When faced with a range of skill sets in one class, We construct classes that play to the “middle”. This means those with more technical challenges can be encouraged to keep up without getting lost (as opposed to going so slowly that the rest of the class becomes bored). Simultaneously, instructors can choose to give specified alternative steps or “tracks” in choreography that can keep the more advanced students engaged and challenged without making it seem that they are “favored” by the teacher over other students. At Stageworks and Danceworks we have appropriate classes to eliminate this factor. If we don't think a pupil is ready for the next group up then we will simply keep them with their normal group until they are ready for the next move.
Given the brevity of our class structures (class being only once a week, and sometimes for only 1 hour over a 36 week period when factoring term time only), teachers often create more intricacy in class work, or cover a larger quantity of material than students will be able to effectively demonstrate by exam/show week. Whether it be an technical exercise, or a performance combination it is often most effective if the vocabulary is created as something attainable and learned early on; leaving a primary part of the course trajectory centered on achieving refinement and clarity of detail. Throwing combinations at students or creating combinations that are 5-7 minutes long and therefore take weeks for them to learn, may result in students demonstrating poor technique or confuse them with regard to desired course outcomes. Clean, precise, moment-to-moment work will always be desired over far- reaching vocabulary that strains their bodies and demonstrates lack of control or understanding. Repetition is the artist’s friend. (Noted exception: Audition Tech classes where the course goal is designed to challenge students in picking up choreography quickly, asking technical questions and attempt things they may not have done before)
Overall Goals: Part of the essential culture at Stageworks & Danceworks is based on each class session providing students the incentives and tools so that they can safely and effectively rehearse on their own. Too often students rely solely on an instructor to provide all the insights, direction, and answers, when instead we all know it is best if they make discoveries on their own (as influenced by the teacher’s strong guidance in the class room). Students then learn the discipline of being self sufficient when exploring and rehearsing the work independently. The structures above are key in helping students understand how to maximize class time and also in assisting them in learning HOW to work on their own and bring material back that they have refined, improved, and enhanced.
What do we do week by week?
The first thing we do is speak to our class. We say hello, we get hugs, we ask them if they've had a great week, if we need to be aware of any injuries, the theme of the session, what they will be doing and so on. A group of people in the know will be much more confident than if they have no idea of what they’ll be doing for the next hour.
We Create the right vibe for the class they are about to explore. This is done by our choice of music, providing context for the genre and the way we use our voice. E.g, nobody will be able to embody the Street dance energy if you put on piano music. We set the rooms energy and start with our warm up. Always cardio first, once the class is sweating we then move onto stretches.
We introduce key movements that you plan to use later on in the session, in the warm up. This gives our participants the opportunity to become familiar with movements ahead of time and reaffirms the confidence. It’s also a good way for you to see how many in the group find your movements challenging in comparison to those who seem really comfortable with them.
No matter how our class is advertised, we will always have people of mixed abilities in the studio with us. Using descriptive language (similes, metaphors, adjectives) its a key tool to make your movements accessible to a range of abilities. If we can describe how a step should feel, or can liken it to a specific environment (e.g moving underwater) or sensation (e.g as if you have no bones in your body) it gives our participants something to visualise to help them make sense of our movement in their own body. Pupils can only get so much from watching someone else demonstrate.
To accommodate further, we always have simplified versions of our steps ready to pull out – particularly if we have movements that are fast, complicated or require a high level of strength or flexibility. Not everyone in the room will be able to execute our advanced choreography and they should not be made to feel bad because of it. (The other side of this is we also ensure we have a more progressive version of your steps to take into account those who may be highly-trained).
Leading on from this, to ensure everyone feels valued and as though they are doing a good job (which they will be!), each time we run the routine/sequence with the group, dance the advanced version(s) and then the standard version with them. Also avoiding the word ‘easy’. Though it can be reassuring for some, it can be de-motivating for others – we use ‘standard’ or ‘original’ and ‘advanced’ to differentiate.
We Keep an eye on the time. Were not afraid to deviate from our lesson plan. If it takes 40mins for a group to learn five movements then leave thats that. We don’t rush them and try to teach our entire choreography as it results in having a messy group and everyone (including us) will go home feeling frustrated. It’s far better to have a group of confident dancers performing 30 seconds of movement really well, than having a group of intimidated and confused dancers muddling their way through two minutes of material. The creative element is a really important aspect to our class so we introduce the task early on in the session. If they finish it with plenty of time we then go back to teaching our choreography. We know our group, we give them time and we listen to them.
We Don’t single people out/use negative reinforcement. Unless the pupil is injured and cannot physically demonstrate a movement, We don’t ask the group to watch one of the participants as an example of what to do. Though it may feel uplifting to that one individual to be singled out in a positive way, the rest of the group may feel resentful that they won’t chosen or disengaged because they’re not interested in ‘who does it best’
Equally, if a group aren’t picking up our choreography we don’t make them drop and give us twenty. This level of discipline is not necessary and this method of teaching is really excluding – what if your participants can’t physically do a press-up/sit-up/squat jump or whatever it is you’re making them do? Not only will they feel rubbish that they can’t do that movement properly (which they signed up to try), now they feel even worse because its highlighted that ‘deficiency’ and given them another thing that they ‘can’t do’ that they did not sign up for. Our class is not a bootcamp or a detention centre, We are always open and positive using positive reinforcement. This way we get the best results along with a happy face, growing confidence and respect.
We always stick around at the end of our class. Quite often, pupils and parents want to have the opportunity to say thank you, ask questions, or generally just talk to us. We will always make time for you.
Pupils have paid to learn from us and should feel glad to be there. This isn’t a showcase, no-one has signed up to take a class just to watch the teacher demonstrate or show off over and over again. They are there to learn.
In a class, we are asking pupils to move their bodies in new or unusual ways, In Acro trust us that they won't fall, In Musical Theatre sing part of a group or solo, deliver a line with projection and confidence these are complex things and we always make space and time for them to do this in a positive and friendly environment. Confidence isn’t built by tearing people down.