A structured class is essential to a successful dance class. It allows your students to know what is expected of them, and for me the teacher to allow the class to move smoothly. In any given week I teach in several diverse spaces. Each class is unique, but they all share the basic structure of a clear beginning, middle and end leading to overall sequential and thematic classes.
Of course every dance teacher’s class structure is different, there is no (absolute) right way to do it, but it is important to have structure. I find if I ever drastically switch the order it affects my students as they are accustomed to the specific structure of their class. There have been instances where I have experimented and deviated too much from the communicated structure, the students noticed very quickly, and requested I follow the set structure (because it made learning easy). It is critical to keep the routine every week, however, routine does not mean boring – it essentially means that we have a basic framework from which to work from). So once you choose a structure that works, stick with it. Here is an example of how a 45 minute AfroFeet class moves smoothly.
In this part we include a discussion of both the theme and topic for the class. Outcomes are communicated to the students from the onset so they know what is expected of them. The key is to have a stimulating discussion to interest and motivate the students making them eager to learn.
AfroFeet class begins with a warm-up, stretch, and then progress to the exploration of various dance elements, including the relevant vocabulary we will cover during the class. The warm-up dance elements and vocabulary compliment the theme of the day i.e. they are always in sync, and contextualised so that they work together instead of contrasting and fighting each other. Teaching pack one (3-7 year olds) starts with ‘Fire on the mountain’ with me beating on the drum to dictate rhythm and children singing and listening to prompts and mimicking an animal of their choice and changing the animal with each rhythm change.
During this main or middle section I insist on team work because we teach groups, and our students need to learn how to work as part of a team. They share their dance work and receive feedback from their peers. In their critiques they consider more than the physical movements, but also the ideas and feeling evoked by the dance.
Once the students grasp the techniques taught, they will be expected, in subsequent classes to develop choreography based on the African dance elements and vocabulary explored in the previous weeks. The goal is to produce exceptional dancers who are able to draw on their own observations, experience and research at a very young age and create pieces that even seasoned dancers would envy.
The class concludes the same way it begins, with some drum beating then gradually moving to a stretch followed by a discussion where everyone contributes to how they felt about the class. It might seem silly to do it with young children, but you will be surprised by how many fundamental changes we have made as a result of listening to our students.
How do we know that our structure works? The success is not marked by a grade, but rather by our students’ participation during assessments. The assessments take the form of beautiful and creative recitals that are graced by fellow students and family. They serve not only as entertainment but evidence of the depth of our students achievements. It is a platform for our students to demonstrate that they have understood, and applied the dance techniques, vocabulary and cultural knowledge.
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