The goal of dance education is to teach students to engage with the art of dance as dancers, dance makers, and dance viewers. All three are equally important in a quality program built on embracing emotional intelligence through the arts, expressing ideas and feelings, and supporting the work of others. The following is a list of best practices you can use to ensure that your teaching succeeds in all these areas and enriches the learning experience at all grade levels.
Be Prepared Consider using unit and daily lesson plans to help organize the days and weeks ahead. (See pages 162–165 for sample lesson and unit plans.) Think ahead about classroom setup, music, and teaching standards. In some situations the dance environment may be less than ideal, but with careful planning you can still deliver strong, effective dance programs.
Set Clear Rules for Classroom Behavior A successful dance class fosters respect for each student’s skills and abilities and provides a safe space in which to work and create. To establish a positive learning environment, create a list of rules for student behavior that mandate mutual respect from the outset. A common understanding of expectations’t invade others’ personal space, provide constructive feedback in peer critiques, etc.ówill help ensure that no one gets hurt, either physically or emotionally.
Establish Your Authority Be encouraging, but clear, firm, and consistent in your approach from day one. This can help you establish your dance class as a place for real learning.
Be a Positive Role Model Dance classes provide a wonderful opportunity to help students develop a healthy body image and make healthy life choices. As the teacher you are in a unique position to model attitudes and behaviors they can adopt for themselves. Model not being afraid to challenge your body and be empathic to the anxiety or insecurity some students might experience when first being introduced to dance.
Incorporate a Warm-up Every dance class should start with warm-up exercises to prepare students’ bodies for the physical challenges of dance. In a technique class the warm-up is a standard part of the lesson; in an introductory movement class a series of simple stretches may suffice. In all situations a proper warm-up will both protect students from injury and facilitate higher achievement, whether students are learning to square dance or execute a proper pirouette.
Leave Time for Reflection Dance can be an exhilarating physical experience for students, but the thrill will be fleeting unless you build in opportunities to put the experience in context. Leave time at the end of each class period for students to reflect on and discuss the objectives and outcomes of that day’s lesson, in both oral and written form. Have students keep a journal in which they can reflect on what they’re learning, and allow them to use the journal as a place to express themselves without concern about grades and formal assignments.
Know Your Students There’s no place to hide in a dance class, and that can leave students feeling exposed and vulnerable. Get to know each of them by name, personality, and learning style. Seek out opportunities to interact with students both inside and outside the classroom.
Set High, Age-appropriate Standards Dance is universally accessible. Assume that all students can participate and encourage them all to try. Make sure that the standards, basic techniques, and values of dance practice are taught, used consistently, and reflected in assessment methods across the board.
Recognize Dance as an Art Form The study of dance is rich and valuable in itself and should not be taught solely as a means of achieving some other curricular goal. Remind yourself of this as you develop your curriculum.
Evaluate Students in Different Ways Assess students’ progress by using a variety of methods including verbal and nonverbal feedback, written comments, and peer evaluation. Also be sure that students take part in ongoing self-assessment.
Have a Plan B Teaching dance, much like dancing itself, is all about staying flexible and solving problems in creative ways. If a lesson strategy isn’t working out, switch to a back-up plan.
Make Connections and Honor Diversity Plan lessons that connect to other areas of your students’ curriculum and to their life outside of school. Look for opportunities to assign projects and activities that acknowledge and embrace students’ cultural backgrounds.
Balance Process and Performance Some students may be particularly suited to performing; others may have an aptitude for choreography or critical analysis. Strive to create a curriculum that engages students in all aspects of making and understanding dance.
Encourage Family and Community Involvement Communicate with parents and invite them to participate in performances and field trips. Partnerships with families reinforce for students the value of the arts. Outreach initiatives, such as a dance camp for neighborhood kids, foster a sense of community investment that supports and validates students’ study.
Promote Student Collaboration Dance is by nature a collaborative pursuit. Working with others on a project or performance helps students develop communication and social skills. When you assign collaborative projects, consider each student’s strengths and abilities. This will allow students to build on one another’s particular skill sets and promote team building, cooperation, and leadership.
Provide Real-World Experiences Outside the Classroom Field trips offer a great way for students to connect what they’re learning to the rest of the world. Don’t limit these trips to viewing professional dance performances – take a backstage tour, visit a costume or scene shop, or talk with a dance videographer.
Teach Students How to View Dance Seeing great dance along with active engagement with movement helps students learn to understand and interpret live dance performance. Expose your students to specific vocabulary they can use to interpret and describe their experiences. Create a list of questions students can ask themselves each time they watch a performance, such as: "What mood did the piece create in you?" and "How did the music add to the overall effect of the work?"
Dance Audience Etiquette Each live presentation or performance is a collaborative experience between the performers and the audience. Encourage your students to think of themselves not simply as viewers, but as active participants in the dance experience.