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Saturday, July 16 2016
Signs You Have an Awesome Dance Teacher

Signs you have an awesome dance teacher
 

1.       Really Loves Dance 

 

Seems obvious doesn’t it? Sometimes teachers get burned out, they get bored, they became a dance teacher for the wrong reasons, or maybe after years of being a business owner the other stresses overpowered the reasons they liked dance and opened a studio to begin with. There are way more that don’t have that problem than do though. A good start is making sure you’ve found the ones that have the love. If he or she can’t hear a song without imagining a dance to it, if he or she could watch dances for hours, can’t get enough of it - you’ve got a good one. 

 

2.       Loves and Honors Teaching 

 

You can love dance and still not be a fan of teaching, so make sure you’ve got one with both! The best teachers are caring, knowledgeable, patient, and willing to work with each student. There are dance teachers everywhere who say “I only want to work with the students who already know what they’re doing”…yeah that’s typically easier, but most teachers like to say that they are also the ones who helped the student get to the “knowing it” stage. There are also the teachers who prefer certain ages, “I hate babies,” or maybe flip that and “I do best with the younger crowd.” Not every person in the world likes every single other person in the world, but teachers treat all students with respect and encouragement. When your dance teacher has a passion for teaching, they are excited to see everyone learn. These same teachers also know the perfect balance of fun, discipline, and self-expression and they create the best learning environment for you. If you and your classmates are enjoying class, smiling, learning, feeling like individual dancers (and not someone else, or a robot), if you’re respecting your teacher and the other dancers around you, and everyone making improvements in some way - that’s the good stuff. 

 

3.       Has a seal of approval/ is affiliated with a trusted dance teacher certification program

 

The industry of dance education is not regulated by licensure, but you know your dance studio is a good one when they are associated with one or more professional dance teacher programs. One of the most well-known and respected programs is Dance Masters of America (DMA). DMA is a non-profit organization that tests each member in subjects of music theory, dance history; practice, dancing theory, and application to include terminology, proper technique, and hands on spotting for dance genres. Participants are trained and tested in ballet (including pointe and lyrical), jazz (including musical theatre, African, and hip hop), tap, modern (and contemporary), teaching children, and Acro - among others. Other similar organizations exist, some of the more popular are Dance Educators of America, Royal Academy of Dance, American Ballet Theatre (ballet only), Cecchetti USA (ballet only), and National Dance Educators Organization. The National Clogging Leaders Organization trains clogging teachers through its Certified Clogging Instructor Program. If your teacher comes with approval through one of these groups or your studio mentions their association with these esteemed groups, you can be pretty sure they know their stuff! 

 

4.       Has a reputation

 

A good one of course! Dance teachers who help their students the most are those with previous experience, a history, related training. Say your dance teacher is, or was, also a school teacher, a physical education teacher, a nurse, or they have a degree in health, fitness, or dance; that is excellent news for you. It’s likely that you want the best chances of being the best dancer you can, this means you’ve made sure that your studio offers a staff that is good at teaching as well as performing. You probably wouldn’t feel as comfortable taking dance from someone who hasn’t performed on stage much, who is afraid of speaking on a microphone, or who does not perform well. Great teachers have a diverse background and viable experiences. Did your dance teacher start out as a dance student, then a dance teacher’s assistant, up to a dance teacher or studio owner? Those who have been in your shoes can relate better and those who have studied under others are better prepared to perform that same job independently. Teachers who have been working with children a while, who have their own children, or even those who were babysitters also tend to do better when it comes to teaching. Whatever you want from your dance class/studio and the teacher you choose, make sure they have experience with that. Finding a teacher with a lot of experiences in many different formats is the best. If your teacher has a good background - they’re bound to be a good teacher!

 

5.       Is "Hi-tech"

 

Studios working mostly on technique, or who incorporate it throughout the year have more talented and skilled dancers than studios that focus only on certain routines for months and months. Most studios have at least one performance annually and many also go to competitions and offer more opportunities to showcase their dancers. While that is awesome, it’s even more awesome when teachers emphasize dancing and the individual growth of each dancer. You don’t want to spend six months to a year in a class and only come out knowing about 2 minutes of specific steps and tricks, or on the other end to get to the big showcase and not be able to show off some of the great stuff you’ve learned.  If your teacher creates great routines and works on them leading up to an event to be sure you know them, but remembers to balance that with technique, to keep working on making you a well-rounded dancer, and that dance foundations will also improve the routine…he or she’s a keeper! 

 

6.       Knows that good things come in small packages 

 

No one likes to be crowded or restricted in their movement and while many dancers tend to want to be in a class that is large (if everyone else is doing it), they tend to discover it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Your teacher knows what he or she’s doing if he or she keeps classes smaller so that he or she can focus on the growth and development of each individual student. He or she also knows that a smaller class size means more space for dancing, more room for you to see the teacher, more chances for you to be seen when you perform (no one wants to learn a dance and when you perform no one can even tell you’re on stage anyway), and most importantly, smaller classes mean more space and time for the teacher to see you (individual attention!) If your dance teacher keeps the number of students in each class low (even if that means having more than one offering of that class), he or she deserves high praise. 

 

7.       Is Diverse 

 

This kind of goes with a good reputation, but your teacher may be the best ballet mistress out there and that’s cool but is she also a pretty good tapper, and awesome at jazz, and does she know modern? If yes, you’ve found gold! Dance studios that have you covered no matter what your mood or age are what you want. Maybe you only want to take ballet right now, or maybe you only plan on taking a few lessons…you never know what you’ll want in the future. If you choose correctly now, it will pay off later. Keep that teacher that has preschool and adult classes and offers many different styles! 

 

8.       Has been a student and remains a student

 

Does your teacher stay current on dance news, costume trends, and choreography ideas? The best teachers are the best students. They've been a dance student in your shoes before and they can relate. They know from experience what it's like to be in a recital, to remember multiple dances to perform, to go to a competition. They can help you make it through like they did, they can also see how their students handle things so they can tell their future students. Learning from their students, going to classes, doing research, keeping up to date on certifications, these teachers know that you never stop learning. Do you have a teacher that keeps trying to improve herself? That's the one that's going to help you improve the most. 

 

If you've found a teacher that can be described these ways, hold on for dear life! If you haven't found a teacher like this, keep looking - they're out there and they're amazing. 

Posted by: Katrina Kaplin AT 09:53 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, July 08 2016
Select your Studio with Caution

As I wrote this blog I started with about four different introductory paragraphs before landing on this one. I want to tell you the importance of a good dance teacher, I want you to know how to identify them, and I want to share with you what comes of good versus bad training. I can get really long winded and at times seem like I'm ranting or venting on this topic, so I've tried to start with the most basic and essential step. Why does any of it matter?

When people tell me about their studio of choice and say: "Well she's been in business a long time," or "she didn't realize that stretching her like that would cause a long term injury," or "he's a good dancer, so he must be a good teacher" it drives me crazy.

George Lucas (a filmmaker) has said "apart from my parents, my teachers have done the most to shape my life." Who do you want shaping the life of your child, or shaping your future as a dancer? Some of my own life values, teaching styles, and goals have been inspired by my dance teachers whether they taught me at age 6, 16, or 26.

I've had teachers who made me feel like less of a person, who've made me want to quit dance, who taught me poor technique, who held me back from my goals and my dreams, and who wanted me to bring them success-but wanted no success for me. These are part of the people who inspired me to want to open a dance studio so that I could be the opposite of them, but they do not deserve even that much credit.

My teachers who encouraged me to push myself, who promoted me, who gave me opportunity, who ran a wonderful dance program, who made me feel like a star, who could give me a correction and make me feel like they were giving me praise, who inspired me to be a strong woman, who reminded me you're never too old, who supported me in class and in life, those are the teachers I hold in the utmost esteem.

Van Rossum (a staff member at the Faculty of Human Movement Sciences at Vrije University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands and frequent contributor to the Journal for the Education of the Gifted) reported that the role of a dance teacher is of utmost importance and cannot be underestimated. In the world of field sports, "parents are about as important in the career of a talented athlete as is the coach," he said. In the world of dance, the role of the dance teacher is of much more importance when compared to that of the dancer's parents." To help illustrate what he was saying he pointed to research that showed that significant numbers of field sports athletes referred to their family as a "sports family," but only a small minority of dance students (ages 12-17 in this study) considered their family a "dance family" and considered their home to be supportive of dance. Think about you or your parent, if a member of their family decided to pick up running cross country vs. modern dance.which one will have you immediately offering help or feeling comfortable with how to support them when they want assistance practicing?

I have a mom who helped me in unbelievable ways as a child with my dance (I didn't appreciate it enough then, but as a teacher who wishes more students had parents like her I do now!) Most parents do not know about dance, do not know the terms, the ins and outs of technique, the guidelines for preventing injury, and youtubing how to dribble won't lead to permanent damage like youtubing how to do a tilt or a back handspring can. (PS I don't hate youtube either) The main idea here is that teaching dance can have a significant impact and tends to be more of a singular act rather than a combined effort, so when choosing that sole leader.it should be done extremely carefully.

The Royal Academy of Dance has warned that unqualified teachers can cause children "untold physical damage." Dance teacher educational programs around the world agree that untrained teachers can cause lasting injury. If young children are in the hands of unqualified people then physical damage can be done simply because the teacher does not know about anatomy and the development of bones.

I personally have seen students with bone growth deformity and with significant injuries from doing techniques that a "dance teacher" taught them. I also have students at the studio now who were having significant issues performing certain skills or who say "my last teacher told me I wouldn't be able to do that because my legs are weird." Meanwhile, with proper tactics and training and instruction in basic elements and a little support, these dancers are doing things they never thought they could or who are saying "that's amazing that you helped me fix that." I would take the credit, call myself a magician or a miracle worker, but I can't.  It's due to the fact that I have been trained to teach dance and that I constantly continue my education.

Another common issue I have seen in my years as a dance teacher is that good dancers don't always make for good teachers. Have you ever known how to do something really well, but then someone asked you to show them how, and you struggled? Often, the understanding isn't there of how to break things down and build things up to achieve a well-rounded dancer. Some people can cook a meal from memory and taste and others need a recipe to guide them. This is the same for dance, no two dancers have the same background, basic skills, or natural talent and someone who is not trained in all the basics of dance instruction is less likely to be able to help their students succeed. I knew a great hip hop dancer who did fantastic solos and had training in all styles of dance, but when it came to teaching and choreography, she struggled. She had students who were like her - who kept up and caught on quickly, but not all of them felt successful. Students were quitting left and right because they thought they weren't good dancers or it was too hard for them, or they must not like hip hop.  Put them in a class with someone who is not as good at performing hip hop (still good, but not to the level of the first teacher), but who has dance teacher training and experience and the same students who "suck at hip hop" were ready sign up for America's Best Dance Crew.

So your dancer seems to be doing "just fine", no injuries and they can do all kinds of tricks.  Are they doing them properly? Are they cranking their shoulder to get that triple pirouette? Do they know what pirouette means? Are they lifting their hips off center to get that leg high? Are they using the correct muscles to turn so that as they advance they have the ground work to do so? I see the Instagram and Facebook posts of studios who have authoritative rulers who use fear or who have teachers take "cheats" to get their students to look impressive, but at what cost?

What happens when your child is overcome with anxiety, when they blame themselves for the poor instruction and lack of basic essentials, when they have anorexia, when they don't have the skills to take their dance career where they want, or when they cut corners or intimidate others to make a gain? It sounds dramatic, but I've seen these things first hand. I've been that dancer in a class with students who had more basic technique and vocabulary than I did, even though I had more years of experience as a dancer than them. I've built up a beat-down dancer's self-esteem as a teacher to students new to me and as a teammate. I've helped with eating disorder counseling and seeking help, I've tried to clean up the heartbreak after a student was not adequately prepared for an audition or performance, I've seen dancers who were promoted to more advanced classes only to see them fail because they didn't have the actual foundation they needed, only a façade to make their previous teacher look good.

I have written way too much at this point and it sounds depressing. I didn't mean to go there, it just bothers me so much that anyone can hang a sign on the door and say they are a dance teacher and they can do so much damage or good. In the next blog, I will talk about how to make sure your teacher is the best for you. Maybe then I'll be able to tell you about the achievements and victories of dancers I've seen who knew how to get the best from their dance teacher, even if they just wanted to take dance for fun.

Posted by: Katrina Kaplin AT 08:52 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 04 2016
Whose Move is it Anyway?

Our last entry on Modern seemed like the perfect introduction to Improvisation. Improvisation is defined in my dance teacher text books as spontaneous movement or composition without preplanned use of form. Improvisation lets dancers feel free in their movement and stimulates their creative energies.

At Symphony Dance we try to incorporate improvisation in our daily classes and we also offer a separate class just for improvisation. In classes we often offer times in the dances for freestyling, we let dancers show off their moves, and we do activities where the students get to create a dance and lead the rest of the class (including the teacher) in movement that fits their style.

Dancers may be shy in the beginning of improvisational work, but we work to help them get into the spirit of improvisation. I try to remind my students that improvisational movements should be from within and should focus on how the movement feels rather than how it looks. Many times it’s hard for dancers to create spontaneous movement that isn’t imitation or that doesn’t end up looking forced, but many times the dancers who are the most shy in the beginning end up being the dancers who enjoy improvisation the most.

Some examples of improvisation that may occur in our daily classes include:

-Dancers may be given 12 counts of a Jazz combination and then asked to complete the last 4 beats (2 make two steps worth) of their own movement that fits the music.

-In ballet we use improvisation in all levels, but specifically in more advanced classes it is fun to have dancers create their own combinations for the barre portion of class at the beginning or lead the class in a reverence, that they create on the spot, to end the class.

-Improvisation is incorporated into tap class in different ways, but I like to have dancers stand in a circle and start with one person adding one beat/step/count/element and then the next person starts with that piece and adds their own piece and you build the step around the circle.

-Our hula hoop instructor often gives opportunities for solos, gives options on arms and positioning for independent style choices, and ends every class with a song of “free-hoop” where participants can do anything they want to with their hoop. I often use this as a cardio section of waist hooping, or may take the time to practice my chest hooping, other hoopers work on specific arm tricks, hoop jumping, traveling the hoop from waist up to a lasso or from lasso down to knee hooping.

-Acro (short for acrobatics) seems like a strange place to work on improvisation, but improvisation makes a well-rounded dancer and we want to contribute to that in every class. In this class improvisation can be incorporated by allowing dancers to do a combination of their favorite skills (tumbling or dance) down the mat.

-In toddler and preschool dance classes we start with simple freeze game style music that tells you what to do (maybe walk or jump or tip toe and then freeze) and then we sneak “dance” in there too. It’s amazing how uninhibited 2 year olds are, they sometimes start by following me and copying exactly but it’s not long before they’re adding style to everything, including their walks!

Our improvisation class builds dancer skills so they have a selection to choose from when performing their improvisations. We also work on different challenges to the improvisation, on different music timing, on different styles of dance, and on testing the limits of the dancers’ emotions, abilities, athleticism, and creativity.  I may ask dancers to do a call and response to each other, to do the same combination of moves and find ways to personally stylize them or to make them portray different emotions, or we may simply play the music and dance and enjoy the work of all the dancers in the room.

Teachers who are creative with improvisation will develop a strong, well rounded performer. Dancers who can improvise are not the dancers who “blank out” on stage, who stare at the floor, or look like they are thinking about something else or would rather be anywhere else.  I have seen this to be true in other studios I’ve worked for, in students I’ve taught solos to, and in our Symphony Dance students. I hope to continue to build amazing dancers through various techniques including improvisation.

Posted by: Katrina Kaplin AT 08:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Friday, July 01 2016
Thoroughly Modern Symphony

Last blog, I talked about a rare dance style that is offered at Symphony Dance and gave you a little taste of clogging. This blog, I’d like to now offer a second course in this sampler-Modern Dance. Many dance studios in our area list contemporary and modern as interchangeable dance styles and say that they are offered, but are not often listed on the schedule. (PS Contemporary is like a form of ballet or Jazz and Modern is an independent style on its own…separate from other styles.)

As part of my 4 year teacher’s training program, I have been studying from college professors of dance including modern and have taken modern specific courses. This summer I will take a multi-part exam that includes a written test, oral exam, choreography, instruction, performance, and I will watch a modern dancer and have to correctly identify the actions performed by the dancer.

I know Modern, and when I say we have Modern-we do.

Modern dance originated at the turn of the 19th century and spread through Switzerland, Germany, France and Across Europe and from Chicago to California to NY, in between and beyond.  Dancers who were trained in ballet wanted to express more emotion in their dance, they wanted more of an intimate style of dance, and rather than focusing on romantic themes like ballet they wanted to express a realistic and humanistic emotion.

These dancers wanted to rebel against the strictness of ballet and wanted to dance for more than just entertainment, but also for instructional, uplifting, and/or satirical purposes. These dancers wanted to show athleticism and take dance from being just amusing to being a form of art.

A few Modern dancer/choreographer names may be familiar to you, like Martha Graham who was in the first generation of modern dancers and was an influential person in society not just for her dancing. Martha Graham is well known for her quotes like “Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body” and “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.”  Twyla Tharp is a modern dancer and choreographer in the Post-Modern Era and is known for her dances in Hair the film and the musical, her choreography for Singin’ in the Rain (my favorite movie/musical), her work with Come Fly Away (on Broadway and on Tour), and Movin’ Out (on Broadway and on Tour-collaborating with Billy Joel) among others. Garth Fagan is based in Rochester and is in the Third Generation or Post-Modern Era as well and is known for his choreography in the Broadway production of The Lion King.

Modern dancers as a group lean towards a style that isn’t defined, that doesn’t have set rules, that focuses on using the torso for power, on challenging the limits of the physical body, while being based in human emotion and natural movements. Any line, shape, or any form that the human body can create in space is valid in modern dance if it expresses what the dancer or choreographer wants to communicate.

As someone who likes to have set rules and expectations or building blocks for things like a shuffle step in tap or clogging, a ball change in those or in jazz, or a pirouette…modern was a hard concept for me in the beginning. I am also someone who likes to not have to do the highest jump, sometimes a little jump portrays what I want. I am someone who likes to listen to the music and see what it inspires me to do without having to think if that’s an accepted “step” or “move”. I also like to push myself and my dancers to do more than we think we can with dance, with movement, with letting go of inhibitions, and with portraying emotion (whether it be happiness, sorrow, anger, etc.) For those reasons and more, I have come to really love modern dance.

Modern dance is another style that is good for the dancer who thinks they “can’t dance.”  Trust me, everyone can dance, but that’s not my point. If you think you “can’t dance” because you struggle with rhythm or turns, or even standing on your tippy toes, if you can have a feeling and portray it in some way with your body, then you can be a modern dancer.

I feel like my blog is getting a little long now. (I write these in Word before I post them and I set out a rule for myself {I told you I like guidelines} that I wouldn’t go longer than a page and this is already a page and a quarter.) I could tell you a lot more about modern and the liberating quality it has or the fun you have turning into someone else when you dance, but those kind of apply to all styles of dance…so I will say this- Modern dance is sometimes harder for those who are more inhibited but it is always enjoyable for any level. Modern dance is often used as a blanket term, but it is an independent style of dance or dance-form. Modern is not offered at most studios or is often seen as “stuffy” or only for the strict ballerina. Modern is meant to be open to all humans and is meant to be enjoyed by all. Modern is offered at Symphony Dance and we would be thrilled to have you.

 

Posted by: Katrina Kaplin AT 06:33 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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