Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mirrors out, Dance in!

I decided to take a teacher training course in Yoga to study movement from a new angle.  As you might guess there are so many similarities in focus, caring for the body and stretches/movements/poses.  I was surprised that I do so many yoga poses in my dance teaching without knowing it. 

There is a big  focus on how the body feels, listening to your body's  "edge" and not doing anything that creates pain.  I believe this 100% in dance but I do not feel that children are taught this as much as they should.  The concentration can be overwhelmingly on how something looks and "no pain no gain."  Now I know that dance is different then yoga. Choreography of course is different but that does mean that these principles should be lost.

I love teaching young children because they are not focused as much on how something looks as much as how it feels. I try not to use mirrors because I think this sends the wrong message to young dancers.  The focus should be more internal and less external.  Freeing themselves of inhibitions should be encouraged.

Try teaching some dance classes without the mirror and observe how the movements change and how your students react.  It could be a great exercise in learning how you teach, how you describe movement and how they interpret it as well.

If children explore what their bodies can do, how their bodies feel and what muscles are being utilized the end product are dancers who are healthy, confident and will be able to transition from young dancers to performers.  And it will also promote a life long love of dance.

I didn't realize when I decided to learn more about Yoga that it would strengthen my beliefs about dance.  I am looking forward to learning more!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Space - never ending and always worthwhile to explore

My daughter is 8 years old.  She is spirited and full of energy.  Her space is boundless which means her space can inadvertently invade my space and the people around her.  She likes to touch, get close, and hug.  As I work with her on understanding her spatial boundaries I think back on the words in dance that I use to teach space.  These are the same words I use to help her keep her spatial boundaries with others.

For example:
  1. Respect other people's personal space.   Don't get more than arms length from someone ( even if it is your best friend.)
  2. Hands to yourself.  When you touch someone, you are putting your body into their space.
  3. Do not push someone out of your way.  There space is just as important as yours.
Funny how I taught her this in dance but yet it needs to be relooked at, relearned and remembered.  This is a perfect example of the way we learn.  We relearn and re-explore as we get older.  We are always learning the information on a deeper level.

Another element I am working with her is energy.  When she walks up to a group a kids she is so excited that her energy does not always match the group.  When I teach dance, I always ask the kids to listen without words. Sense the groups dynamics, energy level and focus.  These are the same things I am reteaching to her now.

And lastly, effort.  Sometimes we need to be strong and other times light, depending on the situation. Whether it be touch (like picking up the dog) or a light or strong way of talking.

The lessons we are taught in dance stay with us, whether we are dancing or not, teaching dance or not.  They are universal.  So the next time you are not teaching a dance class, see if you can utilize your dance knowledge to keep the training going - but in a different environment without dance attire, mirrors of even a structured class.

Have fun explore dance concepts outside the dance studio/classroom with the little ones in your life.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Lion King is King!

My friend emailed me this article last week and I was so excited about what I read that I had to pass it on!  I was moved to read about The Lion King creating a special performance accessible for people with autism.  The arts are for everyone.  With a little understanding and a lot of love and care, the magic can be shared by everyone!  Read and enjoy!

Have fun creating accessible dance and theatre experiences with the children in your life.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Before Class "To Do's"

I often write about what goes on in a movement class.  Activities you can do, themes you can explore.  Today I am going to focus on what should take place before a movement experience.

The To Do's before class   

Before teaching class let your students know:
  1. That you are happy to be there.  Show enthusiasm - it is catchy!
  2. What themes or ideas you will be exploring.
  3. One or two things you are looking for in terms of behavior.  (Raising a quiet hand, eye contact, standing up nice and tall, etc.
  4. That they should do their best.
Before sending your children off to dance class let your child know:
  1. That you are happy they are going.  Show enthusiasm  - it is catchy!
  2. They should think about what they will be doing or exploring in class. 
  3. What you expect of them in terms of behavior (Listen to the directions, raise your hand when you want to ask a question, etc.)
  4. Do your best.
Pretty much the same.

It does not matter if you are teaching a class or getting your child ready to take a class.  Preparing them is an essential component to their success.

A simple but yet important part of helping you child or student succeed is to let them know their schedule and/ or setting up a very predictable routine. My daughter knows that her 3rd grade class goes to art on Monday and library on Thursday.  She dresses appropriately for art and puts her library books in her backpack every Thursday morning.  Knowing her school schedule helps her emotionally prepare for her day.

Unfortunately I did not follow this rule today. 

I told my daughter that she had Tae Kwon Do as she jumped off the bus after school.  She had a hard time transitioning from playing with the kids in the neighborhood to getting ready for her martial arts class. It became stressful for both of us. Instead of following my list of "before class to do's" I focused on the before class "what not to do's." ( It wasn't as much fun and definitely not rewarding.)

Transitions are essential.  If your child or student has a smooth transition from one activity to the next she/he is more likely to be physically as well as mentally prepared.   And it is way more fun and much more rewarding for everyone. 

Have fun preparing for class with (and for) the children in your life.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Movement Modifications Makes Dance Accessible

I always say movement is for everyone - every age, ability and experience.  What I should also say is movement is for everyone regardless of  any limitations you might be experiencing.  I hear a lot of "I can't because" and usually it has to do with a body ailment ( bad knee, hip, back, etc.)  Believe me, I know what it is like to have a bad back and I also know how good it feels to move.  The trick is not to let the physical issue turn into a creative one!

I bring this up especially for teachers and parents.  If you can't get on the floor with your students, or you can't run you still can _____________________ (finish this sentence!)  

I have limitations due to a back injury but this does not stop my imagination.   Movement starts in the heart and works its way through the body.  If something hurts don't do it but do something else.

Here are some ideas:
  1. Play fisherman - Have the children move around the space and pretend to catch one on your hook or in your net.  When your "fish is caught" then the fish becomes the fisherman.  The fisherman can't move her lower body (or she will rock the boat) so she must use her upper body to reel in the fish.  This exercise is great for someone who can't run or jump.  If it is hard to stand then sit and pretend you are sitting at the edge of a dock.
  2. Create a hand dance.  Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar and have your hands do the dance.  First a little caterpillar munches on some leaves.  Then a big full caterpillar moves slowly because he is so full.  Create a cocoon with your hands and then slowly open up and explore the movements (flapping, open/close, soaring, etc.) of a butterfly.
  3. Explore movement sitting down. Sit on a chair and move your trunk (torso.)  Have all the kids sit in chairs and create a chair dance.  How many ways can you bend and stretch in a chair?  How high and low can you reach?  How far side?  How far down? Can you roll your shoulders? Can you bend your knees and arms at the same time? 
The possibilities are endless once you modify movement to fit your specific needs.  You don't need feet to stand on/walk on / jump on to move and dance with little ones in your life.  Explore these possibilities and share the possibilities with the little ones in your life (and everyone in your life as well!)


Thursday, September 1, 2011

After A Storm We Dance As a Community

In the Northeast we are still recovering from Hurricane Irene.  The storm was Sunday and more than half  of my town is still without power.  And because most of the houses use well water most people do not have water as well as electricity, internet or phones.  People as you can imagine can get a little cranky and frustrated without a hot shower and a hot cup of coffee but for the most part everyone has been reaching out to each other, lending a hand and laughing a lot. 

After the storm, my entire neighborhood stood together in the street, assessed the damage, helped each other take down tree branches as well as chatted and learned about each other's storm experiences. And while we talked, the kids played baseball in the rain. The next day the kids all played together from morning until night galavanting from house to house cleaning yards.  I was amazed at how the kids came together.  It was an exciting adventure and they were experiencing it together.

I think that is the biggest lesson I learned from this event.  When we feel like we are all in it together, a greater sense of good kicks in (whatever the "it" may be.)  We don't feel alone, isolated or picked on.  We feel supported, understood and united.

I wanted to share this experience to encourage you to create a sense of community in your school or neighborhood.  Instead of the parents in my neighboorhood asking the kids to go and clean up the yards ( which would never have worked) the kids came up with the idea themselves because they experienced the event together and wanted to do good together.

Create a dance project that comes from a need in your community.  Ask the children to brainstorm about current events to create a dance theme or school theme.  Find common ground to create.  And then let the kids at it!!

Have fun creating a sense of community and creating dance with the children in your life!


Monday, August 15, 2011

New Spaces, New Experiences, New Dancers

I like to do research and  I am not talking about the kind of research you do before you write a term paper.  I mean getting to know my surroundings before I teach, attend a workshop or even a performance.  I have a tendency to get lost when I drive (even with my GPS) so sometimes I will drive to a location I need to be at a day or two before.  I like to check out the space I am going to teach in ahead of time if this is possible as well.  I like to be prepared so any surprises I might encounter are minimized. 

The same strategies can be applied to teaching/parenting children.  The unknowns are even more daunting for kids.  Children like routine, predictability and do not have the same understanding of time that adults have (meaning children can not be rushed!)

If you are a parent of a child taking dance for the first time, see if you can visit the school before the first day of class.  Try on leotards, tights, and shoes before the first day because sometimes kids need to get used to new tactile experiences as well.

If you are a teacher, invite children to the studio beforehand if possible.  On the first day of class take a tour of the studio.  Discuss how the dance space is different then their living room.  Are there any similarities?  And don't forget to tour the bathrooms!!

If the children are prepared you can help minimize any surprises they might encounter and ensure a smooth transition to a new class, school and experience.  (Parents and teachers will be more prepared as well!)

 Have fun researching your new surroundings and preparing your little ones for a successful dance year!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Dancing Words Creates Dancing Pants

I have written before about how much I love Shel Silverstein's poetry and how poetry or words can inspire movement.  Well, my dear friend was teaching a summer dance workshop and called me up with an urgent request.  She wanted to know if I could suggest a Shel Silverstein poem that her jazz dance class could use to create a dance.  I nearly leapt out of my chair with excitement.  (Okay - I did leap out of my chair.)  I have many books Shel Silverstein wrote but my absolute favorite is Where The Sidewalk Ends.

I began to suggest to my friend almost ever poem on every page of the book.  His poetry is so descriptive it just about begs a dancer to move to the words.  She decided on the poem Dancing Pants

Dancing Pants by Shel Silverstein (page 126 in Where the Sidewalk Ends)

And now for the Dancing Pants
Doing their fabulous dance.
From the seat to the pleat
They will bounce to the beat,
With no legs inside them
And no feet beneath.
They'll whirl, and twirl, and jiggle and prance,
So just start the music
And give them a chance-
Let's have a big hand for the wonderful, marvelous,
Super sensational, utterly fabulous
Talented Dancing Pants!

Hope you can come up with a dance for these dancing pants with the little ones in your life!


Monday, July 18, 2011

Simple Moves for a Simply Fabulous Dance

I just came back from dancing in New Hamsphire with my friend children's music singer/songwriter Steve Blunt.  He is in the process of  completing his new CD and he had the great idea of adding a bonus movement feature to the disc. The movements he created are simple and easy to remember because they mimic the words he sings.  It makes the songs interactive and the kids get to be silly as they listen to silly lyrics.  Dances do not have to be complicated to be effective and engaging.  In fact, sometimes the simplier the better!

You can use this idea to create simple movements to your favorite tunes. 
  1. Choose a song that has a lot of descriptive words or clear actions.
  2. Have the words of the song inspire three or four movements that can repeat throughout the song. (It is great to pull ideas out of the chorus since it repeats.) 
  3. One or two of the movements should travel through the space and one or two should be stationary.
  4. Create a beginning and end shape to the dance.
  5. Make sure at least one movement engages the entire body.
  6. Encourage the kids to use facial expressions as well. 
  7. Be careful not to "act out" the song. 
  8. Make sure the kids come up the movements with you!
 Simple dances are fun and do not require much space.  You can even have the kids pick out the music.  (Make sure to listen to the lyrics first before agreeing to the song.)

Have fun dancing to your favorite song with the little ones in your life.  And keep your movements simple for a simply fabulous dance!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Growing Family Tree

A few years back a child in one of my classes was awaiting the arrival of a baby brother.  The classroom teacher of this preschooler asked me to create a lesson to address this upcoming event.  My challenge was to create a lesson  that was not too literal, could be univeral to all the children in the class as well as address the needs of this particular student.  This is what I came up with:

Music For The Lesson

I used Tom Paxton's Family Tree song for this lesson.  If you do not know who Tom Paxton is check out is website:  He is one of the best folk singers of his era and is an incredible song writer. 

Here is the excerpt of the song:

Before the days of Jello
Lived a prehistoric fellow,
Who loved a maid and courted her
Beneath the banyan tree.
And they had lots of children.
And their children all had children.
And they kept on having children
Until one of them had me!

We're a family and we're a tree.
Our roots go deep down in history
From my great-great-granddaddy reaching up to me,
We're a green and growing family tree.

To listen to the song or to download it check out:
Dance Activity
Walk in a circle holding hands and sing the chorus of the song.  Invite a child to dance in the center of the circle as everyone keeps moving counterclockwise.  Invite another child in and have them dance together.  Keep adding children until the entire class is dancing together.  Then direct them back to the circle.  Do this a few times.  Have them talk about the activity. 
  1.  How did they feel when they were dancing and other children joined in? 
  2.  What does the song mean to them? 
  3.  What happens when a family grows?
  4. Is there room for everybody? 
  5. Was it fun to dance with many people?
There is no right or wrong answer.  Do no lead the children to an answer.  Let them explore their feelings. 
Have fun exploring what an expanding family tree means to you and the children in your life!

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Dance Activity Bubbling Over With Pastabilities

I love creating dance lessons that are fun, silly and connect to activities my students do at home. I also love to connect dance to literature. When I can connect the two - it is quite delicious!

This lesson was inspired by the book Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola. In the book, Strega Nona (grandma witch) boils pasta with just a few simple magic words. But when her handyman overhears these enchanting words he tries his hand at using the magic pot. But unfortunately he doesn't know how to make it stop!

Children love to eat spaghetti. And they love stories. Even better, they love stories about noodles taking over a tiny village in Italy.

The Magic Pasta Pot Activity
Read the children the story. (If you can not find the story you can still do the activity but if you can get the story it is a keeper!)

A quick summary of the important details of the story:

The magic words to make the pot boil with pasta:

"Boil, boil pasta pot,
make me pasta nice and hot,
I'm hungry and it's time to sup,
boil enough pasta to fill me up."

The magic words and gesture to make the pot stop:

"Enough, enough, pasta pot,
I have my pasta nice and hot
So simmer down my pot of clay
Until I'm hungry another day"

And blow three kisses to the magic pasta pot!

Now let the fun begin!

The poor handyman peaked in through the window and saw Strega Nona say the magic words to cook her dinner. He even saw her say the magic words when she wanted the pot to simmer down. But he did not see her blow three kisses into the pot! Recreate this part of the story.
  1. Make a big circle on the floor ( I like to use painter's tape. Easy to tape down and even easier to pull up!)
  2. Have all the children stand in the center of the circle.
  3. Say the magic words with the children.
  4. Have the children slowly bubble out of the pot. (You might want to ask them before the activity starts to list some action words that describes how spaghetti moves or how they eat spaghetti. Examples might include: wiggle, squirm, slurp, twirl, flop, etc.)
  5. Say the magic words but do not blow the three kisses.  (Make sure they know if you do not blow the kisses they should not stop dancing!) 
  6. Encourage them to "take over" the space. The spaghetti will not stop.
  7. Finally say the magic words again and blow three kisses!  When the children see the kisses they should run back into the "pot."
To add an extra fun element to the activity give each student a box of spaghetti to take home with them so they can have pasta for supper!!

Have fun cooking up this yummy activity with the children in your life!



Monday, June 6, 2011

Reruns are just as fun the second time around

Do you ever get stuck wondering what to teach or what activity to do with your little ones?  Well, I certainly have this problem every now and then.  Do you know what I do when this happens?  I repeat an activity I have already done.  That simple.

You can ask your students to call out their favorite activities and the class can vote on what they would like to do.  My favorite, however, is to pick a lesson I wasn't so happy with the first time.  It gives me an opportunity to revisit it, to change what did not work and to enhance what did.

I always type out my lessons.  I record what I plan on doing and then I go back after the lesson and write notes about what I did - what worked and what did not.   This way when I do the lesson again I can build upon what was successful.

When you do the lesson again, ask the students to demonstrate what they remember about the particular concept.  This is a great assessment tool.

Don't be afraid to repeat.  We learn by repetition.  We build confidence and master a concept by reviewing, repeating and practicing.  And students love to repeat lessons.  They love to show off what they know and remember.

I am sure I have repeated these ideas in other posts but the more I write about a topic the more I understand it myself.

Have fun repeating and re-repeating activities with the little ones in your life!


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Seventy Six Trombones Led The Big Parade

I love a good parade!  And this Memorial Day weekend there were tons!  There is so much movement involved in a parade even if you don't see a single dance step. 

Here is what I saw:
  • People walking in unison
  • People keeping a specific formation
  • A group following a leader
  • A group focusing on their spatial relationships
Here are other things I saw:
  • Flags, banners, hats, instruments 
  • Waving, smiling, marching, skipping, hand holding, hugging, clapping
  • Pictures being taken, posing, freezing ( in a shape for a picture)
 Create Your Own Parade!
  1. Make banners, hats or flags:  Decide what your parade is celebrating.  Maybe it is the end of the year party, the arrival of warm weather, a big dance achievement like everyone remembering to go to the bathroom before class.  It does not matter.  However, have the kids decide.  They will have a much bigger sense of ownership surrounding the parade.  Once, you have decided then create your banners, hats or flags.  These are great props!
  2. Create instruments: Fill Tupperware with rice or pasta and shake to your hearts content. Empty tissue boxes with rubber bands around them make great string instruments, and let's not forget the old standby - pots, pans and cooking spoons!
  3. Decide on your Pathway:  Are you going to walk in straight lines, curves or in angles?  Will you turn around at some point? 
  4. Decide on how you will move through the space: Will you walk, skip, jump, turn, gallop or spin in your parade?  Will you follow a leader, move in unison as a group or move as a group doing your own thing?
  5. Take a picture:  Come up with a few poses or shapes before the parade starts.  Then when you say "picture please" have the kids get into their shapes!  Either take real pictures or pretend to with a big gesture.
  6. Have a real parade!  Once all the different variables are worked out, have real parade.  Invite parents to line up against the walls, or see if your class can parade through the halls of the school.  Parents, see if you can create a parade in your neighborhood or invite some neighbors to stand outside their houses and wave!
There is always something to celebrate.  And every celebration is better with a few trombones or better yet a few pots and pans!

Have fun parading about with the children in your life!


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Rain Drops Keep Falling On My Head

I love the rain.  And it has been raining a lot in the northeast.  A lot might be an understatement.  It has been raining every day!  I hear many people complaining that they can't wait for the sun to come out or they are so tired of the gloomy weather.  I sympathize with how they feel.  I also see all this rain as a learning opportunity!

The next time it rains have your kids/students lie on the floor.  Turn the lights off.  Ask them to listen closely.  Ask them to concentrate on what they hear.  Do this for a few minutes.  Ask them what they heard.  Write down their answers. (The more descriptive the better.)

Have them look out the window. Ask them to focus on the rain.  What does it look like if you focus far away?  What does it look like up close?  How does it look on the window.  Again, write down what they say.

Ask them what rain feels like.  ( If you have an opportunity to take them outside or open a window that would be great but not necessary. They can remember what it feels like as well.)  What does it feel like on your nose, tongue, hands, feet?  Write down their answers.

Ask them what rain tastes like.  (Again they can draw on past experiences.)  Ask them about the temperature of the rain as well.  Write down what they tell you.

Does rain have a smell? If so, what does it smell like? Record their answers.

This exercise works on the children's observation skills.  They are challenged to explore with all of their senses.  We take in so much of the world with our eyes.  It is great to take in our surroundings with the other senses as well.

Ask them to dance using their observations as inspiration.  Have the rain be their orchestra!

Keep this exercise up your sleeve for a rainy day.  Instead of asking the students to stop looking outside at the rain, encourage them to do so.  Encourage them to be aware of their surroundings and how their surroundings effect them.

Have fun with the little ones in your life exploring the world with all of their senses!


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Puppy Dog Tails

Have you ever tried to teach your students/children about their bottoms?   What I mean of course is the bottom of their spines.  We have a top (our heads) and a bottom (our tails).  Kids have an easier time moving and leading with body parts they can see.  How can you teach them about their tails -by making tails of course!!

Three Different Ways to Make Tails
  1. Draw tails out of paper.  Have the kids cut out the tails and color them.  Tape them to their leotards or clothes and have them explore how they can make the tail move.
  2. Collect old stockings or tights.  Cut them down the middle and stuff them with stuffing/toilet paper (anything that will give it a shape.)  Pin, tape, glue or sew them on the children's leotards and have them explore moving with a tail.  This type of tail will have more swing!
  3. Take scarves and pin/sew/ glue them on - and create a bottom dance.
Make sure when applying the tail that it is by the end of the spine. (Don't tie it to the children's waists or near their waist.)

To make it even MORE fun have the children explore their heads and tails!

Heads and Tails
  1. Create ears!  Buy some headbands.  Have the children color and cut ears out of paper.  It can be cat, dog, elephant, tiger ears - what ever they like.  It can match their tails or not.  Tape them to the head bands and let the children explore how their heads can create and lead movement. ( You can also try attaching the ears to clips or bobby pins.)
  2. Now add the tails.  How can the children dance moving their heads and tails toward each other and away from each other.  Can they move their heads and tails to the right, to the left, up and down?
Read Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
The wild things in the book have tops that don't match their bottoms.  See if you can create elephant ears with a monkey tail.  How would this animal move?  What about cat ears with a bird tail?  What about puppy dog ears with a fisth tail?  Have a wild rumpus.  The sillier the better!

Exploring movement with themes and props/costumes can help children visualize what they can not see!

Have fun shaking, wiggling and swinging your tail with the children in your life!


Monday, May 2, 2011

Lean on Me!

In honor of Mother's Day I would like to share with you a story, a song and an activity. 

First the story:
A few days after writing my blog post in March my mother, who has multiple scelrosis, became quite ill.  Through the care of doctors, support from family and friends and my mother's strength, tenacity, positive thinking and willingness to work hard, she is on the road to recovery. 

Mothers never stop teaching and I learned a lot about my mom, about myself and the role I play as a mom and teacher through observing my mom as she fought back from her illness.  We learn by watching others not only when they know we are watching but more importantly when they don't.  My mom greets each new day with a song and a smile and I now do the same!

Second the song:

The power of music and song was instrumental in my mom's recovery.  Song and music enabled my mom as well as my family to express through music what we could not say in words.   Sometimes we needed the right song to start a dialogue, to share feelings or to start a dance.

Lean On Me

(Songwriter: Bill Withers)

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there's always tommorow

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you won't let show
You just call on me brother, when you need a hand (Chorus)
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'd understand
We all need somebody to lean on

Lean on me, when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on


If there is a load you need to bear
That you can't carry
I'm right up the road
I'll share your load
If you just call me

I heard this song when I was driving home from visiting my mom.  I started to sing a long with the radio and by the time I reached my destination I was singing at the top of my lungs.  (and I do not sing like a songbird!)

Last but not least the dance:

For me, music and dance are intertwined. I hear music and see the dance. So here is the activity that will hopefully inspire you and your little ones to dance!  Read your students the lyrics  to the song Lean on Me or have them listen to the song.

Ask your students:
  • What does it mean to lean on someone?
  • How can you support someone with your body?  (hold hands, lift someone, lean on them, smile, dance for them, dance with them, carry them, etc.)
  • Can you create a dance showing these ideas?
This exercise promotes problem solving, creativity, working together, music appreciation and dance making!

Have fun with your little ones exploring what "lean on me" means to them and to you too!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Apples and Bananas - A Circle Dance

I love circle dances.  I have written about them before but there is so much to say!  Circle dances are a great way to work on eye contact, spatial awareness, dancing in unison, and it is great when you have limited space. 

In order to do a circle dance successfully:
Practice.  Stand in a circle with your class. Ask the children to put their arms out.  Make sure they are close enough to each other that they are not pulling to reach each other's hands.  Have them hold hands for three seconds and then let go.  Then challenge them to do it for five seconds.  Then for ten.  Let them know that the only way they can learn the dance is if they do not pull.  I have done circle dances with three, four and five year olds very successfully.  It is about setting expectations and practicing.  After your class can hold hands without pulling have them walk, march and/or tip toe in a circle.  When they have that down you are ready to do a circle dance!

Apples and Bananas
  1. Have your class stand in a circle.  Tap every other child on the head and say apple.  These are the "apples" in the dance.  The children you did not tap are the "bananas." 
  2. Have the class walk, march or chasse in a circle for 8 counts.  Have them march in place with their hands on their hips for 8 counts.  (Then the "bananas" jump down and sit criss cross on the floor on count 8.)
  3. The "bananas" clap to the beat while the "apples" skip into the circle for 4 counts.  Then the "apples" jump in place 4 times.  On the 4th jump they turn to face the "bananas."
  4. The "apples" skip back 4 times.  They jump 4 times again.  On the 4th jump they sit down and the "bananas" jump up.
  5. Now it is the "bananas" turn.
  6. When the "bananas" skip back to the apples they don't jump down but turn to face the inside of the circle and the "apples" jump up.  Everyone holds hands.
  7. The dance starts again.  When it is time to go in and out of the circle the "bananas" start.
Use music that has a slow beat at first.  Then you can experiment with different tempos.  Feel free to change the counts and modify the dance so it works for your class.  I created the Apples and Bananas dance when I was teaching  a 5 year old ballet class in a very small space.  This circle dance made it easy for the class to dance together safely.  Everyone was involved and each child did not need to sit and wait his or her turn while another dancer skipped across the floor.  (Which took literally 2 seconds because the space was so small.) 

Make up your own circle dances!  And if you have a fun one I would love to hear about it!

Have fun dancing in a circle with the little ones in your life!!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Observsation Leads to Rejuventation

March is a long month with no holidays or breaks.  I think that is why I sometimes struggle with my ideas and energy in March.  I get antsy for spring and so did the children.  Thank goodness I have a wonderful trick to get me energized and rejuvenated!  I watch other teachers teach.

I learn so much by watching other teachers.  I observe the differences in teaching styles, classroom management and flow.  I get inspiration about lessons, music, props, etc. from others in the teaching field.  I love sharing ideas and philosophies. 

It doesn't even have to be the particular dance style or student age group that you observe.  It can be fun if it is entirely different.  You might find new music, new approaches to discipline or themes for your class.  And it is nice to sit and take it all.  For once you are not the doer but the observer.

As a parent I like to observe other parents and learn from them as well.  I have so many phrases I say that I have taken from other mommies.  My favorites include "no thank you"  when I don't like the way my daughter says something to me,  "different rules for different families"  when my daughter asks why her friend gets to do something that she is not allowed to do and "you are full of beans"  which is just fun to say.

So, inspiration can come from many places.  Sometimes that best place is the where you already are; in the studio or classroom.  But this time step out and be the observer.

Have fun observing and energizing for yourself and the children in your life!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Magic Train

I got a massage last week and it was heavenly!  My muscles needed it.  My body got a cue to relax and my muscles responded by letting go.  Believe it or not, you are never to young for a massage.  A gentle massage helps the body relax, helps to connect to deep breathing and helps reinforce nonverbal communication.

When I was doing my student teaching in the public schools, I was discouraged from touching any child. I understand this as a means of safety for both the children as well as the teachers.  Unfortunately, touch can be a great teaching tool.  It can be a way of communicating, calming and encouraging a child. 

When supervised and instructed the children can use touch to communicate and teach each other.  If this still is out of the question in your teaching position skip to step 6 of the lesson.

The Magic Train
  1. You can make a magic train with the children; one child sitting in back of the next.  If your class is big enough you can make a complete circle ( you can also do this in pairs taking turns giving a gentle touch.)  Have the children place their hands on their neighbors' shoulders.  They should not move their hands.  The magic train has not left the station.  This is a quite and calm train.  It does not move fast.  It is powered by breath.  It needs the class to breath together, slowly, in order to start chugging down the tracks.
  2.  Next, they can give a gentle squeeze of the shoulders.  If this is too difficult for your class they can pat the shoulders instead.  (After the squeeze have the children pat their partners shoulders and backs.)
  3. Now the train has to turn.  The children need to slowly "draw" a circle on their neighbors' backs.  First clockwise and then counterclockwise.  (If you do this activity in pairs you can also have the children draw different shapes or letters on each other's backs, concentrating on curves, straight lines and angles.)
  4. Have the train come back to the station by having the children pat the shoulders again and give a gentle squeeze.  Then the children should have their hands on their partners shoulders just breathing as the train comes to a stop.
  5. Discuss how it felt to give a gentle touch and to receive a gentle touch.
  6. Lastly, have them cross their arms and squeeze their own shoulders.  Have the children give themselves a hug.  They can help their muscles relax as well. 
The next time you need your students to calm their energy you can have them do the "Magic Train" or give themselves a gentle massage.  It is a very important to learn how to have a light touch, how to communicate with others non verbally and to calm oneself down.

I hope you enjoy sharing this calming and relaxing exercise with the children in your life.  And special thanks to Becky Acabchuk ( for inspiring this activity.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Show and Tell and Dance

When I taught at a dance studio, my little ones loved to bring in toys and stuffed animals.  I used to take the toys and then give them back at the end of class.  Then one day I asked a child to share her doll with the class.  We talked about her texture, her angles, and curves and I asked the class how the doll would move.  Every child got up and showed me how he or she thought the doll would move.  It was awesome!!!

The next week more children brought toys or dolls in and we did it again.  Soon we had Show and Tell at the end of every class and it was not only educational but a great motivator for the kids to pay attention in class so we would have time for show and tell.  It also was another great incentive for the kids to participate and think about dance outside of class. 

Try incorporating a little Show and Tell into your classes and watch your students get engaged in a entirely new way.  You will also learn more about each student.  It was so interesting to me to see what the children brought in and what they shared about their objects.  It can give you great insight into how to reach a child that is shy or reluctant to move in class.

You might want to bring in some items to share as well.  Study the texture, angles, curves, straight lines, size, weight, etc and see what new movements the objects inspire!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Share the Magic

I am working with a group of preteens/teens on a musical without much rehearsal time.  I hate rushing to teach a dance number because what I love most is teaching the craft of dance, blocking, staging, etc.  How would a character stand and why?.  How to walk backwards and use visual markers to sit on a chair without falling off.  This is the magic of theatre to me.  The mysteries revealed.  I feel short changed.   Anyone can learn steps.  But to learn to to move around the stage with ease, to SHARE the stage with someone else, to dance as one unit is what gets me really excited!

I usually write about dance for little ones but my experience with the teens is important for all teachers/parents and kids of all ages.  Dance is a performing craft.  Make sure your students/children have time to perform for each other.  If you are a parent have your kids perform for you.  If you know nothing about dance have them enter the living room and tell you a joke.  But learning how to share a talent, share a performance space and take direction is all really important life lessons.

 Teach them:
  1.  How to enter and exit the space
  2. Be aware of their bodies - people fidget without realizing it
  3. Be aware of how they can use their peripheral vision  to become aware of their surroundings and others in the space
  4. That it is okay to make a mistake
  5. Create, recreate, change and perfect the dance, movement, joke, juggling routine etc.
  6. Take compliments, suggestions and constructive criticism
  7. How to bow and applaud for others as well
It is never to early to learn (and parents - it is never to late either!)  Try performing for your kids/students and have them perform for you.  It will build trust and confidence.  And it is magic!


Monday, January 31, 2011

New Perceptions of High, Middle and Low Level

Levels can be a hard concept to teach little ones.  I usually teach low level is at the floor, middle level is table top level and high level is as high as you can reach or jump.  But that is not necessarily the truth.

Low can go much lower than the floor.  As anyone whose backyard looks like the Artic right now, you can dig WAY lower than where your feet are planted.  You can build a gigantic tunnel under the ground!  And middle level, well, when I was trying to chase my puppy into the house I experienced middle level where low level used to be.  And high level when I am walking on the snow is a wonderful place to explore because I never reach this high without the help of a stool or chair.  I guess what I am saying is that levels can be relative based on your environment.

It makes me think about how my perception of level is very different than a child who is 3 feet tall.  His or her high level is my middle level.  It is great every once in a while to change your outlook, see things differently and put yourselves in the minds eye of the children you teach. 

Yes, the clouds to both kids and adults are way up in high level but the door knob to a two year old is in high level  while to me it is in middle level.

Try exploring the levels with your class and don't give them images of what high, middle and low level is to you.  See and hear what it means to them.  And watch how they explore it with their high, middle and low level bodies!

Have fun exploring perceptions with the kids in your life!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Opposite Day: A Summer Day At The Beach

If you live in the Northeast you are experiencing one snowstorm after another.  And it is getting very tiring!!  What do you do when your surroundings are getting very  monotonous?  What do you do when you feel like your teaching is getting monotonous?  Shake it up a bit by having opposite day.

If you are tired of pulling off little snow boots, wiping snow off the floor and zipping up coats try this activity on for size!

A Summer Day at the Beach
  • Ask your students to bring in beach towels and do floor exercises on them like you are sun bathing!
  • Have your students bring in sunglasses, hats, beach balls, pails and shovels and have these props inspire your movements
  • Find some beach inspired music and swim in the ocean with dolphins, crabs and starfish ( dolphins dive up and down, crabs walk sideways and starfish have 6 reaching points.)
  • Explore the opposite texture/movement of the ocean vs. the beach ( the ocean is always moving, the sand is moved when people step on it.  The ocean pulls the sand.)
Have fun moving in sunny weather with the children in your life - and don't forget the sunblock!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Hug O' War

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day I would like to share with you a favorite poem of mine by Shel Silverstein.  This poem is from his book Where the Sidewalk Ends.  If you have never read his work I encourage you to run to your nearest library or bookstore and  immerse yourself in his children's poetry and stories.    If you are familiar with him I encourage you to run to your nearest library or bookstore and immerse yourself as well.   

Share this poem with your class and see what images and ideas they come up with. Can they make a hug dance? Tug and hug are opposites. What is the difference between the two? How can they show you this with movement. What does a giggle or a smile look like in dance?

Can your children/students create a dance where a tug o' war becomes a hug o'war? What is the importance of working together and teamwork? Everyone has a body. With our bodies we can share our feelings, ideas and create together. What can they learn from each other?  What can they create together?

Share this poem this week with the children in your life and enjoy the dances and conversations it inspires!

Thank you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Communicating Without Saying A Word

My family recently got a dog.  I was dreading housebreaking.  I came to realize as I hovered over our little puppy that she was training me instead of the other way round.  She was communicating her needs by sniffing the floor, walking in a circle and walking away from her toys and food bowl.   How wonderful that movement was her way of telling me she needed to go out.

Of course this got me thinking about all the non spoken ways we as humans communicate with each other.  And I am not talking about facial gestures either.  Do you have a student that always sits as far away from you as possible?  Or one that is practically sitting in your lap?    Do you have a student that slowly inches his way into the classroom and one that bounds in the moment you open the door?
They are telling you something.

I like to mix things up when I teach.  I sometimes stand in front of a class and get them all settled.  Then I walk to the back of the room and have all the students turn to face me.  A student that likes to sit in the back is now in the first row and vice-versa.   Try this out and see how your students respond.  Challenge them to take risks, not by the steps they take, but the space they take.

If you have a student that always bounds into the room and then one day walks in slowly you know there is a change in mood or behavior.  Sometimes the cues kids give us are more subtle than this.  If you observe your students and what they tell you with their movements then these subtle cues can become more obvious.

When I studied dance I always liked to stand in the front right corner.  I could see the teacher but was not standing right in front of her.  If I did not get to class early enough I would have to find an open spot.  When this happened I was never as comfortable.  I now see how that challenged me.

Change where you stand to teach class.  Notice if you always like to stand in the same place.  Are you giving subtle information to the class by the spaces you choose as well?

Have fun observing how the students in your life communicate through movement!


Monday, January 3, 2011

A Look Ahead to Recital Time

It might be silly to already be thinking about spring but as resolutions for 2011 are being made, so are plans for spring dance recitals.  Now is the perfect time to think not only about the dance steps but what you want your children to LEARN about being part of a performance.   If you are not a dance teacher but a dance parent this applies to you too! 
Things to think about:
  1. What do you want your children/students to take away from their performing experience?  (It can be as simple as to demonstrate what they learned in class, follow through with a commitment or to share their movement ideas with others.)
  2. What can you teach your children/students about performing that goes beyond the dance? (How to be a good audience member, what an audience member experiences from buying a ticket to getting a program to finding their designated seats.)
  3. What do you want your children or students to learn about putting on a performance?  (Costumes, lighting, music, make-up, tickets, etc)
  4. How involved do you want you students to be in creating/choreographing the dance?  (Can they create a few steps, maybe personalize their bows, vote on the music or props?)
  5. What role do you see the parents taking?  (Backstage helpers, costume makers, or nothing at all)
  6. What do you want your children/students to learn about performing? (Everyone needs to work together,  practicing leads to perfecting a dance, everyone has a special part to play, you can overcome butterflies and nervousness, etc.)
By thinking about the complete picture now, the performance at the end of the year will be fulfilling and satisfying for everyone!  Every experience you involve children in can be a valuable learning experience. 

Have fun creating an end of the year goal and objectives for and with the children in your life!