In my last blog post, (The Dance Teacher’s Secret Weapon) I gave out the secret that every dance teacher should grab a hold of and use the moment any students begin to show signs of burnout or boredom. Having a plan for future performance opportunities definitely does help, but does it take away from the class actually learning ballet? How, especially with so little time each week, can we properly teach a ballet class when we need to focus much of our time on performance prep?
The answer is so simple, it may offend you . . .
Plan for it.
1. Split Up Your Yearly Curriculum to Allow for Performance
Ruth H. Brinkerhoff’s curriculum is so full of so many wonderful ideas and teaching tips, it seems impossible to thoroughly explore every page of it in one year. That’s ok! As you go through each year, take a look at the syllabus and decide which activities you’d like to cover. Or, simply follow the guidelines laid out in the suggested lesson plans section of this site. You will find that each level has the least amount of material in the fourth quarter. That is because the students need to feel that they are still learning while also being confident in knowing their performance routine.
2. Start Teaching Performance Material Early and Learn it Slowly
As I said, it’s almost too simple. If you plan on having your students show a short enchainement for the parents on Observation Day in mid to late October, begin teaching that material the second or third week of classes (assuming you start after Labor Day). Teach them short sections of the dance at a time, roughly eight counts. Then, as you go through the six weeks leading up to Observation Week, you can teach them in a leisurely way and they don’t have to feel stressed by the time the day comes to perform in front of parents. We have plenty of time, and the students retain the steps better if they learn small pieces slowly anyway.
3. Focus on Technique and Make Performance Secondary
Even though your students will be thrilled at the opportunity to perform, it can’t be all about that. They need to know, through the way your structure your classes, that technique and learning to master skills is what’s most important. I tend to teach all the way up until the last 5-10 minutes of class and then decide to switch over to choreography. At the beginning, I only teach choreography for the last 5 minutes. The most important thing is to stick to what you’ve planned on teaching them this term. Get through as much of the lesson plan as you can before switching to performance practice. They will see where your priorities lie and learn from it.
As long as you keep these three pointers in mind, you don’t need to stress out about Christmas shows, Observation Weeks or even the end of the year performances. It’s all in the planning!
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