Today’s culture is full of conflict, lacking in courtesy both for individuals and for humanity in general. Whether movies, TV, or video games, few of these teach or show courtesy and respect between people. Dance class has been traditionally based on courtesy and on showing respect to classmates, to the teacher, and to the art of ballet or dance. This valuable structure should never change, but rather be reinforced in our classrooms.
The Tradition of Dance Class Courtesy
Dance class is a good place to learn respect and self discipline; a respect for self and others. It may be the only place a particular child is expected to use courtesy and respect. For the sake of all in the class, courtesy and respect must be taught and insisted upon.
Courtesy and respect are simply a part of learning to dance. It’s the way we keep order in the classroom. It’s the way we make room for learning things. It’s the way we can ensure fair treatment to all of the students. Even the curtsey or bow and the spoken “thank you” at the end of class is polite and respectful.
Children can learn valuable lessons in dance class:
- To enjoy physical movement.
- Self discipline of their feelings and actions.
- Courtesy and respect for self and others.
Why Feeling Safe is Essential
Children used to feel safe whenever a known adult was present. Not anymore. In today’s world, they know how unsafe their surroundings can be. Today they need that feeling of being safe even more than before. Work with parents in providing a safe feeling in your dance classes.
Safety issues in dance class:
- Children are taught to be careful about letting people touch them, and to be able to say “no”.
- Parents need to be involved to help children know what is appropriate touch and OK in a dance class.
- Teachers need to stay in charge of the class so children can feel safe.
Dancing has always been taught with a “hands on” approach, which is an excellent way to get results in a dance class. Or at least it used to be. But, today’s kids have heard that not all touching by an adult is good. Those aged 3-7 do not really know how to tell the difference, for sure, in every situation.
If you wish to teach something by touch, or give them a hug, ask their permission: “Can I show your foot how to point?” “Can I hold your hand so you don’t fall as you hop?” etc. Ask. Mostly they will say “yes.” If not, don’t.
Young children are not mature enough to figure out for sure which touching from an adult is OK and which is not.
So, smile and politely ask their permission, expecting to get it. If they refuse, don’t take offense, and don’t comment. They are just not sure if it’s really OK. Ignore the situation and go on with the next part of the lesson.
A short meeting with parents, and an explanation of what you would like to be free to do with the children may help. If a parent tells the kid certain things are OK, the kid will most likely feel safe with those things in dance class.
Along this same line, never have a “private talk” with a student. Do any “private talks” in the presence of another adult, preferably the parent.
They need to know that their classmates won’t be allowed to hurt them.
Plan your class protocol to discourage any pestering, hitting, tripping, etc. This should certainly be a rule in dance class. “We keep our hands and feet to ourselves in dance class”, “Dancers don’t bump.” etc. Structure your class procedures for starting and ending the class, for what they are to do when an activity ends, etc. Be consistent.
Follow the suggestions in Ballet Arts Level 2 for having “spots” for them to return to and a certain way for them to sit whenever an activity ends. Make no exceptions to this rule. They don’t have the judgment to understand exceptions. Exceptions to a rule always seem to be “random chance” to a child.
They will test their power to say “No”.
They may say, “I don’t want to do that.”
Today’s children have been given the idea that they can say “no,” and that they sometimes should. But they still are unable to really know when it’s all right to say no to an adult. They lack judgment and experience. To always take their “no’s” seriously would put the children in charge of the class, not the teacher. The teacher must remain in charge.
Children need to learn respect and to be polite. It’s OK to say no to adults, but not OK to be belligerent just because they see that done on TV or by other kids at school and elsewhere.
It’s not OK for kids to run the dance class.
They must not take the direction of the classwork away from the teacher. They don’t really want to. They do want a teacher they can trust to not hurt them, and to keep them safe. They need to be reassured more. Find ways to do this.
If you are not in charge, they are not safe.
Children have a strong need to feel safe.
A. Do not change your lesson plans or activities to suit their requests. What you are doing is all right, they just don’t know that. Look for ways to help them become familiar with what they will study in dance class.
A possible response when a child demands a different activity: “Oh, you know how to do that, do you? Well, maybe another time. That’s not on the list for today.”
Use a notebook, manual or reference paper, a visible teaching plan in class. Then they know you aren’t just making things up as you go along. If they know there is a plan, they are less likely to feel like telling you what to do next. You might try telling them: ”Your Moms are paying me to teach you to dance, not to babysit you. So please don’t make me have to babysit! That’s not fun for either of us.”
B. Realize why they are acting out more than formerly: because our culture tells them they should. Their natural trust of adults has been taken from them. They may be worried that you might hurt them in some way. Be aware of this possibility.
C. Give more information to them about subjects, ideas, and movements that may be new or unfamiliar to them. Give them reasons for doing as you ask. Give them reassurance that the subjects they are studying in dance class are appropriate and OK.
They are familiar with computers, iPad apps, etc., which are all based on a “reality” that does not really exist. They are not very familiar with the traditional themes of a pre-school dance class, which are based on the real world, on nature, etc. They may not know what a rag doll is. They may never have seen a live turtle, or watched a butterfly.
D. Ask parents to help you reinforce the “It’s OK to dance” idea. They often have insights into how to approach their own kids and reassure them.
E. Be aware that peer groups and older siblings often try to convince kids that their dance lessons are somehow wrong, or bad.
It may seem like a lot to think about, but once you’ve established a classroom that lives by these principles, your class with run smoother, learn faster, and have an element of trust that allows them to be vulnerable and creative. You will find the classroom experience more enjoyable for both parties.
- Self-Esteem in the Pre-Ballet Class
- Organizing and Running a “Happy Class”
- The Dance Teacher’s Secret Weapon: Expectancy
- Win With Threes by Knowing Their Needs