Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.
By Jerry Duke
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In my years of university teaching I have taught many classes in "how to teach dance" and have had many opportunities to evaluate student dance teachers. This, of course, has caused me to evaluate the teaching methods of all my favorite folk dance teachers. Here are teaching tips which I have given to all student teachers.
- Teaching a dance well is not the same as the ability to dance it well.
- Teaching is not simply doing the dance in front of the students and then hoping they will be able to copy your movements.
- In order to teach a dance well, the various attributes and elements of the dance need to be clear in your own mind. It is not enough to have the "muscle memory" to do the dance.
- Good teaching is breaking the dance down in such a way that it can be remembered, keeping in mind that people learn in different ways (some are auditory learners, some are visual learners, some learn kinesthetically, etc.).
- Students learn best when they are enjoying the lesson. Anxiety prevents learning. Keep it fun!
- Preparation is of paramount importance.
- You need to know the dance and music well! You need to analyze the way the movement could be counted and the way the musical matter is counted. Some people will relate more easily to one than the other.
- You must devise a teaching plan for each dance. Break it down! When the dance is long, decide how to divide the lesson into parts. You don't have to start at the beginning. Difficult parts are often remembered best if practiced at the beginning. Think about how you will describe the "bigger picture" so that students will understand where each section fits.
- Before the class starts, take the time to review your plans for each dance you plan to teach.
- If you are teaching more than one dance, choose dances that are very differnet or that are related in a way that will help students remember them.
- Think about the following: Do I know the class? Do I know the students' capabilities? If you do not know the students, plan to teach a simple dance first, so that you can assess what they can do.
- Decide exactly what you are going to share about the dance (origin, source, organization of the step sequences, etc.) before you begin teaching the movement.
DURING THE CLASS
- Face the class to talk about the dance. If it is a circle, turn so that everyone can hear. Stand to the side of the circle (so everyone can hear), and move very little while talking.
- If the students are in a circle or semicircle, demonstrate the dance from different vantage points. Do not get too close to either side of the circle.
- While teaching, you may need ot explain the movements in more than one way. Some students will relate best to hearing you count, some to an explanation such as, "right, left, right, left," or "side, behind, side, front," and some to a rhythmic sequence of words or sounds.
- Distinguish between the dance movements and teacher movements. Make it clear that you have stopped the dance movements and that you are walking. (Keep your movements around the class to a minimum.) For instance, say: "That is the end of the step sequence" or "I am going to turn around." Don't just start walking immediately after you have completed the sequence you have demonstrated. Let it "soak in."
- Avoid extraneous movements. Be precise as you demonstrate. Do not stop in the middle of a sequence to clarify minutae.
- Decide how much of the step sequence you are going to demonstrate before the next explanation, and stick to your plan.
Used with the permission of the author.