22 May Freestyle – choreo, a comparison
Freestyle – choreo, a comparison
As a dancer it is hard or practically impossible to not come in contact with choreographies. Either in classes we teach or follow, or in shows we produce or watch, choreography will always be involved in one way or another. But what about the effectiveness of using it as a teaching method… Let’s talk about that.
First and foremost I want to clarify that everything I am talking about concerns my own experiences and is in no way meant to judge other people’s methods. Having said that… my experience tells me that it is not the best method out there for my style of teaching.
Teacher – choreographer
There is big difference between a choreographer and a teacher. In the classical meaning the first one works with dancers that already possess the technical abilities. The second one should be the person to teach dancers the technical abilities. However, in the current mainstream dance community it is almost a must for a choreographer to be a teacher and for a teacher to be a choreographer. Not that one can’t be both, but it’s good to know the difference. Most of the dance schools you will ever work for will organize a show at the end of the year and maybe also have a couple of shows during the year. So in your classes it is necessary for you to work on at least 1 or 2 big choreographies. I get this. It is necessary for a dance school to get out there and show what the dancers are doing. Because as in any business if you want to attract new customers you need to be present and show your product. Not only this, but it is also fun for your dancers to be able to show what they have been up to in your classes. And keeping your dancers happy is also a big part of the learning process. More about this next week.
But because of the need for choreographies, in a lot of cases that is the only thing the students learn. I like to look at it this way:
Let’s say we were talking about a high school math class. During the year you learn the necessary skills to complete this part of your education and to pass the necessary tests. Now what would happen if the entire year you just practice on completing one test instead of learning how to solve any test you get? At the end of the year you will be really good at that one test, but the moment I change one variable you will not know what to do. The entire year you were taught how to work with one set of variables and to solve that one problem, but not how to solve any problem that is presented to you.
In dance I like to believe it is almost, if not completely the same situation. You can learn one routine and you can rock it, but for another routine you will start again from, almost, scratch. Of course there will be some techniques in the first choreography that also apply to the second one so over a longer period of time you will start to learn more and more techniques.
What do I do?
Now let’s talk about what I think works better for my style of teaching. Instead of teaching my students how to do one test I like to teach them the different skills they need to complete any test they receive. I have one class where I teach popping and locking, each one half of the year. The second half of the year I also repeat the stuff they learned in the first half. Cause repetition is key to acquiring a new set of skills.
So instead of teaching them a dance, I teach them how to dance. Also I must say I was lucky enough to work in a dance school that has a major showcase once every 2 years. So this allowed me to work with them for an entire year uninterrupted by obligations towards creating a routine. So what did I do?
Break it down!
I broke the style we were working on down to manageable chunks of information. Every class we would go over some of this information, basics, and get to the bottom of it.
– What is the basic structure of the move?
– Where do I need to put my balance?
– How can I use this move in combination with other moves before and after it?
– Dancing the move small, big, slow, fast.
– Using the move on one spot or using more space.
– What does every part of my body do?
– What can I do differently and how can I be more creative with this move?
Combine small pieces.
After we had done 3-5 moves, this depends on the cognitive level and mostly age of your students, I would tell them to use these moves as the most versatile puzzle pieces ever. There is no one way you can arrange the pieces. No matter how you arrange these chunks of information, you will always end up with a nice combination that works. This is the part where they are working on developing their skill to see a bigger picture, rather than single moves. So for beginner students don’t interrupt this by correcting some mistakes they could make on basics. This is not the time for that. They are not working on cleaning up the moves, they are working on combining them. You can correct them before you start this process or after they completed this part of the class.
Dance is more than just moves.
Besides this I also taught them how to dance without using the moves they received from me. It’s important for them to be able to just jam to a good song, rather than only knowing the basic movements and combinations. Since it was a funkstyle class I gave them the task to watch some episodes of ‘Soul Train’ to better understand what I was talking about. Back in class I would give them the task to just jam, nothing difficult or special, just dance like you were chilling at a party. After that I told them they should incorporate this in their dance.
So we would do this every week until we went over the vast majority of the basics concerning that style. And of course it’s important to involve the previous basics into every new class because again, repetition is key.
At the end this course I ended up with students who knew the basics of the style, who could freestyle and who could learn a 3 minute routine in 4 to 5 classes of one hour each. I’m not saying my students are perfect, not at all. But over the course of 4 months, September to December, they improved and expanded their skillset significantly. And now I can create any routine in this style at their current level and I know they will be able to pull it off.
Thank you for reading and have fun dancing guys!