02 Nov This is the ultimate structure for a dance class
Today I ll be sharing a very valuable part of my UDTA training (structure of a dance class) with you so it hopefully will a positive influence on the way you approach your class. All of this has been tested and proven to work. I have used this structure over and over again. It really helps me enjoy my classes even more because it sets up an emotional atmosphere where the students WANT to give back. They do not drain me but energise me.. The trick is to use the right timing and energy. I believe it is our task to guide them into feeling a certain way so they can express themselves.
Just like for a good movie, the structure, tempo and preparation of your a class matters a lot. I’ll keep using the movie comparison throughout the article because I find that there are many similarities in both the flow of a movie and that of a dance class. Bear with me.
If you thought that to make a blockbuster movie you only need a camera and actors, you are mistaken. They have months, sometimes years of preparation and nothing is left to chance. Same should go for your class. I do not mean that you would need months of prep but a thorough blueprint of what you want to teach, how you want your students to feel and a thinking how you would break down your steps would come a long way. You obviously need to spend time on preparing the content of your class. It can be in the form of a choreography or exercises. This is your Pre-production. The better you prepare, the better your outcome will be.
Analysing your audience:
You arrive at the studio. Pumped up and ready to go. You prepared your class properly so you feel pretty confident. Great!!
Now pay very good attention to this part because to me, this is often the make or break moment. This could be that thing that will get you in control of your class.
Make sure you arrive around 15 minutes before your class and strategically place yourself where you can see your students. Now put your brain in scanning mode. Analyse the group to see how they are feeling.
Look for students in the back of the class. There you will probably find beginners, new students, people with low self esteem, people that feel out of place… Try to identify the ones that you think might run into some problems later on and give them some friendly vibes and eye contact. It will reassure them.
Look at how people are dressed for class. If they are not wearing the proper clothes they could not have a clue of what they are doing here. They might be in the wrong class or group. If you are teaching some urban dance and your students are dressed like ballerinas, you’ll have to adjust your teaching.
Body language will give you a good idea of how a student feels. Look for clues of injuries or physical problems. You can keep an eye on those who need it the most. You can also easily identify group leaders or troublemakers just by checking their behaviour.
Get a good feel of your group.
Are they agitated or tired? Or maybe you feel that there is not a good vibe when they enter the studio. Look at each and every single one of them. Especially if you do not know the group. Look for the leaders, the silent ones, the ones that stay in the back or hide try to hide. How are they dressed? Do they wear the appropriate clothing? This should give you a good idea of how YOU will have to behave to keep your group motivated and under control. I cannot stress how important this is. Failing to do this will insufficiently prepare you for what is to come. And this has to happen for every single class you’ll teach. Even if you have multiple classes in a row.
One little trap that you might fall into,,, is to think that your attitude and behaviour is something you can copy paste from class to class. It does not work. Every class is different. You might have the same group, same routine and still have to behave completely differently to make your class a success.
A extra little tip: I often play music when the students come in to get them in the right mood. If I have an aggressive choreography I’ll play some darker hip hop songs for example.
Take a little moment to explain what you are about to do in the class. Pay attention on how you deliver this message because that will set the tone for the start of your class. This is not absolutely mandatory but if you leave it out, it should serve a purpose. Not be just out of laziness. I consider this to be the trailer. Give away too much information and you ruin the story, deliver it with no passion or tempo and it will not get anyone excited…
One thing you cannot leave out it THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TOOL YOU HAVE.. EYE CONTACT. Whatever you do. Try to give every single one of your students a look. It will signal that your have acknowledged their presence.
The warming up is often seen as a simply a ‘body’ preparation but I do not agree with that view. Let’s get back to our movie analogy. When a movie starts they often set the tone within the first few minutes. They prepare the audience for what is about to come. They set the right mood. To me that’s what a warm up really is; a physical and mental preparation for what is to come in the class.
First of all. To get a little technical. The physical goals would be to loosen up the joints, raise heart rate and body temperature, raise the blood flow towards your muscles, raise the flow of oxygen to your brain. A warm up usually takes up 5 to 10 minutes. But this doesn’t really tell you anything about what to put in your warm up does it? It also does not say anything about preparing your students emotionally, put them in the right mood. And this, to me, is equally important.
I am not a fan of pre-programmed warm ups that are alway the same. You know, it’s kind of a routine that students perform mechanically. I find them ineffective and boring. The might prepare you physically, sure, but you don’t really get you in the zone.
To do it right, you’ll have to think about the content and emotional value you want your class to have. Let’s say you have a fun uptempo choreography with a piece of floorwork and lots of footwork. It would then make sense that the atmosphere of your class would be optimistic and light. You also know that your floorwork will put stress on , for example, the wrist and shoulders. Your footwork will be very aggressive on the quadriceps and calves with lots of jumping around. You will have to pay special attention to the warming up of the legs.
What I want to focus on, is that your warm up needs to be tailored to your routine or exercises. It will boost the performance of your students.
The body of the class
In a movie this would be the setup of the plot. The part where the hero (you) is confronted with his or her challenge.
In our class, it’s pretty much the same. You task is to make the plot move along. Give your students the right information at the right time so they can solve the puzzle. Like in any story, delivery is key. Have you ever been in a movie that drags forever and you just feel like doing something else. You can go to the bathroom, get a bag of popcorn, come back and still nothing would have happened? Boring right? Think about the tempo of your class for a second. Do you go fast enough. Is the information you bring clear enough? Is it appropriate for your audience? Does it move the story forward but even more important. Does it bring your audience somewhere they can ‘feel’? Build up emotional value. Get your students more and more into character. Get them to express themselves.
We have had a proper preparation, a good setup, we have given the hero all the tools he or she needs. Now they have to win the day. Let’s give them some room to perform. This is definitely my favourite part of the class. If you have done your job right, they now can spread their wings and fly. Your students should be able to execute the routine and enjoy it too. They can share emotions and get some thrills. Watch out to not let the energy and emotions dip. Build even more tension and excitement. This is what they came for. Make your students feel like superheroes.
After the heroes win the day. They go home, the atmosphere calms down, everybody feels good.
The cooldown and stretching is the opportunity for you to give your students a satisfactory feeling. Emotionally, physically and mentally. Normalise the heart rate, bring the muscles into a relaxed position. Keep thinking target oriented. Which muscles and body parts did we use the most? Give those some extra attention. Stretching also fosters the drainage of lactic acid so we don’t feel as sore the next days.
Ask yourself how you want your movie to end? How do you want your students to feel when they get out? Again, delivery is key. Choose your speed, music and attitude accordingly.
When we get out of the movie theatre, we suddenly all become movie critics. We tell our friends what we liked or didn’t like about the movie. We explain which parts could be improved or should not have been there at all and why. Your students will do the same.
Because people will criticise anyway, be your own critic. Analyse your class and learn from it. What have you done that you could replicate in another situation or what did go wrong? What would you have done differently? Write it down after class. Don’t wait too long . You’ll get into a different mindset and will definitely forget details and most importantly, how it felt.
One more thing.
In the end, I have to make one more comparison with the movies before we finish. A movie has a certain build in emotions and tempo. At least most of them have. They are almost always the same. It’s efficient, it’s the best way to tell stories.
You start with a little peak at the beginning (the warm up) and then keep rising while the plot moves along (the body of the class). Then when the story intensifies and the hero saves the day (the peak) to then lead us back home and back to normal (cool down). Do you see the similarities? If you look at it. Teaching is like telling a story. Now go tell yours.
If you made it all the way till the end.. thank you for reading. It takes some time to create this kind of content, so comments and shares are really appreciated. It helps so much
Let me know if I forgot something or if you have another approach. Did this help you?