Introducing and teaching rhythm can seem easy, but in reality it can prove to be a complicated concept—especially for younger dancers to grasp. At Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance in New York City, Los Explorers for 4- to 5-year-olds uses classic salsa and tango music to help kids acquire rhythmic awareness.
Here Rebecca Tsivkin, early childhood programs associate, and Kiri Avelar, associate school director, offer exercises to help youngsters feel the beat.
Clap Your Name
A great way to introduce the idea of rhythm to young children is by having them clap the syllables of their own name. For example, the name “Teresa” has three syllables. Clapped out, it would sound like Te-re-sa (one-two-three sounds). Sitting in a circle, have each dancer claps their name as they say it, breaking it down into syllables as the rest of the class claps and says it back to them. The dancer then repeats it back to the class before it is the next dancer’s turn.
Repeat What You Hear
Using a musical instrument such as maracas, the teacher can play a simple rhythm that the children repeat back with their instrument. Repeat the same rhythm three times to allow the dancers to become familiar with that particular rhythm. Once the students become familiar with this idea, children can take turns coming up with their own rhythm that the class can repeat back.
shake-shake, shake-shake-shake = one-two, one-two-three or one-two, one-and-two.
You can set a pattern by snapping, stomping, tapping and/or slapping different body parts instead of clapping. As the children master the simple rhythms, you can increase the difficulty of the patterns.
A Family Outing
Each family member usually has a unique way of walking. As a homework assignment, invite kids to practice rhythm exercises at home with loved ones. For instance, have an older family member like a grandma or grandpa, who typically moves slower, take four beats (a whole note), which looks like this: walk one, hold two, three, four, walk one, hold two, three, four. Have mom or dad take two beats (half note), which looks like this: walk one, look two, walk one, look two—he or she is keeping an eye on the student, so looks to see that they are coming on the second beat. Then a sibling or friend can take one beat (quarter note) walk one, walk two, walk three, walk four—keeping a steady pace. The student is running to keep up two steps per beat (one eighth note) run one-and-two-and-three-and-four.