Dance teachers love to create an environment that is engaging, collaborative, and productive for student learning. A reliable invitation to begin class, especially in creative movement, can connect students to one another and root them in a sense of purpose and excitement for the movement opportunities that await. Thoughtful consideration for how to begin a class, therefore, is an essential component to setting the tone and expectations for a fun, supportive dance lesson.
“I have been teaching creative movement classes in a variety of settings for over 20 years and currently teach graduate-level dance pedagogy at Ohio University. My colleague Maegan Wasaff, who’s a current BFA dance major at the university, has also been leading creative movement opportunities for the past three years, most recently for the preschool classes at the university’s child development center.” In our experience, the need to get kids moving and engaged in a creative movement class is part of ongoing lesson-plan development. However, we have found that designing a more purposeful, consistent approach to beginning a creative movement class can focus students in ways that both support the class content and create a productive learning climate. This structure can also provide teachers the chance to quickly gauge where young students are socially, emotionally and/or physically for each dance class.
Here are five tips that we’ve implemented and have found successful when it comes to beginning a creative movement class. Each of these strategies can be modified and developed in ways that support your own teaching practice and, perhaps, offer additional ways to reflect on how you encourage students to respond to and connect with their learning.
1. Invite noise
The beginning of a creative movement class can be exciting, especially for young movers transitioning to dance class from school or other activities. In classroom settings, however, students are often asked not to talk or only share when called on by the teacher. An explicit invitation for students to talk or share with peers can communicate that the learning environment can be dynamic, conversational and lively. When structured effectively, brief partner or group check-ins can welcome student voice and even encourage student engagement.
For example, at the beginning of class, simply ask students to tell a partner their favorite part of their day so far or what they hope to do in dance class that day. Providing an opportunity to acknowledge each other and build on the active energy (and noise) that young students often exhibit can support the transition to a more calm and ready focus for class.
2. Preview the plan
It can be advantageous to share the main concept and/or theme(s) of class. This can serve several functions; however, two seem most applicable for a creative movement class. First, the preview can provide an introduction and hook for the learning. And second, this can provide entrée for students to feel informed and excited for what is to come.
For example, you could say that “levels” will be the focus of the class, followed by a quick physical exploration where students investigate the low, middle and high levels. Then, with a little demonstration, ask your dancers to make a shape at each level. This can be an effective means to preview the class content, while also assessing student understanding.
3. Use imagery as part of the warm-up
A common practice in creative movement is the use of imagery, which can be an effective way to both harness and build on students’ existing knowledge base and experience. Although it can be utilized throughout class, imagery may be particularly potent at the beginning of class to facilitate a whole-body warm-up.
For example, you could guide students through an ocean adventure: Explore the thick sand of the ocean floor, swim through the water with the whales, dive into the waves and then float on the surface, stretch towards the warm sun, then firmly walk on the beach. The use of imagery can quickly engage students mentally, physically and creatively.
4. Pose questions
Student learning can be maximized when attention is focused. By asking questions to the whole group (even if rhetorical), dance teachers can further pique attention and interest.
For example, if the lesson plan will explore the concept of weight, you could pose questions like: “What do you think about when I say the word ‘heavy’?” or “How would you describe the way an elephant moves?” or “Are you curious about how airplanes can fly?” This could also take the form of the teacher thinking aloud: “I am curious about how…” Or “I am wondering what would happen if…” The use of questions at the beginning of class can help students gauge their own thinking and comprehension and consider how to “make sense” of their thought processes. In turn, this can provide a natural shift to improvisation, where the verbal questioning and inquiry can be explored and applied through movement.
5. Incorporate improvisation
In addition to developing physical motor patterns, improvisation taps into creativity, the central tenet of a creative movement class! Providing rich opportunities to explore is paramount especially in early childhood. Therefore, even if it will be used during class, improvisation might be particularly effective to enact at the beginning, to summon the unique movement preferences of each student.
There are countless structured prompts that can elicit desired movement qualities. For example, “Move like your body is made of balloons” or “Explore how your body/body parts can open and close like a flower.” Unstructured, free dance to music/sounds can also be a constructive means for students to begin investigating through movement. Improvisation provides teachers an opportunity to evaluate the choices and creative connections students are making. In addition, having an opportunity to first explore through self-directed, independent means can prepare students for more structured movement work that might be planned for the remainder of class.
Whether used discretely or in tandem, these five tips will help welcome your students in ways that are mutually beneficial to teaching and learning, and the relationships therein. And when consistently practiced, they might also provide the central precursors to building creativity, initiative, and a sense of a community that guides active and engaged student learning for the duration of your creative movement class.