Please Wait a Moment

Behind the Curtain Blog

NDEO's "Behind the Curtain" Blog features articles written by NDEO members about dance and dance education topics as well as periodic updates on NDEO programs and services. This is a FREE resource available to ALL.


Teaching During COVID-19: Advice from NDEO Members

With schools and studios closing in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, NDEO members have been generously sharing ideas for alternative teaching strategies on our Online Forums. These are truly uncharted and challenging times for all dance educators - and our students. With that in mind, we will be compiling some ideas and resources for alternative teaching that have been posted. We are sharing these ideas with the field through public blog posts, with permission of and credit to the original posters, where applicable. This post contains ideas shared on our Online Forums through Monday, March 16th.

General Advice for Teaching during Challenging Times

NDEO encourages educators to practice patience, flexibility, and empathy as we navigate this new (but temporary) reality - both for your students and yourself. Don’t expect perfection. Grant yourself permission to fail and extend a little extra grace to your students if they do the same. Know that there will be moments of intense frustration, sadness, and even anger felt by all. Acknowledge and honor those feelings in yourself and in your students. At the same time, remember that dance is a powerful tool for cultivating joy and community, even in the midst of social distancing. Find and celebrate the small victories and simple joys throughout the process. 

As Angela Miller, Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at Millikin University put it, “As dancers, we tend to over-do. We are natural overachievers. As we shift to new modes of offering our courses online, let's not create new workload issues for ourselves. Address individual skills and learning goals that were part of the original intent for our courses. Move forward mindfully and take these new challenges one step at a time.”

Realize that all of your students are likely anxious, uncertain, and even scared about what they are learning from the news media, hearing from friends and family, or coming across on social media. Some students will be facing extraordinary challenges at this time: those who are at higher risk of infection or have a family member who is, those with a family member in the medical profession, those for whom school or dance classes are a safe space away from a troubling family life, and those who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, or other dire circumstances. 

For this reason, it is critical to consider including emotional learning into your alternative teaching plans. According to Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, and founder of North Shore Dance Therapy in Chicago, there are simple ways to incorporate therapeutic activities into your online or video classes. “Students could be encouraged to identify how they are feeling (anxious, sad, happy, etc.) and put it in the body: Notice where you feel that emotion, or Where does that emotion live in your body? are both good prompts. Students could also move or embody the emotion they are feeling.” 

Additionally, Karen Bradley reminds dance educators to remain student-centered in their teaching practices, even if they are not present with their students. As she elaborates, “Make it clear that you are there to help each of them be successful in their learning. Get phone numbers and email addresses up front. Reach out to those who are fading away and offer 1:1 help.” 

Alternative Lesson Ideas

Claudine Ranieri, dance teacher at Paramus High School in New Jersey, highlights the importance of flexibility at this time: “As dance educators we embody the definition of flexible - figuratively and literally.”  She notes that many K-12 teachers are already used to using online platforms, such as Google Classroom, which can continue to be employed in the transition to online learning. Similarly, reflective essays submitted via these platforms that may have already been a part of the curriculum can be an important tool for helping students process their feelings and experiences right now. Ranieri offered the following example: 

Students read all or part of "I Am A Dancer" by Martha Graham and submit a one-page response to the article titled, “I AM A DANCER When…” The student will discuss the meaning of the article as well as identify how they are a dancer in your daily life. I've done the assignment many times of the years and received many amazing responses to their personal connection sharing examples of how they dance through their life. This assignment can be given to all dancers regardless of experience.

Eva Gonzalez of Charles Carroll Middle School in Maryland uses WebQuests to help her students work on literacy. According to Wikipedia, “A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. These can be created using various programs, including a simple word processing document that includes links to websites.” For example, Gonzalez created a WebQuest with articles on jazz dance, along with the textbook Discovering Dance (p.194-8), to help the students learn about Jazz Dance History. The students can then use Google Slides, Canva, Google Drawings or work by hand to create their own timeline with information on Jazz Dance History.

To engage students in the physical practice of dance while they are away from the studio, choreographic inquiries can be key.  Students can create dances that are small enough to be performed in whatever space is available in their homes. Karen Campbell Kuebler of Towson University in Maryland shared an exploration designed for fourth and fifth students that was inspired by Robert Battle’s Juba, which was created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. After analyzing the video, students are directed to explore the following steps from Battle’s choreography and arrange them in a different order to create their own phrase. 

  1. Heel digs and crosses.
  2. Jogging with arms extended up
  3. Kicks, leaps, falls
  4. Arm circles with pivot
  5. Stomping and fist pounding on thighs

M.K. Victorson, a dance teacher in the Chicago public school system, suggests that dance educators explore the Lesson of the Day from the New York Times. Teachers can search a topic, such as “performance” and get questions to use when framing a lesson. Options include a lesson on The Renegade, a viral dance sensation that has captivated middle and high school students across the country. 

Apps and Digital Tools for Online Learning

Olivia Mode-Cater, Founder of Dance Ed Tips, recommends the following apps to help support virtual and alternative teaching practices.  

  1. FlipGrid, an interactive discussion board system with short videos - “With this app, I am planning on uploading portions of our concert dances.  Then, the students will analyze themselves for strengths and weaknesses and will be asked to leave a video with what they thought they did well and what they can improve on."
  2. PlayPosit, a self-paced interactive video program where you can add quizzes, polls, and discussions within a video - “With this app, you can select a famous work or choreographer interview on youtube and embed relevant questions and formative assessments as the students watch.”

For educators who are planning spring recitals and concerts, Mode-Cater collaborated with The Streamlined Studio to present a free webinar,  “Lights, Camera,.. Coronavirus?  9 Ways to Keep your Recital On Track In Spite of the COVID-19 Outbreak,” which you can view here

To engage students in the choreographic process when they are away from the studio, Barry Blumenfield of Friends Seminary School and NYU Steinhardt in New York recommends the DanceMaker app. The free app, developed by Dance Education Laboratory at the 92Y Harkness Dance Center, can be used with both Apple and Android products. It features activities and resources for creating Laban Movement Analysis based dances.

Using Social Media to Keep Students Engaged

Sonya Monts of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre in North Carolina cites her experience with NDEO’s Online Professional Development Institute as evidence that online learning is “powerful and effective, and FUN, too!” She encourages private studio teachers to create lessons that can be taught and shared online via email and YouTube:

“Have your students pick a book from their home library then create a dance about that book. Video the dance and share it via a private YouTube link. For older students, you can share a YouTube video of a professional group/famous dancer, then lead an online/email discussion about the video. Of course, you could always video yourself teaching a dance phrase, share that video, and tell the students you'll continue to work on it once classes resume. Issue a challenge to your students to teach another family member dance steps. Dance can be a wonderful way to relieve stress during a difficult time. This keeps everyone active and involved, even other family members!”

There are many “challenges” circulating on social media now as well that can be shared with your students to keep them active in their time away from the studio. These include prompts for choreography or improv, yoga and other kinds of somatic or fitness experiences, and Bingo cards designed to help students practice various kinds of technical and creative elements. Some accounts to follow for such challenges, as recommended by Olivia Mode-Cater, include: @yoga_fundamentals, @dance.labs, @yogatips,  @oneminutofdanceaday, @julesdancejams, @kjwdances, @katediazdanceandyoga, @dnbdanceart, @loonymoony1, and @differentdances. (If you are also hosting a challenge, feel free to share your account in the comments!) 

As Lynn Needle, Founder and Artistic Director of  Art of Motion, Inc., put it on NDEO’s Private Sector Forum, This is the time to “Simply put, turn a negative into a positive.” It is time for us to (virtually) come together as a community, to rally behind one another, our students, and our communities, and to keep passionately advancing the field of dance education and advocating for dance education for all.

NDEO members, be sure to check the Online Forums for more resources and ideas! Visit and login with your username and password.

You need to login in order to comment

Subscribe to our Blog


Submit a Blog Post

To learn more about submitting a Guest Blog post, click here.

Search our Blog

Blog by Date