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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.

31Jan

Student Creating in the Classroom, “We could… or what about this!”

NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Krista Brown, Freelance Teaching Artist.  Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.

Many veteran teachers know the voice that springs up when there is a lull in learning choreography. As I am scrolling through notes, if ever there is a quiet moment I often hear “we could…” or “what about this…” In my early years of teaching, I’d shoo it away and say, “that’s a nice idea” and proceed with my choreography notes. Whether this is how I feel the classroom is best managed, I think rests on something beyond just expectation setting for being a student of dance. Much of this pedagogical attitude rests on my upbringing where I learned to never offer my ideas or input until given the opportunity. This changed as I started attending summer intensives in high school where creating and improvisation were our core technical challenges.

Young students in a dance class all in different shapes.

I don’t know if kids are different these days, as some will say, but I do know that I hear them differently than my teachers did. As a kid, I remember having this aching feeling to offer some ideas when I felt the choreography just didn’t work or could be improved. I was shoved away as a “kid” rather than a co-participant in the art we were making with our child-bodies. And that’s what has changed for me. Realizing your art doesn’t transcend these child-bodies and their significance in interpreting the language you instill into them through movement. By shutting them down, you invalidate their power and enforce the standard that bigger folks have more to say than they do.

It's an unpopular opinion of course. When you are an artist, dancer, and teacher trained even with a master’s degree as I have been, there’s a competitive mindset that’s been instilled if you’ve made it this far. You still must learn to share the table, because what else is this art we are making worth if not to inspire the bodies we create with? Does this mean that it creates a new chaos in the classroom, yes. Does it mean that you must set expectations, boundaries, and rules – of course it does. That means you are teaching instead of relying on the rote memorization most have been accustomed to. This is the work we should all set out to do as teachers.

Let me give a concrete example of a time this has worked exceptionally well in my classroom. When it came down to the wire to finish a dance for my teens in contemporary, I had them finish the dance by dividing them into groups. Not only were they able to problem solve with a group, they took responsibility for the movement they would be doing on the stage. Sometimes teachers bear the weight of students liking their choreography. Give your students the responsibility and teach about the many artistic choices to be made in a short amount of time. They will process this in the long term and likely will never forget it (unlike so much of your choreography).

A small group of dancers in a dance studio all around the space looking like they are improving.

The challenge here lies in trusting the students but also in managing parent and studio owner’s concerns. I often feel that I will be looked down upon for having my students do the work. In a society which holds the choreographer up on a pedestal rather than the community which breeds the movement, I feel the pressure to be cool, sophisticated, and approachable to all audiences with my movement choices. That’s a lot to ask out a teacher, especially if you’re like me and you’re teaching just about every age and style of dance to fill your hours, to make it a full-time career. What college dance doesn’t teach you is that you don’t want to spend three hours on four eight counts of music when you’ve got a dozen other things to complete, or you just want to rest. When you shed some weight on the students, they thank you for it. I see it as a win-win for all.

When I hear that voice spring up in the lull, instead of pushing play on the dozens of my automatic responses, I say to myself, “perhaps they have a better solution than I do.” It’s possible they know their world and their peers better than you to the point where they provide the solution to meet everyone’s needs. Dance should stimulate executive functioning, otherwise they could find other activities just as fulfilling. Boost your retention, love, and shared experience by offering this bridge to your students.

a photo of Krista, a white woman with blond hair, wearing a beige tank top and smiling in front of an orange backround.

Krista Brown (she/her) has a Master of Arts in Social and Cultural Foundations in Education from DePaul University and a Bachelors in Dance from Indiana University, attending the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance Conservatory in Israel for a semester abroad. Upon completion of her masters, Krista became an adjunct professor of education at DePaul University and began dancing with urban jazz company Joel Hall Dancers. During the pandemic, Krista and her husband decided to make the big move out west to Colorado during October of 2020, and upon arrival accepted a role as the dance director of a local recreation program, rebuilding the program from 30 to over 200 students. Since then, she has danced professionally with local Colorado companies Wonderbound, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, and Control Group Productions. She currently teaches dance with Colorado Ballet Community Engagement programs and at the Cleo Parker Robinson dance academy.

Photo credits: All action shots by Krista Brown, headshot by the Hip Photo

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