Quality creative dance classes will always be process-based,
meaning that learning will take place with exploration,
decision making and discovery.
So why am I going on about this? When mommies call to enroll their preschool children in dance class, they often start the conversation with, “I want to enroll my daughter in ballet.” Because I don't teach ballet to preschoolers or children under 6 years old, I respond with a description of my Creative Movement program, it’s value and the fun we have. Parents love what they hear and enroll their child.
Later, when children have been in Creative Movement for months, or even years, I’ll sometimes hear parents talking about their child’s “ballet class.” I confess, I cringe almost every time.
The Idyllic Ballerina
The term “ballet” is loaded with connotations for both girls and boys. Usually good for girls, and usually not so good for boys. Dance critic Alastair Macauley states, “A ballerina represents beauty; is an exalted ideal; exerts authority over the world onstage and her audience.” (Yikes!)
I have and have had boys in the Creative Movement and Creative Modern program and have yet to notice mommies make reference to their sons’ “ballet” class. When speaking of their boys, those moms usually use the term “dance class.” But I digress. Boys and dance, and parents perspectives on boys in dance is a topic for another day.
With all that ballet and ballerinas represent, according to Macaulay, it’s no wonder parents seek ballet classes for their little girls. What parent wouldn’t want a daughter to grow to represent all that is beauty and idyllic, and then to have authority over others in her life? (When she grows up, of course.) So what's the problem? It has been determined that strict ballet training for such young bodies can be physically detrimental, and in my opinion largely lacking in what most feeds the physical, social, intellectual and emotional needs of the preschool and early elementary school child.
Crawl First, Run Later
It will come as no surprise to me if people choose not to read this page. However, I imagine there are a few curious enough souls who, when selecting a program for their child, may be interested in knowing how the program came about and what methodology is used. That and other information related to dance, learning, and teaching is posted here periodically. (As is usual, oldest at the bottom, newest at the top.) ~ Jennifer Crowley
It seems people are increasingly recognizing the value of movement in their kids’ lives. Our fall 2014 dance season started off with more students enrolled than ever before and numbers continued to climb right up until the start of our winter break. As I write this it’s almost the new year (2015!) and I have several phone calls to return to parents interested in signing their kids up for dance.
I love reading books and articles about movement and brain development, as well as literature having to do with teaching dance and teaching creativity through dance/movement. I recently read two such publications, one by Todd Chen, a dance educator, and one by Dr. Judith Lynne Hanna, a research professor at the University of Maryland, writer and dance critic.
Todd Chen recently had an article published on a blog I read regularly. His article asks why we need to teach our children to dance. Below are some of his answers to that question.
Brains Evolved For Movement
Neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert states “Not all species on our planet have brains. We have a brain for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements. There is no other reason to have a brain.”
Dance contributes to healthy brain function, as executing complex moments are a fundamental function of our brains. You are not only exercising your body when you dance, but your brain as well.
We’re All Born Artists
You can only learn dance by doing. You observe your teachers and then try to imitate them. You progress through
trial and error and the feedback you receive. You learn by making mistakes and slowly overcoming them over time.
Dance education preserves a child’s precious innate creativity and ability to learn things through trial and error, while
the rest of the world is trying to suppress those characteristics.
Dance Teaches Us Self-Mastery
When you walk or breathe, your body just moves for you. When you dance, you actually have to learn to tell your
body to do what you want it to. Through dance, we don’t just learn specific moves, we learn to master our own
bodies and overcome our own limitations.
Children Move to Learn
In a time of increasing ADHD diagnosis, what are the implications of declining dedication of the U.S. public school day
to programs as basic as gym and recess? Kids explore the world with movement even before they learn to walk. All
children benefit from being given the chance to think and learn through movement.
The last point above about ADHD really strikes me. Do you remember playing outside a lot when you were a child? We spent far more time outside playing than we did inside during daylight hours. One reason that I advocate parents being sure their children are moving, either in dance class or in other activities, has to do with the fact, as Todd Chen mentions, that our brains and bodies are designed for movement. We are not fully healthy if we are not moving a significant amount every single day. In a world in which kids are sitting more than ever because parents are “too afraid” to let them play outside or because they are too busy to supervise them, we are also seeing more children than ever before struggling with the ability to focus and control their impulses. It's frightening how many children are on psychotropic drugs in an effort to find self control. Below is a fun video discussing how dance may help with this problem.
I wake up each day thinking about what I can accomplish before the sun sets. I rise with at least as many physical aches and pains as anybody else. I'm often visited by self-doubt before I'm very far into the day, but I proceed while shushing the voice in my head that pops up periodically trying to derail me with doubt and apprehension. I recently read a wonderful quote by Joan of Arc, “I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” This needs to be my new mantra. This needs to be my new tool, a statement to ward off the doubt that works its way into my thoughts. But I have another tool and it's in my "dance bag."
Were you the kid who got awards at every turn in school? I wasn’t. I was the one during the awards ceremony who sat there with crossed fingers hoping that “this time” would be my time to shine, to hear my name called, to walk to the front of the room and receive a ribbon, a certificate, an award, applause.... but it wasn’t meant to be. With very rare exception (and I had to wait until high school!), I was not the one to hear her name called for recognition.
The 10 Items On My To-Do List
Parent Testimonials: How To Beat Self-Doubt Every Time
A dance studio full of children moving as if they are bubbles, imagining and improvising as they dance with hoops, scarves and other props looks like wonderful fun. And indeed, it is! But other than fun, what value can it possibly have? Of course, it builds fond childhood memories. But is that it? “As a culture, we tend to value product over process and it can be a challenge to assure parents that process-based exploration of movement is actually great preparation for, and an integral part of the art form of dance,” says Nichelle Strzepekv of Dance Advantage, a blogger for dance educators and professional dancers.
This year, very unexpectedly, Creative Dance and Movement was nominated for the Salute to Small Business Award. The nomination was a complete surprise. Was I actually going to be called to the front of the room for the first time since high school? For one of only a few times in my life? Short story version: I didn’t win. Well, okay, technically, I didn’t win. The award went to a veterinarian. I’m sure it was well deserved.
If our parents are doing their jobs, they teach us to be grateful and gracious even when we are not the winners in a game or contest. And grateful is absolutely what I feel. (A nod to you Mom, Dad.) I know that I really did win. No, I didn’t win the award. But I did win the opportunity to hear firsthand wishes of luck and affirmations from the vast majority of my dance parents and the opportunity to read letters from a huge number of parents of CDM dancers who voluntarily wrote recommendations to the judges. Below are brief excerpts from some of the letters. These and all the other comments and letters mean the world to me. That tool in my dance bag? Dance parents gave it to me: When my doubt-voice pops into my mind, these comments are what help me shut it off and proceed to do all I can to provide my dancers, your children, with a rich, loving and fun learning experience. Below is a sampling from parents.
Berate ballet? Who me?
Sometimes I'm accused of not liking ballet. When someone suggests that, I know that I haven't gotten my message across well. Ballet and other strict dance forms are beautiful. Before I'm accused of something awful, I'll repeat that. Ballet, like other stylized dance forms, is beautiful, stunning even.
Whether a dancer wants to dabble in ballet for fun or chooses to work extremely hard to achieve high levels of skill, nothing can replace a process-based exploration of movement accompanied by lessons in and opportunities for creativity, freedom of self-expression through original movement, and freedom to make decisions about the quality of self-chosen movement. Ideally, our youngest dancers won’t even touch a ballet barre without first taking many creative movement classes so they can discover that their own natural movement style is wonderful and their movement decisions as valid as anyone else’s. AND ideally, a dancer seeking to learn a rigorous disciplined dance form, such as ballet with its rigid “there’s only one right way” reality, will simultaneously study creative dance, be given multiple options about how, what and where she will dance and as a result will learn who she is inside as a creative being and natural mover.
Healthy human beings develop at very predictable rates. We crawl before we walk. We talk before we read. We cannot ride a bicycle until our vestibular system (the sensory system that allows us to balance) is sufficiently developed. Ballet requires a degree of physical and mental development not found in most children until they are between the ages of six and eight years old, sometimes older. Forcing the skills necessary to learn ballet on such a small child is like trying to get a child to run before she has crawled, or ride a bike before she can sit unaided.
Creativity and the authentic child
Okay, so if a child can’t “really” do ballet before her brain and body are ready, why go to dance class at all? The answer is quite simple, once we look at what children really need in a dance class. What is of value to the preschooler and early elementary school child, (and for that matter all children and even into adulthood) is the development and nurturing of ones creativity and authentic movement.
Each of us starts out an authentic being. We are individuals. We explore the world from our first hours, days and weeks authentically because nobody has taught us differently. A child dances authentically as well, when given the opportunity. We parents love to rush our children through developmental stages. We love to hold their hands up and help them walk so we can boast that they started walking early. (Guilty as charged.) However, our children, if left alone to do so, will take care of their own movement needs authentically as their brains develop and their muscles strengthen. They’ll dance on all fours until they can get up on two feet. Once there, they’ll keep on dancing. The dance you see is their authentic dance, their natural movement. Parents see this enthusiasm for and natural ability to dance and want to sign their child up for dance class. What happens once the child is in a dance class will encourage or squash the authentic, natural movement of the child. This is where creativity and exploration become key.
At Creative Dance and Movement, we understand that not all children are the same; that when one jumps in with both feet, another may need to soak it all in for a class or two, staying near Mommy, just watching, or even participating from afar. Yet almost without exception, both will go home saying how much they loved dance class.
Our goal is to have each child go through the studio door with the class, leaving parents behind; however, that is not always achieved. When it is not achieved, a parent is invited to come into the studio to watch as the new dancer decides just how much to participate. If after two to three weeks the child learns
Who Is The Learner Here?: Introducing Super Dance Teacher... or Hard Lessons On Listening
While writing the July 2014 Blog, Parent Testimonials: How To Beat Self-Doubt Every Time, I was reminded of an essay passed to me a few years ago by a parent of one of my homeschool dancers. I remember reading the last line of the first paragraph and feeling my eyes swell with tears. Sometimes kids with a school writing assignment choose to write about dance. This was the first time I’d experienced the honest disclosure of one of my students as she grappled with body image and uncertainty in a new situation. I was proud of her honest description of her experience, and when I read the last line of her essay, I was hit hard with the realization that my purpose as a dance teacher has to do with so much more than dance.
Since receiving that first essay, I’ve received two others. One again reveals the emotional pain so often felt by adolescent girls. All of them are posted below, with only a few small edits for ease of reading. I hope you’ll read them. These young ladies bare so beautifully how dance classes have helped them grow.
Dance Class: A Memoir
by Justine Mendoza
12 years old
Looking back, I should have been more enthusiastic about dance in the first place. I should have opened up earlier, but that’s not the way I do things. I go slowly and figure things out, then jump in. Sadly, when my mom signed me up for dance class I was terrified and unhappy with my body.
When we arrived at the dance studio [Creative Dance and Movement], a lovely woman named Jennifer greeted us and introduced herself as my dance instructor. She was so excited and energetic; I wasn’t so worried anymore. I was happy to see that I knew everyone in the class. One of my friends was from Massachusetts, and the other one was annoyed that her sister had to come. There was another girl there too, but she was only an acquaintance.
“All girls!” Jennifer exclaimed, delighted. We started stretching, and she taught us about movement. On the first day she gave us homework. We were supposed to come back the next week with an image that inspired us. She showed us a few examples. Most of her examples were of nature.
I came back the next week with a greeting card that had a girl wearing a beautiful dress. She was standing in tall grass and the sky had fluffy white clouds floating by. Whenever I saw it I felt happy and energetic. That day we started a dance that I put my heart and soul into completing.
“I want you girls to write a haiku poem about your image and bring it to me next week,” Jennifer said. She told us what a haiku poem was, but I was in seventh grade and already knew. I finished my haiku that day, using words like elegant and graceful.
[A week later] “This is beautiful! I love your descriptive words.” Jennifer obviously approved of my poem. That day we changed the [other] dance we were working on. I liked the changes to the dance we would later call Apollo’s Journey. Jennifer sent us home with more homework. She wanted us to make a dance sentence to each line of our poem. When we came back the next week with dances, she was thrilled. That was the day she revealed her whole plan to us. She said she wanted to put on a performance and asked us what we thought about it. When we agreed she asked us an unusual question.
“Can you please do all of the haiku dances at the same time?” She asked eagerly. I didn’t like the idea at first, but it was chaotically beautiful. For the first time I was passionate about the performance. Before then I had only been nervous and worried.
During the next couple of weeks, we perfected our haiku dances and Apollo’s Journey. We also practiced a few other dances too, working toward the performance. When that day finally came, we pulled it off perfectly.
Jennifer taught me how to express myself and how to be proud of how my body moves and not just my looks.
**Justine’s mother had attached a note to the essay which reads, “This was an assignment for school, but I thought you would really appreciate it. Thank you for giving my daughter this priceless gift.”
I Can Dance!
By Aleria Amaral
18 years old
I used to think that I couldn't dance. Even at the age of twelve I thought that I had passed the appropriate age to start to learn to dance. I was stuck in the mindset that only those who had perfect form or years of experience could be considered “dancers.” And then when I turned fourteen, I met Jennifer Crowley, the founder of Creative Dance and Movement. It must have been a chance of fate because without my years at Creative Dance and Movement, I wouldn't have become the person I am today.
When I was younger, I was extremely insecure and shy; I was not comfortable moving freely in front of others. Jennifer helped to build my confidence in many ways; most of all with her positivity. I will always remember what Jennifer did at the end of my first class. She stood all of us in front of the big studio mirror and said, “Look at those beautiful dancers.” It was exactly what I needed to hear.
She directed my class with confidence and knowledge and also allowed us to experiment and express ourselves with dance games and choreography. I was not only able to learn how to effectively express my thoughts and opinions, but to learn what it's like when my ideas really matter to someone else.
After a few years, I was also afforded the opportunity to work alongside Jennifer as an assistant in teaching the younger classes. These classes are fun, creative, and educational, and they are extremely beneficial to young minds. I have witnessed young girls who were once shy and uncommunicative open up after time at the studio and become creative dancers who always raise their hands to give an idea.
Now eighteen years of age, I am very aware that I can dance, and that anyone, no matter how young or old, can also dance. You don't have to have perfect form or years of experience, just confidence and a positive environment. This little dance studio has created a community of artistic people, and it is forging the way for a new bright and talented generation of good, creative thinkers and movers.
By Daisy Ross
7 years old
» When beginning the program, my daughter was extremely shy. Jennifer has such an amazing way of interacting with my daughter, she only needed my hand for the first class. Students fortunate enough to participate in classes at Creative Dance and Movement not only get to learn the love of dance, they also are being taught to love and respect themselves and others. ~ Laurie
» Our family use to live just minutes from the CDM studio in Prunedale. We moved to Salinas and still go to CDM. The connection we feel to Jennifer and her studio is so welcoming and friendly. ~ Shanna
» When I was younger, I was extremely insecure and shy; I was not comfortable moving freely in front of others. Jennifer helped to build my confidence. I will always remember what Jennifer did at the end of my first class. She stood all of us in front of the big studio mirror and said, “Look at those beautiful dancers.” It was exactly what I needed to hear. ~ Aleria (student)
» Thanks to Ms Jennifer’s reasonable prices, it is possible for me as a single mom to give this opportunity to my daughter. ~ Rocio
» My daughters have been attending Creative Dance and Movement for over three years. One of my daughters has a slow to warm approach with new people and new situations. She is not comfortable performing on stage or in front of people. Miss Jennifer has allowed her to stay in dance even though she is not going to dance in the recitals. At the recitals, my daughter is a “helper” so she still feels connected to her class and the studio as a whole. I hope my daughters dance with Creative Dance and Movement for many more years. I know they will love dance for the rest of their life. ~ Jennifer
» I had explored other options for dance but I was just not comfortable with my toddler going behind closed doors and not being able to see her if needed. This was not the case with Creative Dance and Movement. Miss Jennifer made me feel comfortable. I can see my child and she can see me. ~ Lisa
» Jennifer Crowley runs her business with exceptional organization, cleanliness, and professionalism. ~ Laurie
» My daughter has been attending CDM for the past four years. when she started she was a painfully shy and introverted six year old. Given the opportunity to explore her interests, tap into her creativity, and develop her skills, my daughter is becoming a confident and poised young woman. CDM has become a part of my family. ~ Sang
» These classes are fun, creative, and educational, and they are extremely beneficial to young minds. ~ Aleria
» Jennifer Crowley is one of those rare individuals involved in teaching advanced physical skills to children who is primarily interested in advancing each child’s self-esteem as opposed to focusing on the achievement of individual children that already display talent. We are so lucky in Prunedale that Jennifer offers her wonderful combination of dancer talent, teaching philosophy, and interpersonal skills to our children. ~ Keith
» Ms. Crowley is a fabulous mentor to the children of North County. I was drawn to CDM because it did not focus on just the technical side of dance, but how to be self-aware and let the children explore their own style of dance and movement. They learn to feel self confident, how to work together as a team and to shine as individuals, accomplish enormous feats, and to persevere. CDM gives our children the tools to become amazing and accomplished citizens. ~ Pamela
I came across an article written by Heather Vaughan-Southard, a choreographer, dance educator, and performer based in Michigan. She calls herself a "thinking dancer." The article discusses teaching Creative Movement and why teen teachers are not the best option. Nothing against teens at all on her part or mine! Have you ever seriously thought about what goes into teaching young children? Her opinion matches mine and since she sums it up so well, I'd like to share it with you here. (edited slightly for quicker reading)
Educators Versus Instructors:
Why Not All Creative Movement Teachers Are Created Equal
by Heather Vaughan-Southard
As educators, we strive to guide our students to a place of independent thinking, thoughtful analysis, and reflective response, all leading directly to confidence in ability, action, and presence. Yet, many dance studios offer creative movement classes taught by their most "advanced" teen-aged dancers. (my note: or sometimes not so advanced)
Within an appropriately run creative movement class, students are guided to explore the potential of their movement but also of their imagination. They not only gain experience in experiencing their potential they are gently encouraged to begin identifying their potential.
Through the creative processes experienced in a Creative Movement class, dancers collaborate with their peers as well as an authority figure. They learn to communicate their ideas and their feelings.
Expression for children is all-encompassing (information AND emotion) resulting in rich dialogue.
Creative Movement has the power to assist students entering school (or already there) in literacy, numeracy, and emotional intelligence.
In the classroom of a teenage teacher, however "advanced" she may be, it is rare to find such knowledge let alone the intention to develop the important areas listed above. The instructor may be able to inspire movement in children and maybe that is all you as a parent are looking for. But when you hear people talk about the power in arts education, THIS is what they mean.
Out Of The Mouths Of Babes
Creativity is the freest form of self-expression. There is nothing more satisfying and fulfilling for children than to be able to express themselves openly and without judgment.
How is creativity developed and nurtured? Through process-based exploration.
Plenty of dance studios label preschool classes as “pre-ballet” and some as “creative movement,” however often these classes have little to do with either.
In a first-rate creative movement class, preschoolers will be provided with the opportunity to use their imagination, creativity, and self-expression while exploring basic elements of dance at an age-appropriate level and using their own natural movement style.
A Brief History of the Creative Movement Program
Adult Teachers Or Teen Teachers? - Educators vs. Instructors: Why not all Creative Movement Teachers Are Created Equal
skills, problem solving and social skills. Oh, and I learn in the process, boy do I. I learn from my mistakes. I learn from my students. I learn from trial and error.
foremost is to teach dance and creativity to young minds and bodies. What may not be so obvious to parents is the lesson planning. I don't, in fact, just jump around with my amazing little students. I plan each and every lesson for each class I teach. I get up Monday morning, sit at my kitchen table and write up lesson plans, just like a 2nd grade teacher or high school single subject teacher; I take my job seriously.
In Dr. Judith Lynne Hanna’s 1999 book, Partnering Dance and Education, she asserts that dance should be central to every child’s education. Below is a list of reasons she gives for including dance in your child’s education
Dance education aids the development of kinesthetic intelligence.
1. Dance education creates opportunities for self-expression and communication within the constraints of the medium
of the body.
2. Dance, whether representational, thematic, or abstract, is a repository of civilization that changes through time.
3. Dance education teaches the values and skills of creativity, problem solving, risk taking, making judgments in the
absence of rules, and higher-order thinking skills.
4. Dance provides an opportunity for students to recognize that there are multiple solutions to problems.
5. The study of dance fosters an individual’s ability to better interpret interpersonal nonverbal communication.
6. Dance education provides a strong base from which to analyze and make informed judgments about corporeal
7. Learning the dances of other cultures helps students to develop an understanding and respect for them.
8. Through stimulating all the senses, dance goes beyond verbal language in engaging dancers and promoting the
development of multi-sensory beings.
9. Dance provides options to destructive alternatives in a world that is unpredictable and unsafe for children.
10. Dance education prepares people for careers in dance and other fields.
11. Dance enhances an individual’s lifelong quality of life.
12. Participation in dance benefits our communities economically.
13. Dance education helps students develop physical fitness, appreciation of the body, concern for sound health
practices, and effective stress management approaches.
14. Dance education contributes to the National Education Goals. [California actually includes dance in the state
standards, but unfortunately does not require districts to provide dance courses.
If you have not signed your child up for a dance class yet, I hope you'll contact us at Creative Dance and Movement. If your child doesn't seem interested in dance, I encourage you to contact a swimming or gymnastics program, a soccer, baseball or basketball program, yoga, bicycling, running, trampoline... something, just get your child moving! I encourage you to be sure your child is moving for a couple of hours everyday and that this be a lifestyle you work hard to maintain for your child. She will benefit from it in ways that will follow her the rest of her life. While you're at it, you should take a class or get your walking, running, or dance shoes on and get moving too! You'll be so glad you did. :)
When I started this dance business in the elementary schools several years ago, one of my goals was to rejoin and reintroduce to students imagination and movement as partners, as I'd used them throughout my childhood. The school program's motto quickly developed into "Blending the magic of childhood imagination with movement and dance."
Later when I launched the program in the studio, imagination was still a central focus. I noticed quickly that as the children began to trust me and their dance peers, they began to express themselves uniquely through dance. The studio program began to develop its own purpose and a new motto arose: "Helping children find their dance voice."
With the schools continuing to invite me back and teachers often pulling me aside to discuss the physical, learning and/or behavior problems certain students exhibit, I became increasingly interested in the brain and how movement and learning are related. In 2011, I set off for Seattle to receive 70 hours of intensive training from award winning dance education specialist and author, Anne Green Gilbert, and dance educator, Dionne Kamara of New York. There, I learned hands on about movement, dance, the brain and learning, and the key connections between them. I learned the vital importance of the fundamental movement patterns of human development and how focusing on these patterns aids learning at all ages.
Now, all this sounds so very serious and dance is supposed to be fun, right? Of course it is! However, one must not ignore the fact that all of the dance students are growing and learning too. What point am I making?
Here it is:
Movement is at the very core of how children learn and develop intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically. If the movement is spontaneous outdoor play, the child is learning. If the movement is structured and in a controlled setting, the "teachable moment" is available to the instructor. Why pass it up? So, each student at Creative Dance and Movement continues their exploration and use of imagination; continues to learn to value their own movement style and movement decisions; continues to learn creativity through the exploration of dance elements and concepts; and added to all that, in each class dancers cycle through the fundamental movement patterns they were born to do.
Creativity And Process-based Dance Exploration (Plus: I Promise I'm Not Dissing Ballet!)
As a teacher in my own studio and as a business owner, I've just completed my third year. Obviously, my interest is in teaching children about creativity through dance and enriching children's childhood experience while helping reinforce cognitive development. My hope is you get that by now after exploring this blog or other pages on the website. But....aren't the children supposed to be the students?
Of course, the answer is simple. We are all students. If we are even paying the slightest attention, we are all learners. This year I became acutely aware of the fact that I too am learning... easy lessons, fun lessons, hard lessons and painful lessons.
Fun and easy --
An example of a fun lesson is learning that you can give almost any object to a group of children who have embraced the notion that movement is dance and creativity is "all good", and they'll take that object and create amazing dances.
An easy lesson is learning that parents support their child's teacher, and I really mean support, "got your back" - "stepping up" - "how can I help?" support, when they see how their child is growing from her experience with you.
Hard and painful --
It's the hard and painful lessons that hit you upside the head when you least expect them and though of value, you hope never to have another such lesson...ever. This year I learned just such a lesson.
Here it is: Listen to what the child is telling you, first and foremost, even if she doesn't have the words to "tell" you. This year I learned painfully to allow even a three year old's message to take precedence over her mother's. In this case, I spent two semesters working hard coaxing and encouraging a child who loved dance class, but was very shy. Sometimes it was trying, but I was happy to help her grow and learn to trust. After semester one, she was clearly not interested in performing at the dance recital, something I repeatedly state is optional and exclusive of the dance classes themselves. Her parents wanted her to participate, seeing it as a milestone: "If she just gets on the stage, it will be a success for her." She participated, but really only stood onstage looking incredibly unhappy. I supported them and praised the child for her achievement, as did they.
In the new dance season (her second semester), I saw tremendous improvement in her behavior in class. Her parents and I were very happy with her growth. During our third semester when the class started learning a new recital dance, this little three year old regressed. She became pouty and found little ways to exclude herself from learning the fun little dance. In my goal to make this a "no pressure" experience for such young dancers, I gently coaxed and encouraged and then let her be.
After weeks of this, I emailed mom to explain my concerns. I was realizing that mom's agenda did not match her child's and that perhaps her child should be listened to. Mistake number 2.
Lesson: Always speak personally with the parent about a challenging child. Mom did not take kindly to my concern for her child and wrote me a very long email explaining her expectations from me as the teacher. Had we had a personal conversation, I don't believe she would have had the nerve to say what she emailed, and I believe she would have heard my concern in my tone and the sincerity of my desire for her child's wellbeing. Instead, through her email, I came to understand that we need a new super hero...Hmmmmm... We have Superman; we have Wonder Woman. I know, we need Super Dance Teacher! "Super Dance Teacher, where are you? Be perfect! My child needs you!"
Well, I am the one she expected to take the serum that would turn me into Super Dance Teacher.
No thank you. I'll take being human, doing my best, and listening to your child any day over being Super Dance Teacher, as attractive as she is.
Childhood Separation Anxiety
I teach Dance. Dance teachers bring love and enthusiasm to the dance class, as well as a passion for sharing the art of dance. They love working with children. As a dance teacher, I strive to encourage children to trust their choices, grow in new directions, challenge themselves and accept instruction and constructive criticism graciously. I teach dance
8550 Prunedale North Rd, Suite B
Prunedale, California 93901
Why Do We Have Brains And What In The World Does That Have To Do With Dance?
But I digress. My job, first and
to trust the experience, we enroll her in the program. However, occasionally a child simply isn’t ready for the experience. Sometimes upon realizing this, the most disappointed person is the parent who had such high hopes for their little dancer. However, all is not lost. I estimate that 95% of the children I meet who are not ready for the experience, come back to try anywhere from 3 months to a year later. Of that number, virtually all have been ready when they returned. The parents of the one or two who still were not ready after another try or two acknowledge that their children are effected by severe shyness, and of course occasionally there is a child who simply lacks interest in participating in this specific activity.
The additional challenge sometimes presented has to do with parental expectations, disappointment, and pride. Most often, a parent’s expectations, when not fulfilled, are what dance teachers and studio owners have the hardest time dealing with. We can work to coax a child and before long a child will let us know if she is willing to be coaxed. Parents, I’ve been told, sometimes wonder if their child or even their parenting is being judged when they are told by a teacher that their child might not be ready, or when a teacher and other parents see that the child won’t separate and participate in a class. The fact is, we are never disappointed in a child who is not ready to separate, and we certainly don’t blame parents when this happens. Normal human development is the greatest factor in separation readiness. All children develop in all ways at their own pace. They don’t all walk, talk, potty train, or separate at the same age. It is our job to respect where a child is in the developmental process at all points in time, not to blame a parent if a child is not ready to separate. She will be when the time is right. A two and a half or three year old who has always been at home with Mommy all along, may not be ready to separate at her first dance class. (Note: This can be an influencing factor, but not a determining factor in readiness. Some jump in with both feet, not looking back once!)
Tips for Parents
Parents, it is important for you to know that it takes time for a child to warm up to a new situation. In fact, children may take several weeks to feel comfortable in a class. A lot can be absorbed and learned through observation, therefore, pushing or forcing the child is not necessary. Young children, when feeling insecure may insist (through body language, tears, or words) that they feel safer with a parent in the room. At Creative Dance and Movement, we strive to have children enter with their teacher, leaving parents in the lobby. Teachers need to establish the routine students will follow during their session, establish their authority and their expectations. Additionally, this is the child’s dance class; her special time to socialize with children her age, discover her own identity as an individual among other children and teachers, and learn in a setting that is “her own.” However, when a child signals that entering the studio without a parent is not an option, we are happy to have a parent quietly sit in the studio providing the child whatever security she needs. After a few classes, parent, child and teacher will know if the that class at that moment is what’s right for her.
Here are some ideas to help your hesitant child:
Remember, we all learn to separate. Your child will too. Guaranteed!
Most parents are much more familiar with a dance class structure that includes a lot of imitation of stylized movements. The best creative dance classes designed for children in elementary school guide dancers in the creation of choreography which is developed as a result of decisions and choices they’ve made during the exploration of movement. Dancers are encouraged to discover rather than mimic. They are introduced to the basic elements of dance, including levels, energy, and spacial awareness.
Creative dance and modern dance classes for children, teens and beyond should offer the opportunity to continue the exploration of dance elements and learning of choreographic structures while doing plenty of improvisation, helping the dancer to expand her movement vocabulary.
Whatever the age level, creative dance, modern dance and creative movement students learn to appreciate their own individuality and the uniqueness of others, thereby enhancing the dancer’s self confidence.
Dance teachers want each dance they teach to be unique and challenging, but also within the abilities of each dancer. Creating choreography year after year that appeals to the children and is also entertaining to the audience is challenging. I choreograph at the studio sometimes, but more often I do it at home while dinner is cooking, or while the clothes are in the dryer, or between breakfast and my run to the bank with the tuition payments, or while I’m brushing my teeth before bed. No time is a bad time and sometimes it’s the only opportunity that particular day.
Conscientious dance teachers will continue to take classes for themselves so they will stay excited about dance. Classes and gym time will also keep a dance teacher in shape and relatively limber (age takes some of that away) so she can demonstrate skills well to her students.
The 10 Items On My To-Do List
It is hard for me to believe that it has been two years since my last blog post. It isn’t that I haven’t thought of a variety of things I’d like to share, it’s just that I’ve been very occupied with a blossoming dance studio and enjoying my personal life. Okay, I’ve been busy!
I know, I know. We are all busy.
But it’s true! When I started Creative Dance and Movement, I had 15 students and time on my hands. Now, inching our way toward 200 students, it’s just a simple fact, I’m busy!
I once read a blog post titled, “10 Things Every Dance Teacher Does,” or something like that. It listed ten things that parents may not realize dance teachers do, other than teach. Ah, that never ending to-do list... That blog post came to mind as I realize I’ve been too busy to prioritize my own blogging. In this post, I'll use what I remember from that post as a backbone to telling you the 10 things I do to make CDM a reality. I do WAY more than ten things as a dance studio teacher/director, but the fact remains that most people probably don’t really realize all that goes into this job. I mean, to some I'm sure it pretty much looks like I just jump around and have a good time with little children a few hours a day, but there is so much more to my job than that!
What goes on behind the scenes at a dance studio? Can I list my job in only 10 bullet points? Now THAT’s a challenge and I’m game. Here goes!
1. Let’s start with the obvious.
2. Think like a producer
Dance teachers want to dance and teach dance. But along with owning a studio, usually comes putting on a show. As the studio director, I have to think about the big picture and come up with a theme each year that will excite students and (hopefully) entertain parents and family members. Once the theme is chosen, it has to be developed. Sometimes this comes together with relative ease, but not usually. Planning a production means lighting, sound, props and details, details, details. I spend weeks (months?) figuring these details out and finding the right people to support the effort.
3. Search for just the right music
Once I have a recital theme, I searche iTunes for hours looking for just the right song for each class. It can’t be too annoying (parents have to listen to it too! - And so do I, week after week); It can’t be too cheesy; it has to be age appropriate; and it has to have the right energy. Once I’ve finally decided on each song, if any of them aren’t quite right (e.g. too long), I have to edit them. Not always an easy task. Sometimes the song is too short, so I edit it to make it longer, or go on another search for just the right poem or complimentary instrumental music to tag onto the front or back end of the song. I’ve even written and recorded my own short poems as openings for dances for which the song was just too short.
4. Select Costumes
I search through a variety of costume catalogues and websites looking for cute, affordable costumes that will enhance the story the dancers are trying to tell. Trying to outfit so many dancers and not all in pink is a challenge! Variety of color and style, as well as finding good quality costumes parents feel okay about spending an arm and a leg for is not easy. Then comes measuring the students; trying to figure out the size charts and ordering all the costumes. Again, hours and hours are spent on all these tasks just so when I’m finally done, I can wait and sweat nervously. (More on that later.)
6. Who me, worry?
Yes, I worry. Will the child who always wants to go last gain the confidence she needs to get onstage? Dance teachers want all of their students to succeed. Their hearts ache when a student is struggling to find courage or getting frustrated learning a combination. Trust me, we worry a lot. We lose sleep worrying. Will the costumes get here in time? Will everything fit? Will the videographer, photographer, lighting tech, auditorium manager come through in time? Will everything come together?
7. Push through the pain
Not all dance teachers are 25 years old. I’m certainly not! I have injuries that revisit regularly and occasionally new aches and pains pop up. I still have to be everything I can be for each little dancer who comes to class excited and eager to dance. Some injuries take months to heal. On two separate occasions I had to wear clunky jazz sneakers to all my classes, including ballet and modern, because the nerve running between the metatarsal join in my right foot was pinched and very sore. It healed… nine months later. Then my left foot decided to give it a go. But, it’s my job to push through the pain and I wouldn’t have it any other way. :)
8. Take dance classes
9. Professional Development
She will also take classes related to teaching dance to children. Teaching is both an art and a skill, completely separate from the skills required to dance. These skills need to be nourished and they need to grow so the dance teacher can provide quality instruction for her students.
10. Connect to parents
Communication is a huge part of running a dance studio. It can be for reasons as mundane as contacting parents who are behind in payments and as vital as contacting a parent whose child is struggling socially in dance class, or checking up on a child who has been ill to see if she is doing better. I also reach out to families who have not had a child enrolled for a season or two and to parents who have expressed an interest in enrolling a child, but have not done so yet. This includes emailing, calling, creating Facebook posts and keeping the studio website updated and inviting.
Honestly, this list could go on and on. There are many aspects to working with children, teaching an art and running a business. There are endless tasks and the fact is that lots of support from parents, friends, staff and family make it all possible. Do I miss eating dinner at a normal hour? Yes. Do I miss being home when my husband gets home from work, like back when my kids were little and I was not yet running this business? Yes. There certainly are some sacrifices involved in this job. But I love what I do and I’ve grown a huge amount through this experience. I have met some of the best and kindest parents, some of the funniest children, and very thoughtful children and parents, too. I've also made priceless friendships. And I have discovered that I am capable of something beyond what I had imagined.
Starting a new dance year brings some challenges. These challenges are not just my own as a dance teacher and studio director. Some of my small dancers experience a huge challenge: separation anxiety. Some are separating from their grown-up for the first time ever and others, though not for the first time, have limited experience being separated from their parent or guardian. Others, even if they go to school and separate with no problem, may find that an extra class just pushes them over the edge. Of course, some children are characteristically shy, causing new situations like dance class to be very stressful. The challenge for the dance teacher is both to work to alleviate the hesitant child’s anxiety and to be available to properly work with all the other young dancers who may or may not have separation issues.
Alleviating A Child's Anxiety
If a child is inherently shy, alleviating her anxiety can prove to be a near impossible task. However, it can be done with patience. When a child walks through the studio door, it is my job to introduce myself to her and try to connect in a friendly, inviting and, obviously, non-threatening way. Similarly, it is her parent’s job to model comfort interacting with me and excitement about being at the studio for dance class. Almost always, these brief interactions between child, parent and dance teacher are all that is necessary to make a child feel safe separating from her parent. However, sometimes, try as we might, a child is not convinced.
Copyright 2013. Jennifer Crowley. All rights reserved.