I am back from Blackpool after an enjoyable UKA conference and meeting up with dance teachers that I usually see annually at conference. For dance teachers working independently conference is a great opportunity to learn, develop and interact with other teachers.
I want to share a brief overview of my lecture. As there are several lectures going on at one time at conference you never know if you will have a good turn out for your lecture until the moments just before your lecture is about to start. I was delighted with the sizeable group of teachers who turned up to explore teaching matters with me on Saturday. It was also good that teachers from a whole range of dance genres came along to work together on matters of teaching that apply to all dance teachers teaching whatever dance genre/s. Thank you all very much for coming along to explore these important issues with me.
The session focused on communication in dance teaching and particularly on positive communication in dance teaching. I created three aspects to the lecture:
Part 1 – giving and understanding instructions
Part 2 – positive guidance and communication in dance teaching
Part 3 – positive communication in dance teaching
Part 1 involved the use of a communication exercise where teachers work in pairs (turned away from each other) or threes to either give or receive instructions. The idea of the exercise is for one teacher to give instructions to their colleague/s on how to draw a diagram (given to them at the session) and their colleague/s who have not seen the diagram use just these verbal instructions to draw it on a piece of paper.
The exercise worked well and generally there was a pretty good level of accuracy in those teachers receiving instructions and drawing the diagrams. The one or two hiccups that did occur, interestingly with quite a number in the group, we discussed and this highlighted the need for more specificity in instructions so that those receiving instruction are clear as to what they are required to do. We can draw on this idea of being specific when teaching.
We also briefly discussed teachers considering the different learning styles of students and taking these into account in the dance class. And we touched on encouraging dance students to be involved more in the learning process and to ask questions in class so that they are clear about what they are aiming to do.
Part 2 focused on exploring how we communicate when giving corrections or feedback in the dance studio. A key focal issue being for dance teachers to tell their students and dancers what they need to do in order to do it right and to avoid focusing on what they are doing wrong. When we focus on what is going wrong then that is where the dancer’s focus is, on what is wrong. It makes much more sense to encourage them to focus on what they need to do to get it right.
This led to a brief discussion about SMART planning and goals. This acronym has a few versions depending on who it is being used with but roughly it is:
Achievable or age-related
Timely or time-framed
Again this highlighted the importance of being specific.
You can read more about this topic in my PhD thesis, Ethical Issues in the Training and Development of Dance Teachers in the Private Sector. You can download this thesis for free from the downloads page on my ethicsdance site. Section 2.6.5 Dance Pedagogy in the thesis includes the SMART planning and goals as well as other useful pedagogical issues to consider.
Part 3 touched briefly on the need for dance teachers to reward effort along the way and not saving it for when the students reach the end goal. Student dancers put in a lot of effort when working on specific movements, steps or other aspects of their dance performance. By rewarding them for their effort (honestly) with praise, being as specific as possible, you are showing them that you notice and acknowledge the work they are putting in. An example of the impact of not acknowledging effort along the way is one that I have used before but it stood out to me as one that would resonate with others who have watched the film Billy Elliot (you can download my short paper, A Dancer is a Person, where I first used this example, from the downloads page on my ethicsdance site). I will put the extract about the Billy Elliot story below:
The film ‘Billy Elliot’ tells the story of a boy in a mining town in the North of England during the miner’s strike and his fight to study ballet. One scene showed ‘Billy’ practising pirouettes over and over again in his quest to get them right. The delight on his face was obvious when he showed his dance teacher his achievement but the delight instantly turned to disappointment when no praise was offered. Instead his arm placing was criticised.
In the film Billy’s dance teacher did not acknowledge Billy’s effort into improving his pirouettes. She simply ignored this effort and moved onto the next correction. We all need motivation to continue to work at something and in Billy’s case he needed some acknowledgement of the work he had put into his pirouettes. It can take a long time to master certain aspects of dance but with some specific, honest, acknowledgement of the effort being put in students are motivated to continue working because they know that their efforts are being noticed and rewarded. In this way dance teachers can help to build confidence in their dance students.
There are always many more things that you want to explore in a short lecture like this one but there is never enough time. Hopefully in another lecture we can explore another aspect of dance teacher development.