Focus on Youth: Tiny Dancers
26 June 2012
The joys of working with very little tots and starting them off on a life of dance
Working with very young children takes a lot of hard work and preparation and may seem daunting at first, but it can also bring huge rewards, particularly when you think how you’ve started them on what might end up being a life-long love of dance!
Feeding the imagination is essential, and using lots of imagery, storytelling and play can help to enhance their understanding of basic dance skills. Giving children the chance to choose can also help keep their attention, maybe voting between two choices of music for one movement, or choosing whether to do an exercise quickly or slowly, or happily or sadly. Using props, such as simple scarves or hoops, and offering positive feedback can also help.
They will take the lead from your energy and enthusiasm, so being a bit over-the-top and varying the noise levels in the classroom can help maintain their interest. Keeping them moving and stimulated is vital and part of your preparation should be to be over prepared, with more activities available to switch between than you might actually need. You can always use the extra exercises next time!
On the following pages, two dance teachers share their own experiences of creating classes to inspire the very youngest of dancers. Please send us in your own tips and techniques – we would love to share them with our readers in future issues of DANCE!
Making Disco fun for tots
The pre-school market provides an excellent ‘bottom layer’ into any dance school and will constantly introduce a new generation of parents and children into your studio. It will keep your business thriving and provide loyal customers for many years.
“The secret to a great class for very little people is to create a brand/theme around it that will appeal to this age group”
The secret to a great class for very little people is to create a brand/theme around it that will appeal to this age group. Think about what music young children like and how you can incorporate it into your classes. Consider a sound structure that will appeal to their imagination and keep them interested for the whole session.
As dance teachers, we all know that the capabilities of two to three year-olds grasping the concept of dance routines are impossible. It is also a further challenge to grasp their imagination and keep their attention for any length of time. Within my experience of working with this age group, I have found that young children come alive and respond to actions – they also respond naturally and rhythmically to the beats from pop music.
The very first emphasis should be fun! However, each song or tune should have a very real learning outcome. This could be to develop rhythm and timing, or gross and fine motor skills within the expectation of the age group it is geared to.
Our classes are delivered using visual props which reiterate a story or theme that grasps the children’s imagination and draws them into the class. As well as spending many hours sourcing imaginative pre-school props which can be used to tie in with a theme, I also write songs and stories that will accompany the class. Hard work and lots of planning, but the reward is definitely worth it!
The exercises should move quickly, so the children don’t get bored or lose interest. The repetition required is achieved through changing the way the exercise is delivered, for example, turning it into a fun music or dance themed game.
Games which challenge listening skills are essential, as are enthusiasm and a sense of humour when teaching this age group!
My pre-school classes are the best thing I do every week. Not only does the music make me smile, it is a great start to my day. Young children of this age enjoy moving freely without the self-consciousness of an older child and provide an innocence which is extremely enjoyable.
Amanda Hughes, founder of Disco Duck
Pre-School Dance, and Fellow and Examiner for the ISTD
Inspiring the Ballet stars of the future
I would advise making classes as fun and imaginative as possible for little ones whose attention can often wander if not kept interested. Try starting off by asking them to imagine they’re fairies, sparkling ‘pixie dust’ on them. ‘Good toes naughty toes’ is a basic technique for getting children to point their feet. Ask them what treat they want to give their good toes, like chocolate, and with their naughty toes, we say they have to tell them off and pull grumpy faces.
We create lots of different stories, one being a princess and we go to the castle to find our prince. We put our dress, shoes and jewellery on, then we do our princess walks. We go through the woods and we come across a horse or a unicorn, you can ask them what colour their horse is. We feed them, then we hop on and do our pony gallops, arriving at the castle to see soldiers marching. We then do our marches – ‘cup of tea on the knee’ to encourage them to lift their knees up. We meet our prince and run on tippy toes with him or dance around.
We also do our froggie legs sitting on our lily pads rocking from side to side, catching our flies with our tongue. Then to get them to stretch forward, you can say they’re trying to catch a fish. Next we say let’s make diamonds or windows for the pliés, and you can ask them what’s going to fly through the window, which encourages them to turn out their knees more – if they say a bird or a fairy, then you can go flying around the room after. All these are useful ideas for teachers of young children and can sit well alongside Pre-Primary Ballet syllabus work.
Dance teacher, Raquel Gaviria assists at Baby Ballet classes for girls in north London
Dance Teacher Insurance
On your marks, get set, go…!
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