By: Susan Angell-Gonzalez (President/CEO ShowMakers of America / Former Texas State University Strutters Director/Choreographer)
As dance teachers, we have all had to deal with a student who has a problem with not being selected to perform on the front row or be featured in some way or another. For the most part, students and parents alike do not understand the reasoning of how you stage or block a routine. Your methodology is foreign to them and they feel threatened or sometimes discriminated against. How can you prevent this from happening?
Educate Your Students
Explain to your students how you stage and block your routines so that they are familiar with your procedures and expectations. As the former director/choreographer of the Texas State University Strutters, my team knew that the performance block was based on “blendability.” They didn’t always understand it or agree with it, but they accepted it. I placed strong anchors (dancers) within the block and blended stronger and weaker dancers around this. I never put all of my best dancers on the front row (or my weakest on the back row). During training camp, and when it came to high kick evaluation, I challenged them to four levels by placing them in four rows according to their strength technically. Row one was the strongest kickers, row two next, then three, and four weakest. The team worked hard to be removed from their row and made it a goal to move to row one. Eventually, the team started a high kick performance in one line and everyone was front and center!
Know Your Students
Make it a point to know all of your students’ strengths and weaknesses. And in the beginning, make sure that you know their name even if it means they have to wear name tags for weeks. It’s natural to gravitate toward two or three of the strongest students on your team, and unintentionally, overlook dancers who don’t stand out. But you have a responsibility to motivate these students and help them reach their full potential. By maintaining an inclusive attitude and employing some simple logistics, you will keep the entire team in focus.
As a director/choreographer, it helped when I was able to move around and observe my students in their skill stations. I had each officer assigned to a certain skill working with small groups. I took time to walk around the perimeter and observe the progress of all of my students. It gave me the opportunity to give positive feedback and assist those that seemed less motivated. In smaller groups, you can see where they are struggling and take some time to break things down one-on-one. It's also important to take note when students apply these corrections. When you see students making improvements, verbally acknowledge and praise their efforts. This is a huge incentive for them. It can be very demotivating for dancers if they can’t keep up, or if they’re always feeling overlooked. This is why skill stations and my observation made a difference in routine blocking. Keeping ALL of my students engaged, motivated, and focused was the key to success.
Give Everyone a Chance to Shine
All students can be acknowledged for something they do well. It was my intent to zone in on their strengths. When you do this, it gives them a sense of ownership. If a student demonstrates good musicality or is the only one to apply a general correction, those are opportunities to showcase that dancer. And, other students on the team can then appreciate that everyone has something to offer. When teaching new choreography, include dancers of all levels by designing sections specifically for them. Still make it challenging, but let them feel included. It’s our opportunity as teachers to remember that they’re not just bodies, but people. Congratulate these students when they make even a small amount of progress, knowing that for them, it might be a big leap forward.
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