Four Ways to Feed the Spark
The little girl you see in this photo is a dancer. She does not hope or aspire to be one someday. She IS a dancer at this moment. This beautiful young lady with the impish grin walked into Susquehanna Dance Center wanting to dance and I have had the pleasure of training her since her first day. She pushes herself. She believes in herself. She encourages her classmates and those who are in the younger class as well. She has the heart and mind of a dancer right now. She, and those like her, are the reason why I love training young dancers.
I have heard it said that the young dance program is the "throw away class" in most studios. Many say these are "the classes so easy that they can be taught by anyone in the studio". I have heard the classes designed for the students who are between the ages of three and nine can 'easily be taught by other students because they don't actually matter." "Take the money, make them cute and continue until they get to the point where they can pay attention and dance." Oh no my friends, this is quite far from the truth. There is so much that can be learned in these early years of dance. This is when the entire foundation is developed. This is where the spark for ballet begins.
My passion is for training young dancers. It is something I honestly love and enjoy doing. I am quite lucky in that our dance mistress at Susquehanna Dance Center also values the importance in making sure the youngest dancers are trained from the start. Allow me show you how I feed the spark in the youngest dancer while still respecting the traditions of classical ballet.
Treat them like dancers not children
There are few things more distasteful to young dancers than to be treated like a child. Even the youngest dancers are quite quick to tell all around them that they are not babies. The first day my younger dancers walk into the studio, I explain that I do not train cats, dogs, birds, or babies. I train short and tall dancers. This simple statement sets the tone for the rest of their time in the studio and I believe in life as well.
Encourage independent thought and creativity
When using imagery in the class to explain complex concepts. I encourage the students to use imagery that works for them. Sometimes the concept of working through our port de bras as if we are moving through bubblegum (a concept provided by the student in it this post) is all that is needed for the movement to click with the individual dancer.
Don't fear making mistakes
We are imperfect creatures. In ballet that is quite evident as we strive for perfection with many mirrors surrounding us and reminding us of every fault. As teachers we push our students toward perfection. At the same we can not allow ourselves or our students to fear mistakes. Mistakes are only a way to point us toward how to succeed. They are never evidence of our failure in anything. The students hear and see me make mistakes often. They hear me discuss things that are a challenge for me (mad faces, remembering left and right...) and encourage me to continue to try. When a student falls, we do not coddle them. We applaud them because they went for it and encourage them to try again.
Laughter is your friend
In everything we do and in everything I teach there is laughter. There is laughter when we use silly imagery. We giggle at our mistakes and applaud when we get up to try again. We smile at our faults and push ourselves harder. We form a community of laughter and hard work. I tell many people that we laugh in ballet because one must love it and enjoy it...after all, it is not the most comfortable sport in the world!
I love teaching. I feel excited by teaching our youngest dancers. I love watching the look of understanding that comes across their faces as they realize that their superpower is a tiny spark that becomes a flame to share with the world.
What are things you do to feed the spark in your youngest artists?