I Teach Tiny Humans to Dance
Updated: Feb 16
I recently purchased a shirt that says that exact phrase. "I Teach Tiny Humans to Dance". I purchased it not because I needed another shirt or because I honestly completely thought about the implications of the shirt. I purchased this particular shirt because I saw it and thought it was accurate for me. I have worn this shirt once or twice but as I start this dance season, I realize how true this is for me. Most dance teachers teacher consider themselves as part of this profession because they teach a particular style of dance or because they teach aspiring dancers or performers. I am a dance teachers who teaches "tiny humans" what it means to feel their bodies, move in rhythm, love the feeling of moving with different types of music, and even make specific connections within their brains relating to dance and the world around them. I teach tiny humans to love what their bodies do when they move to music.
I would love to tell you about a specific group of young dancers I have the privilege of working with. I happen to be the dance teacher for a local Early Learning Center in York, PA. This particular center knows what dance and music does for the young brain and was excited to add this as part of their program. They were so excited about adding dance to their curriculum that they added for all students in their program. This means adding dance for ages 6 months to 6 years of age. Needless to say working with these tiny dancers as been such a happy and fulfilling time for me.
Many dance programs tend to view the youngest dance programs as the class that brings in the most revenue while at the same time, not valuing the worth of those classes to the dancers themselves. There is so much an individual tiny human can gain from being part of a dance class. The typical "Mommy and Me" program is one that is often used and there is value in it. However, I believe there is much more that can be gained from a dance class with our youngest dancers (who are pre-verbal and not walking).
How do you teach a tiny human who has not even realized that there is a world outside of themselves yet to dance? By showing them that they already have an innate since of movement, rhythm, and musicality and by giving them the freedom and ability to explore it. The class should not be one of "control" but one of exploration and discovery. In this way, the tiny dancers learn what their bodies are capable of and build a since of pride and autonomy in what they are doing as well as the realization that music and dance are something that should be enjoyed.
Allow me to give you a few practical suggestions for teaching even the tiniest dancers to dance.
View Each Dancer as the Artist They Are:
Many come to teaching with the "tabula rosa" mentality. Every child is an empty vessel waiting to be filled with the knowledge of the teacher. I see that view as one that is full of hubris and quite faulty. If you come to teaching dance with respect for the innate ability of each and every person in the room, the classroom becomes an interesting experimental ground in which to create art. I view each artist as a human who already has the art inside their own bodies and minds, it is my job to give them the vocabulary, confidence, tools and time with which to create art. When viewing the classroom, the students and dance in that way, a mind shift happens and art, creativity and beautiful inventions happen.
Give Yourself and Your Students the Chance to Dance in an Elemental/Organic Manner:
This tends to be quite a difficult point for some teachers. If you view the student as an artist in their own right, their ideas about a specific movement should be just as valuable as yours. Please understand that I am not saying we abandon all we know about dance and allow each tiny human to run around in circles turning your studio into a scene with the Kindergartners from Recess or Kindergarten Cop. That is not freedom, that is chaos. What I am speaking of is encouraging the creativity in their dance appropriate to their age. Give them the tools to dance with proper technique while at the same time honoring and encouraging their individuality.
"Teach What You See, Not What You Know":
Every teacher has a particular curriculum that they tend to follow. Some dance teachers follow a step by step program espoused by various pedagogical schools of thought. All of these schools of thought and study have validity in their own way. While I feel adhering to a specific pedagogy in terms of vocabulary and technique is important, I feel the order is something that needs to be one that should be flexible. If you look at the class and it seems that they need more time that day to perfect the battement tendu, as a teacher we should be wise enough to see this and find many ways to work on what is needed for the class at that time.
Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup:
I am stepping again into slightly controversial territory. The ratio of dancer to adult tends to be small in my youngest dancer classes. Even so, it is never a one to one ratio. There is always a place for "Mommy and Me" classes, but it is not in this environment. I want the dancers to view the dance class as their artistic creative environment. Realize I said that the environment is their artistic place. With that belief in place, I encourage even my youngest dancers to be autonomous as they move about the room, dance and explore. They quickly come to view the space as theirs and realize how much they can do on their own. The youngest dancers view the care giver as a safety net and naturally act differently in front of them. It is my desire that they become owners of their artistic endeavors and spaces. The care givers of the youngest dancers tend to have the biggest problem with this idea. I work to encourage the separation and assure them that the child is safe and learning.
Exposure to Real Tools is Essential to the Developing Artist:
Although there are many toy instruments and dance supplies sold to and for children, they are not made to honor the art. Trusting a young dancer with a real drum, a real rain stick, a real ballet barre and leotard encourages them to act like the artist they are inside. Toy instruments, tools and costumes are wonderful for home and play time, however treating the class as a part of the developing artist they will become encourages a respect and love of their work
I tend to teach my dance classes in quite an organic (elemental) manner. The younger the student, the more I am lead by them in the direction I need to go. I teach as if I am travel agent and not a conductor. I know the destination, but I also recognize that there are many ways to get there and for some, a detour may be needed. Some will go straight to their destination, and others may linger soaking up the atmosphere in a particular area. In teaching dance to the tiniest humans in this manner, it creates a life long love of dance and music in a way that resonates within them.