Starting now, we will take a closer look at our primary work fields of dance. I begin with teaching as it is one that applies to most of us, and I consider it to be the most reliable one.
A good teacher should bring the following:
- A gameplan, being the things you teach, aka the curriculum.
- A toolbox of techniques and ideas to help people progress as fast as possible.
- An understanding of the needs of your students.
Your curriculum is the content of your classes. You decide what to teach and in which order. A lot of people copy the curriculum of their teachers without changing or questioning it. That is a bad practice. Your teacher, most likely, has another pool of knowledge and experiences as you have. Creating your curriculum and writing it down makes you think about how you want to approach teaching others. It streamlines the whole process and helps you to refine it. Having your curriculum in writing also helps you to keep track of what you did and what you will do, you can use it to promote your classes or hand it out to the students as a reminder.
For example, when teaching breaking, I do not show the six-step in the first lesson. Some of my colleagues think this is a sacrilege, as the step is considered the base of footwork. I agree that it is a crucial step, but I believe that someone who has never moved on the floor before, is not ready to do this in a way that makes sense immediately. So I teach them basic positioning on the floor, the Russian, CCs, Scrambles and Back-Shuffles before moving on to the six-step. These more manageable steps help the people to develop a feeling for floorwork and approach the six-step differently as when I would jump directly into it.
You don’t have to take this idea into your curriculum. But as I have my thoughts behind doing so, you will have your intentions why you would do things a certain way. Let these thoughts influence how you teach.
Don’t limit your curriculum to moves. Add space for explaining music, history, concepts and everything else you consider valuable when approaching dance. Show the ways dance is done – in cyphers, battles or on stage with fixed choreography. Give them the whole package.
But on the other hand: Be real! Don’t put stuff in your curriculum that you don’t understand. If your students ask for it, be honest about it and give them what you know, but point out that it’s wise to ask someone else as well for the topic.
I stole the idea of the toolbox from Steven King. He writes about it in the book “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”. Your toolbox is your set of methods that you can use to teach what you know. The important word is “can”. You don’t have to use all the tools all the time, but you want to have them with you when you need them.
A plumber might only need one tool when coming to a clients house to fix an issue. But he does not know which device he will need. So he brings all his tools and chooses on-site.
It’s the same with teaching. On the top of your toolbox you have “show and tell”. It means you show what you want the students to learn and explain. It’s your everyday tool. If the students get what you want, you don’t need anything else. Job done. But otherwise, you will reach back into your toolbox and use some progressions to get the harder moves by learning prerequisites first and then drill them to make the guys fluent. You might throw in some practise games, include peer learning – where the students teach and correct each other – or call and response exercises. I will present all the tools that I know over time. For now, I want you to think about what methods you know and add them to your curriculum, so you don’t forget them. There might be some gems that you rarely use.
Understanding the Needs of your Students
Talking to and understanding your students is not directly teaching, but it is crucial to understand who they are and what they need. I recommend you dedicate a few minutes at the beginning of each class to talking and listening. Ask how they have been, how practice went and from time to time if there are particular topics they want to explore. When you ask how training went, you also imply that they work on the stuff outside. When some of them do, it should motivate others to do so as well.
Don’t make this all about small talk. Ask and listen to understand, not with the intention to reply. Use what you learn to improve your teaching.
On the other side: if you understand what the students need, but they don’t – tell them. It is your job to make them dance and grow. When they ask for things they don’t need, bring them back on track. Otherwise, you are in danger to become a dancing animator or a best-friend replacement. Ignore this piece of advice if that is your niche – it’s a viable one if you want to fill that role.