Why does developing skills present a challenge?

In our lessons, the Developing Skills component is the time to practice specific skills that the teacher models for the children. This teacher-directed segment is about hard-wiring; getting the steps and doing them correctly.   It stands out as a time of concentration rather than creative freedom.

I got to thinking why creative dance succeeds with young children and certain older children where technique classes fail.  Imagine a class only based on developing skills, and you get some idea as to why ballet for children doesn’t always go over so well!

Sometimes it is hard for both teachers and students to change gears in a creative class to address skills.  So what’s the solution?

For across-the-floor activities:

1) Layer. Build from simple to complex to promote success.  Chasse or side slide, then layer on arms.  Layer on changes of direction and focus.  If the chunks are appropriately bite-sized, more students are willing to reach up to their “zone of proximal development.”

2) Chain. Take the smaller pieces and string them together into interesting longer phrases.  I know this is obvious, but worth mentioning.  I like to add a special surprise or twist to some part of the material for interest and to complete the idea.

3) Think musically.  Teaching breath and phrasing brings the movement to life and helps students see the arc of the phrase.  Use vocables and other vocal strategies to convey the phrasing.

4) Choose music that excites and energizes. For big energy movements, I look for dynamic music to get students psyched.  I’m “old school.”  I like Earth, Wind and Fire,  for example.  I also like world beat.  My feeling is that I want to use music my students don’t usually hear so that they can get a jolt of “cultural literacy” too.

5) “Zipper” in creative choice. Alternate between the skill and a creative moment, such as “4 counts of your own thing” or “freeze in a shape.”   Perhaps it relates to a concept of the day.

6) Give meaningful feedback. A well-timed insight helps students grow.

7) Include relating. Have the phrases “comb” through one another, or have two sides meet in the middle for part of the phrase. Work in partners to side slide.

What are some solutions you have for making skill-building engaging for your students?


November 3, 2011. Tags: , , . Developing Skills.


  1. Kerry replied:

    Great post! Yes, I am trying do this even with the ballet classes I teach. I want all all my student to develop skills, but also to be able to think and problem solve. Several of my classes this year tend to have student at various levels. I like to give options also. I sometimes say this is levle 1, 2, and 3. You choose your level and then try to move up when you feel you are ready (I do this only for ages 8+). It puts students in charge of their learning and challenges all.

  2. Kerry replied:

    In my reflecting. I really miss offering creative dance classes and want to startthem up again. I did introduce creative ballet, but was wondering the ideal “target” age to offer such a class for. Some parents think creative dance is for “preschoolers”……..I want to offer it to all age groups, but wondering how it will go over.

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