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  • Writer's pictureJordan Woods

Beyond the Demonstrator: Day Three – on Writing Dance, Video Demonstrators, and Period Movement

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

Now in this concrete jungle, we have to make every step count. New or old, fresh discoveries lie at the hand of those willing to work for Themselves, honey. On this three-class day, we are on the up and up as I found a new way for me to write out movement vocab, working with demonstrating videos, and teaching stylized moves from the 1920’s. Let’s get it.

Photo: Dave Moore Photography

Jr. Musical Theater Dance

At the start of class, I let them giggle and connect with one another as well as connect with myself. Showing off that I am indeed “broken” and have to wear a brace.

We started our warm up. Which they caught on to pretty well as I called it out. Now as a demonstrator I also call out the moves through the warm up, usually lining up the timing with the music right before each move would transition I would call it out, or just call it out while I would do the next move right on the down beat expecting them to follow. So called “Follow the Leader” style. My instinct turned to that, which I found had a slight delay from the students. Although interestingly enough, these kids both were able to still focus forward at the mirror (themselves) then peering off to the corner at me to check in.

Today, I wanted to make sure I got to the combination. The 1920’s combination I had previously planned. It’s gonna be 2020…so a hundred-year-old dance seemed appropriate and exciting. Plus, the countless number of 1920’s musical themed shows are plentiful. Applicable.

The two main stylized moves I focused on were sugars and the Charleston. I chose these because when it comes to these moves that involve moving, multiple moves beyond the gestural, or several steps takes a bit more time to comprehend. I started with Sugars and had them do what most people can understand which is to Twist in place. Was picked up smoothly, easy enough. Now at this point I had prepared a youtube video that demonstrates both Sugars and The Charleston. So I decided now would be a good time, to share said video to have another visual aid of the move – a video demonstrator. Yessss….I think it planted an idea of the moves. BUT I do believe they also got caught up in the performance quality of the showmanship of the performers from a platform they probably use daily for entertainment. Also after watching, some students discovered a modified version of the Charleston and got caught up in doing this variation. This became a struggle when teaching something new when they already knew they could be successful at something else.

BACK to the sugars. I regrouped them back to the twist. Coached them to first move their knees side to side in the same direction. I supported this by trying to using hand gestures to parallel the knees. Next, I tried to have them twist but up on their toes. A concept they are familiar with from jazz walks. This started to transform some to move like baby fawns turning from both knees into more like one knee twists, but up on your toes…oof. Once we redacted that, the look still didn't look right. I knew that sugars moved so I encouraged them to move with the twist which clicked for some. For those progressing, to get them to move I emphasized that the weight needs to shift from side to side. After that break down, and keep reinforcing the knee movements did they start to get it.

The Charleston, for today, I primarily focused on just the steps without all the flairs. A step forward, a tap, a step back, tap back – two moves forward, two steps back. Connect it with our warm up were we do step touches. A full weight bearing step, and a nonbearing weight tap with the toes from the countering foot. If I could get that from everybody – then I would be pretty content. Explain the weight shift is super super super important. I tried to help coach individual students, which left the other students untethered even though I told them to practice the two moves. I even pointed out students who were picking it up well and had them show (basically what they had come with). I am not the biggest fan of working one on one/coaching within a larger group but how do I get others to follow the exemplary student? Someone who can demonstrate within their peers, and then motivated them to take action to learn it?

Then we got started on the actual combination from “Thoroughly Modern Mille”. Which they started working through well AND WE DIDN’T EVEN GET TO THE SUGARS PART AHHH!!! But it’s good, all good.

Jr. Beg. Tap

Lead a private. The student is a little more advanced than a pure beginner. I broke down my advanced Tap warm up. The only barrier beyond the demonstrator was a series of moves that involved turning and a couple ball changes, but after connecting the steps with which foot is leading, we got through it. Again, where is the weight? Which foot is the dominating, or more eventful foot?

Jr. Adv. Tap

This class is a little more independent in the sense they are starting to cruise through the warm ups and across the floor exercises with strong execution. Ending with the goal of this semester being pull backs, syncopated pull backs, and grab offs. But we ended up rolling right into the combination pretty quickly. It had been two weeks since we visited this combination, but you never know the level of what they remember. Plus, I was in a new state of being – and wanted to reteach it using Tap vocabulary.



- Now my prep for this was a little different in how I usually would document choreography movement. Instead of videoing myself dancing – I felt the need to transcribe. Which takes a little more time but is the best solution to remember moves. Here are some techniques I discovered when transcribing movement!

RL Double draw backs

R Heel brush , R Shuffle toe heel , L stomp

R “Toe brush heel” (drawback) heel drop, L Toe – R Toe

R heel – L Heel – R Heel, toe

L 5pt Cramp - R foot meets

Buffalo x2 to the R

Jazz square - R leg crosses over L (only two steps, cross and backwards)

R Maxi – with the R tip

LR Tack Ani

Maxi Turning to the R

Best methods for me when transcribing movement:

1) Start with which foot you are going to use, R or L

2) Use a – to show that moves are connected

3) Use commas to articulate change in rhythm

4) Change lines to separate larger groups of movements into new phrases, or 8 counts.

5) Bonus points for your memory if you “Lyrics” phrases you’re working in quotations above the movement transcription.

6) Highlight the move transcription so can see it separated out but the eye can still be drawn to the movement notes.

“Thoroughly modern mille” – 0:34

“everything today is totally modern, check your personality”

Charlestown RL forward, then back – rainbow down, shrug shoulders R heel kicks outx2

“everything today makes yesterday slow, better face reality”

four square hands flick LRLL. Twist up to bob head, bounce x2

“it’s not insanity, says vanity faire”

– grape vine RL, 3 step turn– pivot x2 on one leg to face R – out and side

- Grape vine twice

“in fact it’s stylish to raise your skirts and bob your hair”

hands on thighs squat, look to front. Two slow sugars, 8 fast Sugar

“have you seen the way they kiss in the movies, isn’t it delectable”

Chugs RLRR, LR, step touch


Another helpful tip for creating choreography with easier approaches to communication is a focus on musicality and even more asset might be use the lyrics. Using the rhythm of the lyrics to help guide the movement is super helpful beyond clapping or rhythmic sounds. Even when there were errors in my transcription, which the students doing the movement discovered, my instinct was use the lyrics and band aid the movement by adding a small rhythmic change based on the rhythm of the lyric tempo.

The rest of the class I felt attuned to drilling the movement, adding music, drilling/cleaning, then adding more the choreography. I felt cleaning early was a wise choice for this group of students because for them making sure the tap sounds were true and not brushing over it was important. It also made me feel un-rushed to cough up a ton of choreography and leave the stragglers behind. I’m not one to usually check the clock in the need to escape teaching, but this method did give me some reassurance I was using my time in an efficient way where I wasn’t wasting their time and they could walk away with confident solid steps so that maybe next week that part would be super solid and take even less time to review.

Post Class:

I know there’s not a ton of discussion of all the decisions a Dance teacher has to during a class. And I hope this supplies some comfort that even through recovery you still have to make these calls even if you were mobile. It’s a little less fun for you the teacher, but you truly get to OBSERVE in front of your eyes how students meet challenges, own the movement, support each other, and can correct errors BEYOND THE DEMONSTRATOR. Without a tall, all knowledgeable, adult, to hide behind or block. In a way, you are coming down to their level by not showing off that you have the answers with perfect execution. They get a chance to discover on their own. That’s pretty neat. I keep catching myself saying things like “That was so cool! Not what I’m asking for, but that was really cool!”. And it truly is brilliant what people can come up, other than one way to do things. There should never be one way. What I admire is that they HAVE TO commit to a choice movement in order to discover on their own, and then take correction.

I wonder how other movement classes, like Cycling, could take up or vary their classes using this almost Coaching approach? Let me know what you think.

- Jordan Woods

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