Beyond the Demonstrator: Day 2 - Call and Response, Anxiety, and Proximity.
Updated: Nov 21, 2019
In today's blog we look beyond the demonstrator, working with younger age groups, and searching for confidence in owning your studio space. Strap in. Day two of teaching, new studio, new students, new ways of working through recovery. Now today's classes entailed a Ballet class and a Jazz/Tap combo class. Here we go.
Photo: Dave Moore Photography
Ballet comes with its own structure. Working through the feet, tendu, plies, and building toward leaps. Which took me only a minute to review my ballet material and music. It was the Jazz/Tap class that I knew posed more of a challenge because with these beginner youth classes, I had frayed away from routine and used more a “follow along” technique where I would do a move or step/call it out. This is where reality kicked in…thinking what lies beyond the demonstrator to show this. Especially coming back to a class who's worked with another teacher while you were out at another gig.
Outline of Prep Work:
Ballet: Reviewed steps with music
Jazz: Teaching go-to cardio warm up, slow breakdown of stretching, confidence across the floor exercises
Tap: Routine tap warm up and stretching, across the floor exercise – Feeling the most confidence in teaching this style.
Now here is how it went.
Getting to the Studio:
I Ubered to the studio because I wanted to get there in plenty of time in case I was working with a demonstrator, someone who could demonstrate while I give instructions. Through a confusion of emails, it became known to me that wasn’t happening this today. I love the idea of a demonstrator, even though I’ve never worked with one before. But did have one in undergrad once for our ballet teacher.
Demonstrator: You the teacher or studio get another leader in the studio who students can model after. This way you get to still lead class and utilize this person to demonstrate (usually an advanced or older student). AND you get to have another leader in the studio. Which is great if working with younger kids.
Plus, this person had already been subbing my classes while I was away for a choreography gig, so they already knew the kids and how they’ve been working. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to come in the week I came back.
Once at studio I discovered there was no handicap automatic doors which, when using crutches, is difficult because both your hands are occupied. The head of education saw this, this was my first time seeing them post-surgery, and as I was handling doors they tried to help Making a comment about “not hurting myself more than I already am”. Which, I mean, great. Now I feel self-aware and less than because of my recovery. No other interactions were made after that as I settled into my classroom.
Setting up the Studio
Luckily, there were some chairs sprawled out so I didn’t have to do much short shoving around. I decided to have to chairs at the front in the middle of the room, one for me and the other for my leg and computer. They had a speaker that used Blue Tooth which is perfect for my situation and then I can be anywhere in the room. After that I was settled for class.
One student showed up. I usually start my ballet class with a video so student gain some insight into the performance style of ballet. Through the visual representation of videos, I am curious to see how students reflect and apply based on what they see. So far, very little luck beyond entertainment. Too much distance and impractical proportions. After a while the other students didn’t arrive, so I began a one on one ballet private.
This student is very gifted, but had a short attention span (she is 8). She would like to climb on the bars and write on the board while I taught during a normal day with other students. During this private, things were…different, better. Her being small and the ballet bars being metal took her a minute to figure out how to maneuver the bar out on her own.
Now usually my routine follows a playlist, with exercises corresponding alongside music. I quickly realized that the usual “teach the moves and try it with music” technique wasn’t going to work with this one. Instead I let music play, but mostly as a tracker for me. During the private, we did all the normal ballet things: stretching, port de brays, tendues, degages, ronde de jambs. Although instead of teaching the form, looking for comprehension, then adding music for musicality and rythem. I told her which moves to do and how many times to do it. Following the outline in my head but working individually move by move. Making it seem like a challenged based on if the reps went down or up for difficulty.
This of course, takes a lot more patience on the teacher’s behalf. With regular check ins on ballet vocab confirmed bit by bit she was paying attention. She was getting one-on-one attention and was significantly benefiting from it. Verses being easily distracted when the leader/demonstrator attention is divided. It’s hard to keep that balance of individual coaching and routine as a ballet master for the young – those teachers are invaluable.
It wasn’t until this new class started where we gained two students did…you guessed it… revert back to her old ways as my attention had to be divided. In this class I used the same technique of throwing the music and outlined movement to just letting the music play and coaching through the outline bit by bit. Even though we weren’t following a strict routine with the music, I started highly emphasized staying with the music. I mean, how can you step touch and not on the beat? I emphasized this by calling out the movement on the beat. Having to encourage them to go as fast as they can in order to keep up with the energetic tempo. In this age group, musicality is still a little foreign.
One obstacle I discovered was my proximity to the room. By being in the middle and having my leg prompted up on another chair in front of me – I felt I was twisting or being blocked from the students. I encouraged them to move more to my R side although their energy still scattered. At one point, another student touched the speaker, turning off the blue tooth. At this point I was starting to lose my patience because of a culmination of things and their inability to focus so that when this happened, I broke. My drill sergeant side teacher side came out. About how we shouldn’t be touching other people’s things – “not the mirrors, not the markers, and not the speaker because now I have to get up and use my crutches to walk all the way across the room to the speaker to figure out how to fix the blue tooth. Loosing valuable class time.” The class was silent as I awkwardly, no music playing (which is scary in a dance class), crutched my way over the speaker. Checking the time, I sternly spoke under my breath, “put on your tap shoes” as I configured the speaker.
Now Tap for me, is where I feel I have the class locked down. I know the ins and outs, I know the tricks of the trade. So, when it came time for Tap I knew I had to throw all the routine and outlines out the window again and just have them follow along as I call it out. Which worked. Although, again, doesn’t feel good for me as a teacher to be drilling them the whole time. Always trying to distinguish the difference between a fallap and shuffle, emphasizing the toe and heel tones, and even trying a shuffle hop of sorts.
End of Class Reflections:
At the end of the day, I realized it wasn’t because I wasn’t being a lead demonstrator that was the problem. But my own frustration grew from me because of the lack of attentiveness of the AGE group and my own frustration to have them follow along to verbal instruction without routine or outline and producing slow results. I was not prepared for this. Particularly me, as the observer, had to consistency witness instead of being caught up in the repetition of demonstrating. Patience can be very difficult. Every Teacher experiences this. Even if I was demonstrating, I do believe the results would have been the same. I only used my leg as a guilt trip around a human lesson we had already been working on. It is comforting to know that even though I am injured and in recovery, my skills as a teacher are still applicable beyond any age – demonstrator or naw. This realization boosts my confidence to still teach movement through recovery.
- Jordan Woods