Magazine article Dance Teacher

On the Right Foot

Magazine article Dance Teacher

On the Right Foot

Article excerpt

Three teachers set the scene for a successful new school year.

After three months of silence, school classrooms and hallways will soon be filled with energetic young bodies. For dance teachers, this time of year brings instant momentum and creative potential, but it's also a vital and delicate time when you must lay a good foundation for the year ahead. Below, three veterans share their tips on getting the best start.

DEB MATA

SCHOOL: Mata, who has been a K-12 dance educator for 19 years, currently teaches grades 1-8 at Felida Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Vancouver, Washington.

One of the primary challenges of a new school year is transforming a classroom of mixed personalities into a community-as Mata says, "creating an ordered classroom where students can then open up and be expressive."

* Establish and define your environment To create an environment where students feel like "working artists," Mata leads her class in a brainstorming session, asking for positive buzzwords the students want to use in their community, such as "trust," "open-minded," "support," "friendship" or "unity." She then divides the class into small groups of four or five and has them create shapes together based on three of the words. Then the students connect the three shapes with transitions before performing their creations for each other.

* Find outlets for post-summer-break chattiness. Mata uses the students' need to reunite and socialize to her advantage while reviewing basic concepts about space and time. In one exercise, students stand back to back with a partner. She gives them a verbal prompt, such as "Greet each other in a foreign language," or "Share one fun activity you did over the summer." The partners turn to face each other and verbally share. Then, Mata asks partners to work together to create a descriptive shape-such as curvy, diagonal or crisscross-before leaving their partners and moving through the space alone. She signals when it's time to partner up with someone new and repeat the exercise.

* Create a strategic seating chart. Mata teaches 800 kids, but every year, on the first day, she greets each student individually before assigning him/her a spot on the floor. She uses this brief interaction to get a feel for the student's personality. She also takes note of students who might have difficulty following directions or keeping their hands to themselves and puts them up front. "I have them close at hand so I can speak to them one-on-one very quietly at any time," says Mata.

ANA NERY FRAGOSO

SCHOOL: With a decade of K-12 experience, Nery Fragoso currently teaches elementary school students at PS 315 in New York City.

Nery Fragoso finds her students are generally relaxed and receptive at the beginning of the year, but she emphasizes that it is vital to set the tone of an orderly classroom right from the start. "You have to make classes fun at the beginning, but they should also be meaty and include everything students are going to need for the rest of the year," she says. "If you play around with them just because it's the beginning, you're going to lose them." She implements order by having her students begin each class with two minutes of meditation to help them transition into a dance-class mindset.

* Connect with parents. A letter home welcoming parents and students to the program and outlining behavior, preparation and clothing expectations gets parents involved in their childrens' dance experience right away. "At the very beginning, if a student doesn't come prepared, I send a letter home to let the parents know that I noticed," Nery Fragoso says. "I really want to set the tone so that the child and the parent take dance seriously. …

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