Rising in popularity over the past 10 years is the idea of the “combination class”. There are teachers and studio owners who love the idea, and others who struggle with teaching all that needs to be taught in such a short amount of time. How can teachers learn to adapt and provide a solid dance foundation in the “combo class” format for young ones?
What is a Combination Class?
A combination class is one where more than one type of dancing is taught in the same class period.
If your school program includes such classes for the very young, these need to be designed for the immature abilities and needs of the younger students. The subject matter must not be simply a “watering down” of older skills. In jazz, tap, baton, and gymnastics, as in ballet, the dance teacher needs to learn about young bodies, minds and feelings, and to gear the class content and management accordingly.
Basic movements need to be learned and reinforced to provide a solid base for more technical skills to be learned later on.
How Long Should the Class Last?
Forty-five minutes is a long enough class for children under six, whether the subjects are combined, or all pre-ballet. If you need to hold the class for a full hour, be sure to provide a “break” of some kind in the middle between subjects.
Possibilities for breaks: read them a short story, then act it out with movement; take turns getting drinks, eating a cracker for energy, talking or sharing time, etc, for about four or five minutes. Have them sit in a circle with you and talk a few minutes about the steps or styling of the next subject.
You can prolong the opening of the class by having each child stand in turn while the others say “Hi” to them, i.e. “Hi, Hadley!”. Or, if you put stickers for attendance on a chart, or give stickers to take home, this can easily run into quite a few minutes at the end of class.
In What Order Should You Arrange the Subjects?
Ideally, no more than two subjects should be taught in one session. A third subject would require a second weekly class, perhaps only 20 – 30 minutes. If this is not practical, and your program requires doing three subjects in one lesson, the lesson should still be no longer than one hour, and should have a definite, well planned “break” between each subject.
Try different ways with different classes. But don’t change the order in any one class from week to week. Students of any age respond best to consistency. Some teachers prefer to finish with ballet, as that sends the best training home with them. Others feel the ballet should be first, while they are fresh and eager and not too tired.
What do you include in each “subject” at this age, since the basic movement skills are essentially the same?
Divide your basic movements, assigning different ones to each of the subjects you teach, so each section of the class will look and feel different. Choose from the class outlines about half of the work intended for a class of just ballet. Below is one of many possible ways to divide the movements.
Almost all basic dance skills can be used in nearly all of the dance subjects. Choose how to divide the movements, then keep the plan the same for the entire year.
Make your classes fun, and happy. Use material and skills oriented to the child’s developmental level, the child’s interest and the child’s previous experiences with dance. Use creativity and imagination to make the classes fun for the children, and for you. Young children love pretending, singing, and acting out story lines.
Introduce new ideas clearly, using visual aids and examples where appropriate. Use different steps and styles in your dances for the different subjects! You don’t want their work to look like the same dance in a different costume with different music.
Last, but not least, remember that every class is different. One of the skills teachers need to learn is to read their students. See how they respond to things and adjust your class plan accordingly. Don’t let this become your students deciding how the class will go, but do leave some room for changing things up, if needed.