Children need structure. This is especially true in the pre-ballet years, as they prepare for a more disciplined class. The less “free time” they have in the class period, the better. They should know exactly what they’re supposed to do when they arrive, until class starts, when they arrive late, while the teacher is talking, when they finish an activity, and when class is over. These tips will help you organize and structure a “happy” pre-ballet class.
Places, Everyone!Have a designated place for students to sit while they quietly wait for class to start. Practice it with them; actually walking through the desired behaviors makes them easier for young children to understand. Also have a place for them to sit when class begins. If they start in a small circle with the teacher, always have it be in the same place. Finally, be sure to have a “home base,” or a spot for each child to return to during class. This must be theirs. Mark spots on the floor with small pieces of colored tape, perhaps with the child’s name printed on it with a magic marker. No one else is allowed to take another child’s spot. During the first lesson, have them practice finding their spots and sitting down between activities.
Enforcing Classroom ProceduresBe consistent. Make no exceptions to class procedures and rules. They are not mature enough to understand the exceptions, or to know when exceptions are appropriate. It is always the teacher’s “turn” to talk during class. Sometimes the teacher will give children a turn, but they must not take a turn on their own. Expect compliance, and feel assured that you’ll get it. Be enthusiastic about what the class is to do: they respond more to your attitude than to your words. Be positive! “We’re going to do our fun exercise for positions. Stand up on your spots! Hands on your waist, show me your tallest posture. Good! Are your feet together? Yes, now we’re ready to start.”
As You Teach . . .Go through new things without the music a few times until they can do the movement. Break movements down into parts that are easy to see and follow. Present things one piece at a time, in amounts they can easily grasp. Face your class. Every child must be in your direct line of vision. Keeping in “contact” with each one, often, during each activity helps them feel secure and helps keep the class in order. Demonstrating should be done in “mirror-image” fashion so students don’t have to reverse things in their brain. (In mirror-image style, the teacher uses his or her left arm or foot when he or she wants the class to use their right arm or foot.) This frees students’ minds to understand what they see a little better and a little quicker. Have your assistants learn to mirror-image demonstrate as well (see “Training Your Dance Assistant”). If you haven’t done this before, practice a few times in front of a mirror. It doesn’t take long to make the change.
Learn to Read Your StudentsWatch them perform in class, and you will soon be able to relate to their ability. “Boredom” in young children is most often caused by their being frustrated at not knowing exactly what to do, or at not being able to mentally keep up with what the teacher is demonstrating (see “Challenge? Or Frustration?”). Give verbal encouragement and approval often: a “Yes!” or “Good!” with a nod or a smile, a “Great, you all got it right that time,” or a “Good try! We’re learning.” Repeat things often. Familiar things done well are fun (see “Why ‘Changing It Up’ May Not Always Be Best”). Give fun reasons for repeating things: “That was fun! Let’s do it again” or “You’re doing that so well, can you do it without my help?” Of course they can! Then you must let them do it once without you, and not help them. They may not do as well, but praise their efforts because they did it all by themselves, without your help.
A Sample Outline for the Pre-Ballet ClassThe pattern for a pre-ballet class that I’ve used for many years with great success follows these steps:
- Have the children sit in a circle with you. Welcome each by name as you take roll.
- Assign individual dancing places, either in a semicircle or staggered lines. Have the students stand on their “spots” with feet together while you introduce the first exercise.
- Have the students do two or three short exercises while standing in place.
- Guide the students into forming a “dancer’s circle,” where two or three locomotor steps are practiced.
- Have the children return to sit on their “spots” and do the next three or four activities while sitting.
- Have them stand up again for their own special level of “ballet”: some positions, parallel demi pliés, jumps, arm movements, etc.
- Have them sit on the floor for rhythm exercises and some creative work with hands, arms, heads, and expressions.
- Have them stand and perform the more difficult steps and a simple dance or two.
- Finish the class by having the students sit in their places while you or your assistant go to each child in turn for an individual performance or a final curtsy.
- Hints for a “Happy Class”
- Training Your Dance Assistant
- Challenge? Or Frustration?
- Why “Changing It Up” May Not Always Be Best