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By: Olivia Mode-Cater
Transitions as a dancer are one of the most challenging aspects of technique. To dance in between the steps and connect all the dots takes deliberate application and practice. The same is true for dance teachers: transitioning between exercises in class are some of the most difficult moments. It’s during this time when students can easily lose focus, start talking, or get spatially disorganized. Therefore, I recommend building clear, choreographed transitions to maximize your classroom time and to improve your classroom management.
Strategy for 3-5 year olds:
For this age group, I do the train method:
1. I invite students on board an imaginary train. I ask for their imaginary train tickets and collect them.
2. I then prompt them to put their hands on their friend’s shoulders.
3. I then act as the conductor and guide them around the room marching, chugging, and tip toeing until we’ve found our polyspot that sets us up for our across the floor.
4. I ask them to put their hands down and their toes on the tape on the floor so they stay in 1 straight line.
The reasons why this works:
1. It’s creative and fun. Who doesn’t want to hop on the train?
2. It has students practicing dance steps as they transition.
3. Students have something to do every moment and this keeps them focused, engaged, and behaving!
Strategy for 6-9 year olds:
For this age group, they don’t need as much guidance, but they still need a lot of structure and repetition in order to have clear transitions to go across the floor. For this age, I usually assign them spots to do warmups in the center, so usually the students are in two rows before we begin this transition.
1. Once we are done in the center, I have them stand up in their rows.
2. They then turn to side of the room and walk straight forward.
3. They then turn around and I set up the polyspots so they know where to start when it is their turn.
4. I then have them check in to see who their across the floor buddy is for that day. Usually it’s the same person since they have assigned spots, but sometimes due to absences it can change.
The reasons why this works:
1. Students have something to do every moment and this keeps them focused, engaged, and behaving!
2. This avoids arguments and wasted time on who goes across the floor with who.
3. With repetition students are able to do this quickly and independently.
Strategy for 10-13 year olds:
For this age, I usually allow them to self-select who they go across the floor with as long as it doesn’t create any social or emotional issues in the classroom. For this age group, it’s most important for you to establish and enforce clear expectations when they go across the floor. Here are some of mine:
1. You must dance ALL THE WAY TO THE END of the room. Sometimes students only do the combination once and then exit. Encourage them to keep going until they run out of space.
2. You must stay close to the walls when walking to the end of the line. Sometimes more novice students will walk in between students who are dancing. This is dangerous and disrespectful.
3. Encourage students to take turns with their partner so that both have an opportunity to be in the front. This makes both students accountable for knowing the choreography and builds confidence in the material.
4. I have students count themselves in. Before they start I tell them how may counts of 8 to wait between groups and then leave them to it. This enforces accountability and musicality, reduces talking, and frees me up so I can give more feedback.
Strategy for 14-18 year olds
For this age group, I follow all the guidelines that I have explained above for the 10-13 year olds. The main difference is my expectation for them to able to reverse the material and do it on the other side. Here are some additional expectations that I have:
1. Students know that I want them to each have 2 turns on the first side and then 2 on the other side.
2. The older and more advanced the dancers are, the more quickly they should be able to reverse the combination. For more novice dancers I will give them 1-2 minutes to work with a friend to figure it out. For my advanced dancers they must go immediately.
3. Students know that if they want to get an additional try they can go with the last group across the floor. This allows students who may have made a mistake to try again and reach mastery.
The main theme for all these age groups is to have clear expectations and give them something to do! The more students are responsible for doing something, the less opportunity they have to talk, misbehave, or get out of order. So, do less and make them do more! Also, don’t assume they have been properly taught how to go across the floor. This is a skill we assume dancers have learned, but some teachers have never explicitly taught their students or communicated what they expect. I always find that it is worth the 2 minutes of class time to review my expectations. Everything ends up smoother, which results in more dancing! I hope this tip works for you and your students!