DanceEDtip #20:
How to decide between your artistic vision and your students’ enthusiasm

January 29, 2018 - Olivia Mode-Cater

I’m currently in the middle of my Hip Hop unit with my high school dancers at my PK-12 school and I have a wonderful problem on my hands: they LOVE the dance and they want to be in all the sections! I had originally intended for a smaller group of dancers to be in the opening section and to have the rest enter 30 seconds later; however, they all love the beginning of the dance and have respectfully vocalized wanting to be in it.
This problem happens to me frequently in all teaching settings and I always have a hard time deciding between my vision as a choreographer and fostering the joy and enthusiasm my students have for dance. It is always a tough decision for me because the solution isn’t always straight forward and can be different depending on the group. Here are a few things I think about to help me with my decision:
1. What is the educational setting that we are in?
Depending on the mission of the particular studio, school, or dance program, I will tackle the decision differently. The expectations and values of a pre-professional studio or vocational high school might be different than a recreational program. Therefore, my decisions on how to craft the piece usually support the values of the school.
2. What are my personal goals with this class?  
If the goal of the class is to prepare students for the dance world, I would explain to them that being in every section is not realistic and asking a choreographer to be placed in more sections is inappropriate; however, if my goal is to help students develop an appreciation and liking of dance, I want to foster that enthusiasm as much as I can and help them develop confidence in performing. These are things that would weigh into my decision.
3. What will most likely be the outcomes of my choice?
Lastly, I think about what my students’ reactions will be. For pre-professional students, not including them in certain sections might be a good life lesson, where they reflect on the artistic process and understand that dancers will be showcased in different ways. It also might be good humbling experience. On the other hand, students who are taking the class as part of a graduation requirement or recreationally might lose interest if their enthusiasm is stifled. For these students, I want to feed their excitement so they continue to expand their knowledge and become more open to dance experiences. Ultimately, I evaluate if the outcomes will support the goals of the school and of the class.
As a result, I have made different decisions with different groups. Sometimes I have decided to keep my choreography as is and other times I have changed it to include more students. I think it really comes down to knowing your students and your schools and only you know what that decision is. As for my Hip Hop dance, I decided to restructure the beginning to include all of them and then I told them that we will be having group sections in the middle of the piece and that they should be prepared to not be in every part. In this way, it was a compromise and it matched with learning environment.
Happy teaching!