03 OctIs it right that dance teachers are expected to teach all age groups – take 2

In the Jan 4th post  this year I raised the question of  whether it is right that dance  teachers are expected to  teach all age groups. I posed the possibility of perhaps training teachers to specialise in the teaching of dance to specific age groups eg early years or secondary (3-5yrs or 11-16yrs) in much the same way that teachers in the education sector are trained.

This idea of training teachers to teach a specific age group  has been adopted and followed through in Ghana to a really successful conclusion. It has produced a small team of excellent early years dance teachers. It has also given three Ghanaian students a career path and a secure employment opportunity. 

As the demand for pre school dance classes continues in Ghana this demand can now be met by the newlt trained early years dance teacher specialists. More classes can be scheduled. 

These teachers will, in turn, be able to mentor new teachers in training  thus solving a recurring problem with regard to teacher recruitment.

Apart from anything else this makes sound business sense. More children, more classes, more teachers, more income.

It’s a win win situation.

Would anyone else be interested in this approach?

13 JulCoping with an increased demand for pre school dance classes

Increase in the number of venues together with an increase in pupil registration is a very positive and pleasing sign of business growth.

In many countries there appears to be a seemingly endless demand for dance classes for children aged 3 – 5yrs. This is very much the case in Ghana. More classes to meet the demand have to be scheduled at appropriate times in the day. The time of day may vary slightly but generally speaking dance classes for younger children are best scheduled early afternoon or in the morning.

More children, more classes require more teachers. 

Two years ago this was the stage that had been reached. But where to find more teachers in a country where MFDA is the only dance academy of its type and where there are no colleges or institutions offering the relevant and appropriate training  to teachers. 

And the solution?

In 2008 with the support of the teaching faculty at Legon University 10 Ghanaian students from the African studies department at Legon University were interviewed and selected to participate in an intensive week of training. At the end of that week 3 students from the 10 were selected to continue with a training programme  to enable them to teach the Lafour Prima Dance at levels 1 & 2 (3-5yrs).

The visit that I made to Ghana last month was in part to monitor and assess the 3 Ghanaian students who were selected to continue with the Lafour Prima Dance teacher training.

And the outcome?

They were excellent.

More in next post.

12 JulMFDA Ghana June 2010

Last month I visited the Mandy Fouracre Dance Academy (MFDA)  in Accra, Ghana (West Africa). MFDA resides within Pippa’s Health & Fitness Centre  in Accra.  It was at the Ringway location in Osu  that the demonstration DVD for the Lafour Prima Dance syllabus was filmed in 2006.

[Lafour Prima Dance 1/2/3 & 4 is a 4 year dance programme created specifically to teach dance to  young children aged between 3yrs and 8yrs].

MFDA has expanded and is now established at two further locations in Ghana. One at the new Pippa’s Health & Fitness Centre at East Legon and another at  Pippas Health Centre,Tema.

The purpose of the June visit was twofold:

1. To monitor and assess all the children participating in the Lafour Prima Dance annual Awards


2. To monitor, evaluate and assess the Ghanaian teachers who were selected in May 2008 to receive training on the Lafour Prima Dance programme with a view to teaching the dance programme to young children.

In the next few posts we will look at the assessment and evaluation of the June visit to MFDA which may be of particular interest to those dance teachers and dance teachers in training who find themselves in a similar situation.

04 MayClass Size does matter!

Dance classes for young children aged 3+ years are currently very popular. These classes often provide the ‘bread and butter’ of a dance school or fitness studio. Often their profitability subsidises the more senior classes where the attendance often drops because of school work or competition with other extra curricular activities etc. When children are young it is largely the parent who intitiates and selects an after school activity. As children grow up and become more independent in their thinking they begin to exert their opinion as to the activities that they enjoy and wish to continue and those that they don’t and wish to stop.

At 3yrs however it is the parent who has control. Teachers are understandably delighted at the number of  parents who enrol their children for ’baby’ classes. The higher the attendance the greater the profit and it is all too easy for profit to become the main motivator in the numbers game. It is not uncommon for teachers to boast quite proudly that they have 25 children in one class believing that the high number is clear evidence of their personal popularity. 

Even with a student teacher as an assistant I would not  advocate a class of this size. If the class duration is  30 minutes a considerable amount of that time would be spent manouvering children eg entering the dance studio, sitting on the floor for registration, standing up again, positioning the children for dancing round the room etc

Young children don’t like to be hurried. They like to do things at their own pace. If they are hurried they can begin to feel uncomfortable and resistant which leads to disharmonyand fractiousness.

Although there are teachers who can keep control of 25 children in a dance class it can, on a regular basis, prove to be more of a challenge than a pleasure!  

For a weekly dance class to be enjoyable it has to be enjoyable for both pupil and teacher.

My own teaching experience together with  observations of other pre school dance classes has led me to conclude that an attendance of between 10 and 12 is a ’comfortable’ maximum number. The teacher then has time to listen as well as instruct. Good communication is a fundamental requirement of effective teaching. Taking time to understand the individual characterisitics of each child is part of this process as is eye contact.

Be kind to yourself and limit the class numbers.

Teaching dance to young children should be a pleasure not an endurance test!

25 MarObserving & listening

This title specifically with regard to teaching may appear to be something of an obvious statement for any teacher reading this Blog. Clearly these are skills that one would assume to be fundamental requirements for all teachers. They go hand in hand. Observing children in the class is a highly valuable teaching tool. In a dance class it must be said that although verbal dialogue does take place once the class has begun it is usually kept to a minimum.

Obvious though the statement may be it will be no surprise to many that in reality ie in the dance space with the children both these fundamental requirements can so easily become squeezed out for a variety of reasons:

  • Class size
  • Trying to keeping control
  • Thinking what to do next
  • Operating the CD player
  • Class duration

In the next few posts I intend to take a look at these topics particularly in relation to the teaching of dance to the younger age groups.

09 MarHow to explain to a parent when their child is not ready to join the dance class

Few parents welcome the news that their child is not ready to join the dance class. To some this may feel like a personal failure especially if their friends have children who are joining the class.
After a trial lesson if the teacher finds that a child is not ready to join the class it would not be appropriate to say so within ear shot of other parents. If there is another class waiting as is often the case there would not be the time for explanation anyway.
Perhaps, yet again, if it were made clear at registration that the teacher would contact the parent by phone after the trial lesson to give feedback this would reduce expectation by the parents of confirmation on the day.
Preparing what to say is important.Be polite and courteous but firm. Emphasise the child’s strengths eg

“I could see that Emily has lots of energy and enjoys being in a large space and loves running and jumping. She is not comfortable however in the quieter more controlled elements of the class. At the moment I think that the class that I’m offering is too restrictive for her. I think she would be much happier doing gymnastics or swimming or an activity which uses lots of energy and is not as controlled. At this point therefore I don’t think that she is ready to join the class. In another 6 months this could change. I could then register Emily for another trial lesson. In my experience if children do join the class before they are ready they don’t enjoy themselves and it can put them off dance for a long time. When I make an assessment based on the trial lesson I consider very carefully the needs of each individual child and decide what is best for them…………….”

Try it! And let me know if it works.
I would just add that offering a maximum of 3 trial lessons would be reasonable. If it doesn’t work after 3 then it is unlikely to work at all and the child would be much better pursuing another activity better suited to their personality and physicality.

24 FebA ‘Trial lesson’ system

There are steps one can take to reduce the likelihood of a child joining a pre school dance class who is ‘not ready’.
‘Not ready’ in this context means that the child is unable to concentrate, is reluctant to join in, easily distracted, not listening to the teacher, running around the room etc .

At the first point of contact when a parent enquires about their child joining a dance class the teacher should ask the parent if the child is already attending a nursery, playgroup etc. This will indicate whether the child is familiar with the concept of participating in an activity with other children (without the parent) in a more structured setting.
Operating a ‘trial’ lesson system is extremely helpful.
This system would be explained to the parent at registration. A trial lesson date and time would be confirmed. During the trial lesson the teacher would be able to assess the child’s receptivity to the class, general level of enjoyment and participation. Based on this knowledge the teacher would then be able to inform the parent whether or not the child was ready to join the class on a regular basis.

14 FebChildren who don’t want to join in the dance class. 2

As I have mentioned previously, knowing the individual personalities of each child is hugely important to the smooth running of the class. If a child suddenley announces that she doesn’t want to join in the teacher has to make an instant decision.

Is the child ill? Is she playing up?Is she used to getting her own way?Is she unhappy?Does she need to use the bathroom?
If the teacher knows each individual personality she will be far better informed to deal with each of these situations as they arise.

For example if a child who normally joins in happily and is quite settled in the class announces that he doesn’t feel very well then it is likely to be true. In this instance perhaps ask the child what is wrong, ask if they felt unwell before coming to class. Perhaps ‘test’ them by asking if they would like to be the leader in a dance movement which the teacher knows is something that the child normally enjoys. If the answer is no and the child’s response appears genuine the teacher should say that the parent of the child will be told at the end of class and then suggest that the child sits down to rest.

The teacher should also make clear to the child that sitting down does mean sitting still and not playing.

The teacher should then keep an eye on the child and if he continues to sit quietly then this is also a sign that the child is genuinely unwell.

This is one approach for dealing with a child who is normally a happy participant in the dance class.

08 FebChildren reluctant to join in the dance class: New students 1

When assembling the children prior to entering the dance space if a child is noticeably reluctant try asking whether he or she would like to help you lead the train.
A hand puppet or soft toy is useful in this situation as an intermediary. Introduce for example Dancing Bear (hand puppet) and perhaps say that it’s the first time that Dancing Bear has come to the class and is feeling a bit shy (perhaps hide him a little behind your back).
Ask the children if they would wave to him so that he feels a little bit happier and knows that they want to be his friend.
Then bring Dancing Bear slowly out from behind your back and make him wave to all the children. Pretend that he wants to tell you something. Mime ‘listening’ to him and say that he wants to thank the children for making friends with him. Also say that Dancing Bear would like to stand next to the ‘reluctant’ child to make a train into the dancing space if that’s alright.
Using Dancing Bear to express feelings that the child perhaps can identify with can lead to a feeling of inclusion which hopefully will enable him or her to join in with confidence.

04 FebWhat to do when new students don’t want to join in the dance class

This is a question that is frequently asked of me by dance teachers new to teaching the early years age group. Possible methods of approach will vary according to the specific circumstance. For the next few posts I will attempt to offer practical help based on personal experience to the various situations that I have encountered during my teaching career. Let us take for example the situation when a young child of 3yrs is new to the class.

I am of the opinion that when teaching this age group it is far better for the teacher and the students if parents are not invited to sit in the studio or dance room. As I mentioned in an earlier post if the teacher meets the students outside the room as they are preparing to enter, this ensures that she can observe the children and familiarise herself with any obvious problems. By that I mean the child who may be shy or lacking in confidence or clinging to their parent or upset because they fell over in the car park or who haven’t got their pink ballet shoes!

In fact with regard to ballet shoes it is my policy for the early years age group that all the children dance barefoot.

Dance teachers in the private dance sector may be approached by a protective parent who insists that their child is very shy and is not used to being left and therefore wishes to accompany them in the studio.

This situation could be largely avoided if it were made clear at registration that parents do not stay with the child in the dance class. A ‘Showcase day’ or ‘Parent watching day’ or ‘Open House’ can be offered as an invitation to all parents at the end of every term. Having said this there will undoubtedley be the odd occasion when a child on the day confronted with the new situation decides that she or he doesn’t want to go into the studio without the parent. Or the parent thinks that the child doesn’t want to go into the class without them! I have encountered parents who appear to consider that to have a clingy child in some way publically demonstrates how much their child loves them which consequently confirms their status as loving and good parents.

The first piece of advice therefore is that the teacher must know the parents. Knowing the parents and knowing the children and assessing their personality and relationship traits are key to the way in which a teacher responds to potential problems.