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Teacher Talk

Have you ever had students look at you with a blank stare when you try to teach a new step? Have you ever come home frustrated with your kids for not being able to “just do what I’m showing you”? Let’s talk. Teacher talk.

As we all ease our way back into the Ukrainian dance season, many instructors are faced with issues such as dancer placement, developing new relationships with new students, and even transitioning from one volunteer executive board to another. A busy time to be sure. In addition, some of us face the new dance season on our own, using what we have learned over our own dance lives to help pull us through another successful year. Continuing to learn and develop your own abilities as a Ukrainian dance instructor is just as important as being able to provide quality instruction to your kids – and there are lots of places you can do this. In the meantime, what do you do about that blank stare coming at you from a 4-year old who just doesn’t get what you’re asking him to do?

Don’t Skip the Small Stuff

First things first, I am not an expert. Like every instructor outside of Ukraine I have been cobbling together the skills and knowledge to become a Ukrainian dance instructor over many years and I am still a work in progress. Through my interactions with other dance instructors over the past twenty years, I have come to understand that no two instructors have taken the same path to achieve the knowledge and training to become a dance instructor and that there is no right way for any one person. Similarly, there is no one right way to teach a step or movement, provided the desired outcome has been achieved in a safe method.

New students, and often younger children, often lack the initial skills required to develop a step. So how do you teach skipping for example if a child has never had training before? Well, there are prerequisite skills involved. Let’s look at them.

In watching other instructors teach, they will typically demonstrate or find another dancer in the class to demonstrate skipping, and then ask the rest of the class to duplicate the movement. This system has some success, especially over time, but perhaps we should examine what movements skipping actually consist of.

First, can your student stand on one leg and balance? The answer may shock you. Many three, four, and five-year olds struggle with the ability to balance on one leg. If the answer is no, this is something that should be practiced before moving on to the next step.

Next, can your student hop on one leg and balance following landing? Can they do this with both the right and left leg?

Develop an exercise that has your students hop slowly, in time with the music on one leg. If you have a barre, all the better. Start by hopping on the right leg eight times, and then hopping on the left eight times. When this is achievable, try four hops on each leg, then two, than one. Don't worry that either foot may not be pointed fully just yet. Allow the student to become comfortable with just landing on one leg and learning to transfer his or her weight from one foot to another. After this, we can start focusing on stretching the ankle and proper placement of the working leg into a beautiful retiré.

Skipping is just one of many steps younger children will learn in their first days and weeks in class. Be prepared. Remember, as a Ukrainian dance instructor, you are also a steward of the Ukrainian culture. Keep learning and stay positive. For every moment of frustration there are countless successes. You are making a difference in the lives of your students, your community, and the preservation of our precious and resilient culture. Now go, be awesome!

Shane hosts an annual 3-day workshop for Ukrainian dance teachers in Alberta to help continue develop the skills every teacher needs to be in a Ukrainian dance studio today. Check it out!