Turning our attention towards the adult dancer, whether beginner or advanced students, let’s focus not only on learning and experiencing the art form, but also on developing our body & spatial awareness, and overall fitness.
Teaching adult student can be tricky task whether the teacher is younger than the student, or of a similar age. Within one class there can be a broad age range – from twenty somethings through seventy (+) somethings, as well as a range of experience and abilities. Consider the reasons why an individual might begin taking dance as an adult, or might continue dancing into one’s adult life. Here are a few intentions and desires to be considered:
To continue dancing, for life!
To learn about and appreciate the art form.
To challenge oneself physically (fitness).
For the mental challenge of learning new things and ways of moving.
To experience all aspects of performance: preparation, rehearsal, and performance.
In addition to all of the above intentions, having fun and enjoying the process of learning is an important intention as is key to encouraging adult students to continue exploring dance and remaining active in life.
“Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance one must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)
The adult dance class is an opportunity to teach the technique of the art form, as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge of the mechanics of dance, explore what inspires us as individuals, and encourage a healthy focus in dance (& life). As adults we carry not only the stresses of our day into the class, we also have our insecurities as well. The adult dance class can be an enjoyable and safe place for adult students to explore their physical and cognitive abilities through dance.
We’ve discussed the importance of the warm-up in the dance class in relationship to youth in dance, now let’s consider why its important for the adult student.
Adult classes generally occur outside of the usual workday schedule – which means either classes occur earlier in the morning or later in the evening In the morning our muscles and joints can be stiff from inactivity, having been at rest for (hopefully) 7-8 hours, our heart rate has lowered and our bodies have been recovering to homeostatic balance. For morning classes, taking the time to increase the heart rate gradually increases blood flow to the muscles and tissues, while gradually moving through the joints warms the (synovial) fluids and tissues of the joints is key.
Any adult who has gone to the gym later in the evening knows that we often carry the weight and tension of our day in our muscles and joints (particularly in the upper body and neck). We have been working against gravity throughout the day, which can have a negative affect on our posture and alignment. By the end of the day our muscles are not necessarily ‘ready to move’ and this is perceived as stiffness in our muscles and joints.
In either case, a warm-up which is not heavily focused on technique aids in the awakening (firing) of neuromotor connections, an increase in heart rate, which in turn increases the blood flow to the joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons as well. A good warm-up also facilitates the mental preparedness of the adult student , energizing and refocusing our thoughts towards the body and its mechanics, and away from the tension and stress of the workday.
The WARM-UP is key to beginning class on an energized and positive note. For the adult student ‘analysis to paralysis’ is a common issue and can be a de-motivating force. Incorporating everyday, pedestrian movement that is familiar takes the focus off of perfecting technique, facilitates a quicker physical response and encourages a positive ‘can do’ attitude. The warm-up should be non-technical, increase the heart rate, and incorporate gentle, dynamic stretches to foster pliability of the muscles and lubrication of the joints. Elements from yoga (love downward dog) and pilates (plank!) exercises can be incorporated, as well as those reliable calisthenics that we use in training and workout sessions at the gym.
Keeping the warm-up moderate in length, doing four repetitions of the warm-up provides ample time to gradually increase the tempo of the exercise. If the warm-up begins with walking through the space using different directions, on the third and fourth repetition the walk can progress to a light jog with our without stretched feet.
Generally adult students spatial & body awareness is limited, particular for beginner students. Incorporating the use of directions and personal space in your warm-up is an easy way to incorporate a cardiovascular element to the class. Encouraging students to move through the space, keeping a long stride, while making an effort to move through the spaces in-between the other dancers in the room. Agility and balance can be challenged by encouraging quick changes of direction, and in particular travelling backwards.
Rhythmical elements can be incorporated, and then referenced later in the class in a more technical manner. For instance if the class focuses on triplets, balances, or big waltz movements across the floor, use a basic walking triplet in your warm-up. Again, this can progress to a quicker, running triplet as tempo accelerates. This can be a very effective way to prevent the ‘analysis to paralysis’ epidemic when learning these forms of rhythmical steps.
Looking for more specific ideas and progressions?
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Author: Jacqui Davidson