Teaching the Adult Dancer…

Photo www.saltcreekballet.wordpress.com.

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

Creating an effective, efficient warmup — Keep it fun!

 

In a recent guest post Diana Harris discusses the physiological response to warming up the body.  Today’s post delves into the how:  How do I create an effective warmup (that doesn’t take up too much time)?  And responds to the question that many are thinking – Yes, but does it really HELP my dancing?

Yes!   As a dancer you will find that you are more aware of  your body beginning from the first plie, rather than halfway through class.   While blood is circulated and warmth is brought to you muscles, your neurotransmitters also become more efficient at sending and receiving messages via the warmup – so they are ready to respond more quickly.  The result?  Quicker muscular response = decreased chance of injury AND increased progress!

[Adult students – this applies to you too!  Taking the time to arrive to class a bit early and do a brief warm up will not only encourage a quicker muscular response, it will also help you to focus your energy in class.]

The good news is that the process of warming up does not have to be complicated, nor lengthy.   Teachers can invest a bit of time in ‘setting’ a warmup – and then keep that warm up for a few weeks.   Keep it fresh by changing one element every once in a while, but the goal is to keep it simple and easy to remember (so that your students can then do it on their own, without specific instruction).

A sample warmup 8yrs and up:

[Music – ideally starting at a walking pace and speeding up gradually as the pace of the movement increases.]

    1. Begin walking in the space at a moderate pace.
    2. Quicken the pace and encourage students to use their arms more aggressively (exaggerate the natural swing of the arms).
    3. Progress to high marches – activating the quadriceps and abdominals by lifting the legs in a high-stepping march. Continue the exaggerated swing of the arms.
    4. Progress to a skip – still traveling freely in the space.   Add cues to change direction.
    5. Alternate steps 3 and 4 – two to four times.  Increasing the length of time and encouraging students to ‘skip higher’ each time.
    6. Slow it down to the high march – encourage a focus on breathing.
    7. Slow it down to a brisk walking pace and bring the students into a circle in the middle of the room.
    8. Taking a cue from the Asanas used in Yoga –  standing in parallel, bring the arms overhead as you inhale.   On the exhale open the arms through second position of the arms and bend forward to the floor, keeping the knees slightly bent.
    9. #8 can be repeated, and/or move into a lunge (for teens) stepping one foot back into a lunge position (ensure that the front knee remains at a 90 degree angle with the knee directly over the ankle).   Repeat on the opposing side.
    10. Finish with students returning to standing with an energized inhalation and exhalation.
      • Note:   If you use turned out positions in your class you can incorporate a more relaxed plie in step 10 beginning in a wide 2nd position of the feet and moving to 1st position.  This will help students to access alignment with external rotation before diving into classwork in turned out positions.
      • Circles, patterns and pathways:  This warmup can be done in a circle or moving freely in ‘personal’ space.
      • Here  skipping is the aerobic movement – who doesn’t love skipping?  It brings a smile to the face of the even the shyest students!   Yes, older students find it a bit silly to skip — but the silly factor gets them smiling and laughing.  Class begins with a giggle and a more positive perspective.  That said, any aerobic movement could be incorporated into this warmup example.

Author:  Jacqui Davidson

Now it is your turn!   What tools do you use to warm your dancers (or yourself) before class or performance?