Competition Prep

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At school at the moment I teach/coach our Aerobics Gymnastics teams. This is my second year coaching the team and it’s been one of the highlights of my year. I pretty much get to work with the most awesome/lovely/talented/hardworking girls in the school, so what’s’ not to enjoy!

Training has been pretty intense this term with lots of early mornings and lunch times, but the girls have put in so much time and effort and their dedication has been truly awesome!

Tomorrow is their first of two big competitions – they will be competing against other middle school/intermediate teams in the Intermediate Aerobics Comp before heading to regionals next term. Hard though they’ve worked, there still a bit nervous. Today we talked about things they can do to help them get ready for their competition tomorrow, and I thought I’d share them with you. They work well for any stressful event, competition or otherwise, and have been amassed over the years from my gym competitions as a teenager, to ballet exams, to directing dance performances at school.

 

Preparing for Competitions (and other stressful events)

Sleep Well – Get a good night’s sleep the night before and go to bed on the earlier side of your usual time.

Sort Out Your Dance Bag (the night before) – it’s so much easier to stay relaxed if you are not rushing around trying to find bits and pieces at the last minute.

Pack Spares – bobby pins, tights, bun nets… they always break and it’s so easy to have a couple of spares stashed away

Pack Plenty of Food – You’re going to be active, therefore you need to eat. Planning to bring you own food is a. cheaper and b. probably a lot better for you than buying something there (if that’s even an option!)

Drink Water – drinking water is one of the best things you can do for your body especially when dancing

Stop Practicing – this is a big one, don’t spend the 24 hours before a competition practising madly, it just adds to the stress level, use this time to relax. If you still want to practice then mentally walk yourself through your dance/routine.

Don’t Overstretch – the last thing you want is to be sore on competition day. A warm up and a gentle dynamic (moving) stretch is much better then overstretching muscles risking injury.

Relax – do something you enjoy, read a book, play with a pet, anything that takes your mind of the competition and helps your brain to wind down.

Do any of you have competitions/performances/etc. coming up soon? What are your rituals pre-performance?

Students who have Injuries – the Role of the Teacher

Lately I’ve come across a fair bit of discussion in the online dance world – mostly via twitter, about the role of a dance teacher in dealing with students who have injuries, and it’s got me thinking.

As Lauren Warnecke writes in her Dance Advantage article on the topic, the diagnosis of injuries and treatment is definitely not up to me as a teacher. Grier Cooper adds that there are many places to go to when looking at treatment options. All of this is of course completely true, but it leaves us asking the question, well, what is our role as teachers when dealing with injured students?

As a dance teacher in a middle school I see my dance students often – usually several times a week, more if those students are in my class or syndicate, and I’m often present when the are taking part in other physical activity and education during the course of the day, so I have a pretty good idea of the physical demands my dancers face and in a busy middle school like ours, they’re not small. I also teach an age where students face the some of the biggest physical changes as they encounter adolescence. They’re also desperate to try new things and test out their limits (particularly their flexibility). Put all these things together and you’ve definitely upped the risk of injury.

 

So what can I do? Well, for me it’s twofold – prevention and awareness.

 

Prevention

In the dance classroom, I aim to do all that I can to prevent injuries by taking time to warm up with 5 -10 minutes of aerobic activity and 5 minutes of dynamic moving stretches – usually focused on waking up the muscles in the legs, hips and shoulders. We also talk a lot about why we warm up and the effect this on the body, so that my students understand the benefits. I try to keep the warm ups fairly easy and straight forward, starting with large gross movements and then moving to more intricate movements as they get warmer. I usually follow a fairly systematic pattern, and repeat this with the occasional change for a month or two. The benefit of this is that my students have learnt the pattern, and are now running the warm ups themselves, building not only their leadership skills but also their ownership of the warm up process. They can also take this warm up and easily warm themselves up when at performance venues when I’m not able to take them through it as a group.

The second thing that comes under prevention is reminding my students, and discussing with them why it is important to eat after physical activity to replace energy used and help maintain a healthy body – especially important when they all seem to being going through growth spurts.

 

Awareness

Awareness for me is really important and it goes both ways. I need to be aware of safe dance practice as a teacher, but also away of the physical changes my students are experiencing and the temporary limitations this can have on their bodies – there’s not much I can do about it, but I need to be aware.

Likewise I encourage my students to let me know if they have injuries, but my response is usually the same – do what you can even if it’s only watching or doing the arms ( I actually had a student audition for a hip hop crew sitting in a chair as she was on crutches – successfully too I might add). I encourage my students to take responsibility for managing their own injuries as this helps to build their self-awareness.

The second part of awareness is encouraging a dialogue where my students can talk about how their bodies are feeling. Often it is just the usual feeling a bit stiff  or tired that comes up, but sometimes my students will talk about feeling a sore muscle or ache or pain for a several days or even a couple of weeks. At this point I usually ask the question – ‘have you talked to your parent about this?’. To give them the credit they deserve, my students are great at doing this, but sometimes they haven’t and it’s then that I will gently suggest that they might like to talk to their parent about seeing a doctor or physio about it.

It’s not my place to tell them what’s wrong, or tell them what to do. But as a teacher it is my job to guide them to the necessary resources they need to solve problems, and sometimes they just need to have their awareness raised – to realise that there are easy things they can do – like seeing a qualified professional –  to help them feel better.

 

Are there specific things that you do to support students with injuries or help them build awareness?

 

Why I Dance…

There’s a video I love called why I dance. It was made by the Ontario Arts Council to promote dance in their community, and it is a beautiful exploration of what it means to be a dancer. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching it.

 

Lately I’ve been wondering about the reasons people dance – about the reasons I dance. And I’ve been thinking that this is a great theme to explore with my students. I’m going to show my extension dancers this video this week and see what their responses are. Who knows, maybe we’ll even make our own version!

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

Developing Leadership through Dance

Just last week I took a couple of my students – 2 year sevens and 1 year eight mentor to see Stage Challenge. (If you don’t know what Stage Challenge is check out their website here – it’s an awesome student-led design, dance and drama performance for teens). Although it was an awesome opportunity to see some fantastic dancing, the bit I loved the most was seeing young people develop their leadership through dance. Those on stage certainly, but also my own students who were watching.

At my school we have students for two years before they head off to college (high school), so our time is pretty limited. As part of our developing performing arts programme we offer Stage Challenge and a Production in alternating years. Last year we did Stage Challenge for the first time (mine, as well as the school’s). This year it’s production’s turn.

We did extremely well in Stage Challenge, especially considering we were competing against colleges and scored high marks in several distinguished categories. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that we did well, but I was much more interested in what the students took away from Stage Challenge than any awards we had won. So what was it the kids took away? Well, the biggest thing I noticed was confidence. Confidence in themselves for the participating students, and confidence in their leadership skills for the student leaders, which is what I want to focus on today. It’s also the very reason I took students to see Stage Challenge this year.

Those of us who have grown up in the traditional model of dance classes outside school hours, working towards and passing exams in a set syllabus, might find the idea of developing leadership through dance a little odd. Many of us have never really had the opportunity or occasion to do so. But I have found that the reality is dance is the perfect place to develop leadership skills, if only we broaden our understanding of what teaching dance is about. Fortunately for me, New Zealand has a fantastic dance curriculum that does just that!

Opportunities for students to develop, share and teach their own choreography enable dance students to take ownership of their dancing. This is so important and moves dance beyond the traditional transmission model of teaching. Creating a dialogue between teacher and students has let me help my dancers develop the confidence in their own ideas. I love it when my students suggest better ways of doing things, easier footwork or more creative choreography. It’s awesome that they feel they can say actually this step doesn’t flow into the next as well as if you put it the other way around or went left instead of right. This dialogue and confidence my students have that their own ideas are both valid and valued is building their leadership skills, not to mention their self-confidence.

Whether they realise it or not, I sure have. I already knew my year 8s were great choreographers and most of them pretty good leaders (I’ve got two stand-outs though who I’ve asked to co-choreograph the production dances with me) since I’ve already taught them for a year and a half. What I didn’t expect was how quickly my year 7s would be ready for a leadership challenge. Having taken the two girls to see Stage Challenge, and discussing with them and their year 8 mentor what worked and was/wasn’t effective in the performances we saw, I could see they were rapidly growing in the capacity and desire to step into those choreographic leadership roles. What I didn’t expect was that they would just totally embody that the following day at rehearsal for production, jumping on every suggestion and building on it from there. And it was contagious, once one started they all got going and half a dance built itself just like that!

These year sevens will go on to be our Stage Challenge choreographers and student leaders next year. This will see them standing alongside year 12 and 13 students at the big competition and I small though they are I know they’ll hold their own. Because being a leader in dance is not about how much dance you know, it’s about how hard you’re willing to work, how creative and critical-thinking you are, how patient you are, being willing to continue learning (all the time!) and most of all how much you believe in yourself.

By valuing my students’ contributions right from the get-go, I can see their peers start to follow my lead and value them too, and I know that this helps students see that their own ideas have value, in turn building confidence.