Dance Teacher Resources

Teaching Tips from New York’s Finest

By Deborah Searle.

At the recent New York City Dance Alliance I was honored to take part in the classes and discussions specifically held for teachers. The insights shared, work taught, and exercises given were very valuable. So valuable in fact, that I thought I might share them with you….

Tips from Joey Dowling
Notes taken from Joey’s teacher class at NYCDA

Joey has been performing, choreographing and teaching in NYC for the past 10 years. She was on Mariah Carey’s
Butterfly World Tour, the MTV Video Music Awards with Jennifer Lopez, the VH1 Vogue Fashion Awards with Macy Grey and The Victoria Secret Fashion Show. She’ performed in Sex & the City, Guiding Light, Chicago the Movie, and The Producers (movie) and has had several stints on Broadway, as well as being a  Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. Currently she is the assistant choreographer for Off Broadway’s In The Heights and an esteemed teacher at Broadway Dance Center, New York.

Joey stressed the importance of both stretching and strengthening in warm-ups and after class.
– It is important to do everything slowly. 
– Don’t do isolations in a warm up, but do everything slowly and controlled because it builds student strength and flexibility.
– Hold positions.  Holding positions as you go through them can build much strength.
– Be very careful with alignment. With stretches on the floor, check that students are holding them just as they would if they were standing. Are they twisting just because they are lying on the floor?  What is the non-working leg doing?  Are they arching their backs? There is no point doing a heel stretch in second when stretching on the floor, if you are twisting and the underneath leg is in not inline and straight. Many students do this. Then when they stand up to do a heel stretch they wobble and can’t pull their leg as high. This is because they trained their body wrongly on the floor.
– Stress to your students the importance of placement and pulling up, even when just doing stretching and simple exercises on the floor, as it will train students’ bodies to do the right thing when they are standing up and dancing in the center.

Watch Feet:
– Even when students are stretching on the floor, make sure they are not sickling their feet. Particularly in the frog position, students can sickle their feet. The feet should be lifted and pointed as if they were dancing in the centre, otherwise it is not training the feet correctly. Why would you stretch and train with sickled feet when you’re hopefully not going to dance with sickled feet in the center?

– Breathe! Make your students actually breathe in and out so that you can hear them. Then you can check if they are breathing correctly and are using their breath to their advantage. If students aren’t breathing correctly then their blood is not flowing properly and they are tensing their bodies. Without correct breathing, students are not going to be as flexible. They can risk injuries and pulled muscles.

Keeping Muscles Warm:

-Keep the studio warm.  This can be hard on the teacher, but it is worth it for the students. They are more flexible if they are warmer and are less likely to pull muscles.

After Class:
– Make sure your students stretch after class. This is when their muscles are at their warmest. It is the best time to stretch, so make the most of it. Do not let them leave the studio and go home without a good stretch out.
– Use gravity to enhance stretching. Straddle student’s legs up against a wall at the end of class in a second split and make them hold it. Gravity will gently make the legs get lower and lower without the strain of heaving. But remember, that after a while it will be hard to pull the legs out of the position, so make sure that students ease their legs out of it gently.  Shake the legs and then do it again.

Join in Yourself:
– If you’re doing stomach work or stretching work, even as a teacher, you should join in as it’s a great workout.  Be careful though, as they will cheat because you’re not watching them, or their alignment can be wrong. So at times you will need to walk around the class helping them and watching them.

If you have never been to a dance convention before or taken teacher classes, you really should.  None of us know everything. Just hearing about new ways to approach steps and new teaching techniques can be so helpful. Learning work and exercises that you can take back to your students can bring refreshment to your classes and your choreography.

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