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Ideas on Teaching Pre-School Students


Teacher article



 Teaching dance classes to pre-school children can sometimes be more demanding than any of your other classes. I am often asked by teachers who offer pre-school classes to give advice on the structure of the class and also on how to keep the dancers focused. Not only is the structure important but also, I have always found that the pace of the class is what really makes it work in a positive way.

Let's, first of all, talk about the content. Children who are three years old and up are very capable of absorbing all that you give to them in the form of technique as long as it is age appropriate and presented to them in a fun and challenging way. So what is appropriate for this age group?

First of all this is probably their first structured class so I think it is really important to have the teacher greet the students outside of the studio, if you have a lobby have them wait there for the teacher. If you don't have that extra space, then just meet them at the studio door before they enter. We have the dancers make a "train" by putting their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them and then walking into the studio on their toes. It really doesn't matter what you, as a teacher, choose to do but the key is to immediately establish that you are the leader and they are the followers and it also helps the parents understand that it is time to let go and take a step back so that you are able to really have all their attention. We do not normally allow mothers to go inside the studio unless it is a new dancer and there is a big separation issue. Even then we encourage the mother to come in to the studio and then leave as inconspicuously as possible so as not to cause the child's attention to be drawn away from the teacher. We do also keep the door to the studio closed during class and periodically open the blinds on the viewing window so parents can take a look.

Before the class we make sure that the studio is set up with the story book of whatever ballet we are working with and whatever props are appropriate, you could also use something like "The Little Mermaid" story or nursery rhymes that they might be familiar with for the three year olds. Once they are four years old, I like to use the actual ballet stories like "Cinderella", "Sleeping Beauty" etc; so that they start to understand how the different movements relate to the stories. Usually we put the book standing up in the middle of the room and have the dancers sit cross legged in a circle around it while we check the attendance of the class. A good way to keep their interest here is to put a little bit of sparkle on their hands which, of course, is "fairy dust".

Immediately after this it is a good idea to stand them up with a leader and have the dancers run in a circle with "butterfly wings" or if you have boys "airplane wings". What this does is get their heart rates up and also helps to focus them in to what you are about to teach them. When you have done this exercise I recommend that you sit them down again on the floor either in a circle, semi circle or straight line to do simple exercises of the feet and arms and to do a little stretching. I have always found that by changing the levels fairly frequently, in other words, having them move around the room then sitting on the floor then up again to do something else ,that way the dancers don't have time to get restless or out of focus.

So, what do you do when one child decides to scream and cry and you have a room full of children starting to become unglued? I always try to get the distressed child interested in being my "helper" and having them lead the line in the next thing I do. Very often, just by distracting them it will stop the tears. The main objective is to get everybody doing something that is fun, perhaps just getting the dancers to roll a scarf up into a tiny ball and throw it up as high as they can, will help to break the ice. Another good trick is to put them into a straight line and one by one have them jump as high as they can while you stand over them telling them to jump and touch the top of their head to your hand. They all love that game!! I make them keep their hands on their hips while they explode into the air and apart from relaxing the dancers it also helps them improve their jumps!

Make sure you are actually working with a good children's syllabus. We will be presenting well constructed children's class content on the website to give you ideas for your classes. What you do not need to be doing is running a baby sitting service. Really the key is to make each class a fun and interesting event, remembering that at this age the dancer's attention span is very short.

The use of props is also highly recommended. Scarves, flags for the boys, hoops and artificial flowers and wands are all good, plus try using shapes made out of felt to make hearts and stars that they can use as focus points.

We don't actually sit down with the story until near the end of the class but as we go through the plies and the tendus, the marches and skips, the swaying and spinning and all the other types of steps that teach the young dancers rhythm and movement, we apply them to the story line. Towards the end of the class we sit the dancers down on the floor and start to tell the story showing the illustrations so that everyone can understand.

Once we have finished with the particular section of the book we close it so that there is something for them to look forward to the next week. We line them up and have them do their curtseys and bows. They get a colorful sticker either before or after they tiptoe out of the studio in a lovely straight line.

 If some of this sounds too good to be true, rest assured that it works very well so that you know that the children are really going to be learning something and that you, as a teacher, will retain your sanity so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment after these very demanding classes.


Angela D'Valda Sirico

Angela D'Valda Sirico

Originally from England, Angela spent her early years in Hong Kong where she studied with Carol Bateman. She continued her training at Arts Educational Trust in England. After moving to New York City she continued her studies with Martha Graham and Matt Mattox. She appeared with the Matt Mattox Company and toured with the first Disney On Parade working with Disney and N.B.C. Contracted to the Teatro National of Buenos Aires she performed for one year and spent an additional year as a featured soloist at the Teatro Maipo, Argentina. Travelling to Madrid, Spain she worked for Spanish television in a weekly variety show Tarde Para Todos and from there decided to form her own Dance Company. With the Company she choreographed and performed throughout Spain in theatres, and on television. Angela met her husband Steve while working together on a television special The Valerie Peters Show filmed in Tampa, Florida. In 1979 they formed the Adagio act DValda & Sirico appearing in theatres, clubs and on television shows such as David Letterman, Star Search and the Jerry Lewis Telethon. In 1982 they were contracted to Europe and appeared in a variety of shows in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Italy before going to London, England where they appeared as Guest Artists for Wayne Sleep (formerly of the Royal Ballet) in his show Dash at the Dominium Theatre. Angela and Steve have owned and directed their dance studio in Fairfield, CT. for the past twenty two years and in 2005 added music and vocal classes to their curriculum. Angela served as chairperson for the tri state panel of the Royal Academy of Dancing and is Co-author of a Partner syllabus currently used for teacher training by Dance Educators of America. She continues to adjudicate and teach for major dance organizations and choreographs for theatre, television and conventions and was commissioned by Boston Ballet 11 to choreograph the highly acclaimed Brother Can You Spare A Dime? DValda & Sirico are currently in production choreographing the opening to the National Speakers Association convention on Broadway at the Marriott Marquis for August of 2008. Angela is co-owner of Dance Teacher Web designed as an online resource for teachers worldwide.

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