As we start the new dance season, it’s a great time for musical theatre teachers to start adding to their curriculum and look at the many components that are embedded in the musical theatre genre. First off, while it is always a good idea to find music and content which is age appropriate and will get the students engaged, establishing a solid technical foundation is also vital as with any other genre. Jazz and ballet technique will always be a necessary extension of performance technique, so below is a breakdown of my own center warm-up which progresses into across the floor and center combinations! This is a great way to get the dancers familiar with what they will see later on in the class and give them the opportunity to see the movement and develop the sense of style that will be presented that day. On a side note, keep in mind that the stylization aspect is sometimes the most difficult part of technique to tackle for preteen dancers. Often times, developing the nuances of the Fosse technique, the 1930’s clean lines and body positions, etc, are going to take longer to develop because they do require a maturity and clear understanding of body placement and initiation of movement. As a teacher, you will know better than anyone when your students are ready for these types of styles to be introduced into the class vernacular.
Breakdown of Preteen Musical Theatre Center Warm-Up
Standing Stretch: I always suggest starting this section with slow, continuous movement; starting from top of the body to bottom, introducing a nice opening of the different muscle groups but also taking the time to pay attention to detail through each part of the body. This will get the dancers ready for the next section of isolations. Exercises to include: slow head circles, slow shoulder circles, slow reaches side to side through rib-cage, wrist rolls, large under-curves and over-curves of the arms to include deep breathing, three bounces in a low level (with knees bent and hands on floor) which straightens into a straight leg stretch, slow roll-downs and roll- ups ups through the spine to feel the articulation and stacking of vertebrae to find correct verticality and alignment.
Basic Isolations: Again starting with the top of the head, start with basic isolations to include: looking down, to the right, up and left; repeat other way. (For beginner students repeat 2-4 times with no arms. For more advanced students, try adding a changing of arms to build coordination and direction changes!) Repeat two slow head circles. Progress this exercise to shoulder, ribs and hips! I also always like to include basic, slow walks with hip initiation, lateral traveling hip circles and “showgirl” walks in the center as a small progression of what the dancers have just done and what they will see in bigger traveling combinations when they get to across the floor.
Plies: Here, I like to stay pretty traditional including two demi plies and a grande plie. However, I do add parallel first position and a stretch out of the grande plie to warm-up the large muscles group of the legs. It’s also fun to add a bevel weight-shift change in between positions, snapping wrists rolls, etc to further enhance the genre you are working in!
Tendus: Again here, I like to stay pretty traditional with my preteen dancers and want them to really focus on the stretch of the feet (especially if they are going to be working in heels!) and working in the parallel position. I like to give four tendus in each position (front-side-back-side) and add four three-step turns into a plie bevel to transition side to side. It is also a great way to slip in a spotting exercise while inserting these turns when transitioning right to left side and again slowly introducing the style element!
Rond de Jambe & Pirouette Preparations: With rond de jambes I always like to work in a turn-out first with my preteens with arms in a second position port de bras. I usually work the right side, then the left and include 3 rond de jambes front- to-back, (with the last one ending with leg extended in second position tendu.) This progresses to a pas de bourree into preparation for a parallel jazz pirouette. There is then a repeat of the exercise reversing the rond de jambes back -to- front. Teachers can also progress to single or multiple turns based on their class level!
Cardiovascular Aspect: A great break from the technique aspect here for a few minutes and great way to condition your dancers! I always have a set series of crunches, sit-ups, pilates based exercises, “mountain climbers,” “half-burpees,” push-ups, jumping jacks, runs in place and sautés in turned out first, parallel and second position for a solid 5-10 minutes straight! The kids might moan and groan a bit but you will get them energized for sure!!!
Floor Stretch: Here is a point in class where I will either determine whether to lead a floor stretch or let the dancers stretch on their own. Sometimes the dancers are vocal about whether they are feeling they have specific areas they’d like to stretch on their own so it’s up to you as a teacher to decide what is right on a given day!
While length of class will definitely play a part in how long you are able to structure center-warm-up hopefully these ideas will give you a framework of how you can adapt them to most suit your needs! Next time we will look at taking this technique to build across the floor exercises and center combinations while focusing on style, content and context of musical theatre works for your preteen dancers!