The addition of a set-warm-up to your curriculum for pre-professional dancers has its advantages and disadvantages. This week I wanted to give teachers something to think about in terms of what might work best for you and your students.
A set warm-up can be a wonderful way to begin your classes for many reasons. Dancers are taught each exercise slowly and specifically over the scope of however many months; where the teacher should be taking time to make sure the deconstruction of the exercise is clear and the dancer feels confident with the movement, patterns, coordination, timing, etc. Building up to a full warm-up should be explored in the first half-of the year; where one or two exercises per week let’s say, is broken down and the dancers can then follow you for the remaining warm-up until the following week’s addition. While some of you may be saying, “Well, why can’t you just break everything down in one week?....” The truth is with beginning students that becomes an inundation of information for them to process. Certainly with more advanced students longer phrases of information and movement can be given (i.e. perhaps you want to deconstruct your whole floor section of your warm-up for them in two classes, etc.) but it’s best to work slowly and let them fully comprehend one phrase before jumping onto the next. Furthermore, once the dancers have learned the entire warm-up, they are then in a sense “freed up” to concentrate on self-assessment and self-correction. Here is an excellent opportunity for them to be “present” in the space,” work on the nuances of their technique and learn new details about their bodies and the specificities of each exercise.
The down-side to the set warm-up is that while you are making room for them to be “present in the space,” there is also room for dancers to “check out” once they know the warm-up like the back of their hand. Like anything, it can become mundane, rote and something the students just coast through to get to across the floor or the center combo. While I find this common with all levels, advanced dancers have more instinctual body awareness. They are more attuned with self-assessing how to get themselves warm and how to adjust the elements of the warm-up to achieve that. As teachers, being on autopilot is obviously the last thing we want our dancers to do; as the learning process then is obviously not occurring in an active, progressive way.
You can have the best of both worlds though and give your dancers the opportunity for a set warm-up they know they are coming into and keep them on their toes to keep them thinking while moving. Depending on how many times a week this warm-up is given will determine how quickly they learn it as well, but if you think you’d like to try it there are some options. Think about making only half your warm-up set and the other half new every week. Some teachers have a set floor warm-up but the remainder of their plies, tendus, isolations, etc, are constantly changing week to week. This gives students both ends of the spectrum. Another option is to keep the warm-up set for the first half of the year and then change it after holiday break so they are getting a full three or four months to master it and then moving on to something different. A third option is to keep the warm-up for the entire year but alter and reset an exercise here and there to make it more challenging (i.e. change the arms, change the direction, add a rhythm change, add more repetitions, etc.) And finally, (especially for more advanced students) make spontaneous amendments to the warm-up to keep them on their toes and thinking. Nothing will “wake them up” more than throwing that occasional curve ball at them if they have checked out for a while.
You know what works best for your students. Any of these variations are worthy of consideration to help them reach their maximum potential for both learning and retaining information….all while developing them into “thinking dancers!”
See you in the dance studio,