By Gladys Keeton, Professor Emerita, Dance at Texas Woman's University
The dance studio is a learning environment where students can develop skills that will serve them throughout life. Dance performance skills, from the studio and the stage, can be applied to real-world situations.
Shakespeare wrote, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players." The dance studio should be considered a stage during every class session. We as dance teachers should be fostering performance skills from the time our students step into the studio as beginners. Students need the opportunity to discover how their daily actions are performances that influence the perceptions of observers in real-world situations.
How can we do this? Establish a positive stage environment in the studio. Refer to the studio as the “stage” and students as “dancers.” When the dancers enter, they are “on stage.” Continue this label throughout the class to support the purpose of the class and a sense of belonging, no matter the skill level of each dancer. Place stage direction signs on the walls and utilize stage direction vocabulary when directing students to move to specific areas.
Dancers must also be instructed in breath patterns, which provide a foundation to initiate the body into expressing a movement. Breath is the most important aspect of life. Everything we do and the way we move begins with the way we breathe. Once dancers are introduced to breath patterns, they must apply this to a ready position. Engaging the core, the dancer takes a deep breath from the lower abdominals to flow to the top of the head, lengthening the torso and causing the weight to move toward the balls of the feet. This provides a definite beginning to any movement statement. The same is important for the end: add some type of punctuation mark such as a movement hold or exit. Breath, “ready position,” and definite beginnings and endings are techniques required for presentation and communication skills.
Dancers can develop and demonstrate confidence by applying direct focus to each of the stage directions in place and while traveling. A variety of focus points should be explored to express various ideas while traveling through space. Spatial awareness, focus, and direct movement can be experienced by having dancers focus and travel eight steps in a direct line to a spot they have selected in the environment. After the eight steps, they will quickly turn the body (engage the core), continuing to walk eight steps to another spot. The activity is repeated several times in eights, fours, and twos. Dancers must be focused and develop awareness of other dancers as they travel. They can also learn to make quick independent decisions as to how to maneuver among the other dancers (speed up or slow down, larger or smaller steps, etc.). Dancers must also become aware of their kinesphere while moving in relationship to other dancers using the same space. As dancers move indirectly in the stage space, the teacher can gradually change the amount of space, making it smaller each time. The dancers must find ways to move that will include moving the body and body parts in different directions and levels, without touching another dancer.
Dancers learn performance techniques for focus, independent work, presentation and communication skills, creativity, decision making, self-awareness, spatial awareness, and moving with confidence. By exploring basic skills in the studio and stage environment, dancers will learn performance strategies to manage social and professional environments.
Gladys Keeton is not retired but recharging. She is an adjunct professor, mentor to first-year public school dance teachers, artist in resident in public schools, presenter for school district professional developments and the Center for Educator Development Summits, chair of the National Dance Educator Standards and president of the National Dance Society. Gladys is a lifelong learner that loves ballroom dance and enjoys the ambiance of the beach. She also loves to spend quality time with her three children, four grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.