Performance Preparations for Young Dancers
In many parts of the world little dancers are preparing to step onto a stage to share with others what they have learned from taking dance class. Performing can be such an exciting time for all involved but is also can be a time of not knowing what to expect with bits of anxiety woven through. I would like to share my thoughts with you on how I have prepared my young dancers for a positive experience while keeping the jitters and tears away. Now, I will be totally honest with you, a little bit of jitters is normal. But, you must spend time preparing so that every child’s jitters don’t turn into tears.
For some of you reading this it may be too late to apply some of these suggestions for this year’s show. That is okay, you will know for next year. For others, read through and be thinking of all the possibilities for your young dancers.
The most important thing to remember is that every child is unique, and it may not be their time at that moment to step into the lights and that is OKAY. Ask yourself, did they benefit from coming to weekly dance class? Did they have fun and enjoy the experience of learning to move? That is what is important! Some children may not be ready to perform for others and just need to watch from the wings. Whether your year-end show is in the studio with parents watching or in a big theatre with lots of people watching, some children are not comfortable being watched. Please shower this child with love and understanding whether they step onto the stage and freeze, or they choose to just sit on the sidelines and watch. I also want you to be aware that some parents are totally okay with this situation and then there are some that may not be happy with their child and aren’t afraid of showing their disappointment in public. Be prepared, let the parents know how proud you are of that child whether they stepped out onstage or not. Always remember, you are teaching a whole child and not just a dancer.
Don’t just ask the kids to go onstage and perform a dance. You know I advocate pretend play and creative movement as a necessary part of every early childhood dance class. This is how they learn, and it should be a part of every performance as well. Create a story and allow those children to be a character within that story. Story telling is natural for young children and is a necessity for every time a child performs for others. Pretending to be a dog in a circus at four years old allows the child to tell a story. I ALWAYS put the class assistant into the performance. The children have bonded with their class assistant throughout the year and the children feel safe with her or him nearby. When given the opportunity to interact with that assistant onstage while also telling a story through movement becomes comfortable to the young child. Now, I want to clarify, putting a child in a dog costume and teaching them a dance is not enough. The movement must represent pretending to be a dog and the key is the story development and the interaction between the child and the assistant. I also don’t recommend the assistant standing on the side and just doing the dance in a line along with the kids. A few seconds of that is fine but not all 3 minutes. It is boring for the audience and it isn’t how a child naturally performs. Use the assistant’s movements and gestures as cues to the young children to move to a new formation on the stage. Have your young dancers show off how they can weave lines, make circles, and travel on the diagonal. This is a whole lot better than standing in a line too close to the next dancer and staring out into the audience and seeing all those eyes staring back. In fact, that would give me the jitters today, and I well remember experiencing that uneasiness more than a half century ago. It is being a part of a story, while dancing all around the stage reinforced with the encouragement, smiles, and interaction from the assistant that will replace the tears with smiles on the performers faces.
I highly recommend students are not given choreography (skills) they haven’t learned in class yet. Remember, a year-end performance is to share with loved ones what you have learned all year. I also recommend that students practice putting the skills together in small batches. Think of trying to memorize a paragraph. It is best to remember each sentence at a time. Then put two sentences together, then three, and so on and so on. The same holds true for movement. Set time aside to practice the linking of the skills separately. Link step one to step two, repeat, now practice linking step two to three, repeat, and then practice linking step one, two, and three. Have the dancers sing the steps as they move. Have them whisper and then finally have them only saying them in their head.
My final thought on this subject has to do with you. Yes, you! Children are the best readers of how someone is feeling, and it is imperative that you do not share your stress and anxiety of all your performance responsibilities with the children. You don’t have to say a word, but they can read your body language and your facial expressions. They can sense your stress through your shortness in your answers and directions. They can sense your disappointment. If you are stressed, you cannot show it to the children. Yes, I understand the tremendous amount of stress involved with putting on a show and how much you want your students to do well. So be prepared ahead of time and take care of yourself along the way so your year-end show is a positive experience for all, including you.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you and I do hope this information helps you with your approach to performance preparation for young dancers. Happy Dancing!