Wednesday, March 10, 2010

"Slow Me Down"

You're probably all wondering how I am able to write a blog in the middle of a Wednesday night, when I should be at the studio teaching right???
Well I have officially taken the evening off, and with good reason! I have a new approach to my competitive season... and of course I will share it with all of you!

During the Olympics I was really intrigued by a lot of these short little fillers they showed during telecasts where sports doctors would explain how athletes reach their peak performance levels. In the back of my mind I was thinking, well I'm sure they've been working 24/7 for the past month in preparation for the Olympics, no? WRONG... they're working the least they have all year in preparation for the biggest performance of their careers! I actually sort of already knew that information, but it's taken me a few weeks to really let that sink in and figure out how to utilize all of that with my students.

As a dance teacher our usual perspective when we are approaching the competitive season is to drill routines. We spend a lot of regular class time rehearsing the same routine over and over again. I understand and agree that we are training the muscle memory of our students for each specific routine, but when is it enough? This is generally the time of year when we are having extra nights of rehearsals for all our numbers, and getting the kids to come in on Sundays to run through their solos 17 more times just to make sure they know it before next weekend... come on, we've all done it! So now with all of this newly shared information about Olympic athletes, I'm going to try it out on my students this year... then you can all use my idea next year!

I don't teach regular classes on Wednesday nights, as I usually spend them doing choreography for solos or small groups as I need to. Well, since all my numbers are finished and I have cleaned them all up, I'm going to give the kids a break! They still have to come to their regular Company classes all week, but even then I'm using my time differently. I'm focusing their regular group classes on a lot of stretching and strengthening, as well as general technique exercises, and some really great new combos. I'm trying to get their minds off of drilling routines and put the focus back on really dancing in class. I will normally run a competitive group at the end of an evening, but I'm not picking them apart any more so that every kid is blinking at the same time. With only one week left until our first competition, the dances are going to be what they're going to be. If I change anything now, chances are it won't be changed on stage next weekend!

I have left my iPod at the studio tonight so that when the kids are in for their other classes they are allowed to go into my room and rehearse a solo or a duet at their will. Normally I will get feedback from my other staff that they ran through all their groups even on their own, just to keep it in their minds. I think that's great, and it shows that the kids do understand that the muscle memory conditioning I have been preaching for years is still important.

As a teacher I feel that I have given my kids all of the right tools to use on their own to be able to decide how much rehearsing they need to do. Most of these kids know the kinds of corrections they need to work on and that is what I can focus class time on. If a lot of my students perform on stage and have issues with pirouettes, I will spend their technique class working on those. If we simply just correct our student's technique within a piece of choreography, we are not helping them learn how to use technique or alignment correctly within dance itself, we are just making our routines look clean.

So at this time of the year, my kids are at the studio the least amount of days in comparison to when they started classes back in September. They don't have half an hour solo practises every week any more, and we might even go an entire week without rehearsing a particular group. You do have to keep all this in perspective, and know that I am not talking about my youngest competitive students here. Our Junior Company at their age still require a ton a muscle memory work, and so drilling routines with them is still essential... but we have stopped with the corrections and changes in choreography. My Intermediate and Senior level students are at an age and a maturity level now that they will still be able to remember their lyrical group, even if I do a brand new combo in class with them instead of drilling their routine.

You can argue with me that I'm taking away an opportunity for my Intermediate and Senior students to work on the performance level of their groups by doing this, but I can assure you that because I have been doing combos weekly in class with them all year, they can turn any piece of choreography into a performance quite quickly. It all goes back to the way you lay out your entire year with your Competitive team. Maybe you like to get your routines choreographed in the summer so that you have 6 months to clean up. Or maybe you're the kind of studio who only starts your choreography in January knowing that your students can pick it up quickly. I think I'm happy to say that I've found the middle ground with this one... and we will see how it all plays out very soon!

So I'm going to enjoy a nice glass of Merlot at home tonight, and I hope that the kids will get home early from the studio tonight and enjoy some of the much deserved time off they have. With competition season comes a lot of stress, for teacher, students and parents a like, so I'm finding it nice that we can all relax a bit before hand.

I know for a fact that drilling a tap group 86 times and late night daily rehearsals on that Production can cause a lot of stress on the kids, and on us teachers. So, I wanted to find a way to make getting ready for a competition a lot more enjoyable... and you can't argue with me that getting in your pyjamas, in front of the fire place, with a tall glass of wine is not enjoyable!


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