Tiffany Wrightson – July 2014
Competitions are looming, dance exam preparation has started, school exams are also drawing closer …
Your child may be feeling excited, nervous, prepared, anxious, or a mixture of all of these emotions. In my experience, parents feel these emotions for their child, just as much if not more than their child does (I see you all at exams!) I’ll let you in on a secret – dance teachers feel these emotions too. Just like you, we are so invested in making sure that each and every student has the best experience possible. We aim for every student to feel as prepared as they can be before a competition / performance / examination, so that they come away feeling happy and proud of themselves, knowing that they did their best. However, a dance student is not going to achieve their best just by rehearsing in class with their teacher – they must also put in as much outside practice as they have time for. This is where you come in!
Some of you have asked how you can help your child practice. If you have had prior dance training yourself, it should be quite an easy task to help your child. But what about the non-dancing parent? This may be a daunting prospect. Well, I would like to share with you five tips on how you can help your child at home.
1. Help them to schedule in practice time.
If your child doesn’t already have one, help your child come up with a schedule. This schedule should cover all the things they need to do: their homework, dance / musical instrument / sports practice, and yes, even relaxation time. When this is done on a weekly basis, your child will eventually become responsible for making their own schedule, as they see themselves achieving the goals that they have. You will find you have not only taught them the lifelong skill of efficient time management, but will hopefully also have instilled in them a habit for making time for the important things in life while planning for and executing on their goals.
2. Find a suitable and safe practice space.
This is important. The floors in a dance studio are sprung. This means that the floors are slightly bouncy to absorb shock through the joints of the body when landing from jumping. Dancing on a cement floor is quite dangerous and can cause injuries. The best option would be to always rehearse on a proper sprung dance floor – and we provide Open Studio hours for that. However, I understand that this is not always possible. If your child wishes to work on jumps or acrobatic tricks, a large, even, grassy area would be the best option. If your child would like to practice tapping, but no sprung floor is available, your child should wear shock-absorbing sneakers to prevent injury. Ballet can be practiced in socks on a soft, carpeted area. If it is simple conditioning of the body, a yoga mat would be a great piece of equipment to have at home.
3. See if it is possible to get the music to practise with.
You may watch your child practise at home, but how do you know if they are doing it correctly if they are not practising with the music? It is definitely appropriate for you to contact the dance studio or teacher directly for advise on the music to practise with. We usually give parents the opportunity to video their child’s competition choreography, performed to the music, so you would be able to capture the actual music played. In most cases, the music is copyrighted, so the teachers will be unable to give you a copy. However they will be able to give you the title of the music and then you are free to search for the music yourself online. The version the child uses in class may be cut/shortened, however in this instance, the full version of the music would still be helpful.
4. Encourage your child to perform for you and other friends and/or family members.
Practising on your own is a very different feeling from having to perform in front of people. Each child will respond differently to this situation. Some children thrive on the chance to perform in front of others. Some feel very pressured and insecure. Arranging for your child to perform in front of friends / family members is a great way to help overcome any insecurities. Surprisingly, it can be much more difficult to perform in front of people you know than people you don’t. Assure your child that if they can do this, they will have no problem performing on stage. Start small, particularly if they are a little shy, as this could feel very daunting at first.
5. Offer positive encouragement as well as gentle constructive criticism to your child.
Even if you do not have a full grasp of the technique your child is trying to achieve, there are some things you can look out for. Don’t be afraid to praise your child for doing something well, or pointing out some areas that they could work on. Here are a few things that we emphasize in class and which you can help look out for:
Listen to the music they are performing to. If it is bright and fast, they should have a big bright smile on their face with ‘sparkly eyes’. The sparkly eyes make the smile look genuine instead of forced. If the music is soft and pretty, or strong and regal, their expression should match.
Whether the music is slow or fast, dance should always be performed with energy. Watch that your child is ‘hitting’ where the strong accents are in the music, fully extending to the ends of the finger-tips / toes, and dancing with fully extended posture.
This is vital. Signs of an unconfident performance are slouched posture, un-extended arms (particularly when above the head), non-genuine smile, lack of eye focus (eyes may look towards the floor or dart around the room).
Rhythm and Timing
Does your child appear to be presenting the steps in time with the music?
Here is a short check list of what you can help your child look out for when he / she practices the various genres:
- Bent knees
- Heels well lifted off the ground
- Feet well picked up when executing the taps
- Loud, clear beats
- Confident use of arms
- Confident eye-line
- Legs and feet well stretched
- Energy throughout the entire body to the tips of fingers and toes
- Strong confident lines – arms and legs fully extended with the body lifted and necked lengthened
- Maintenance of posture
- Maintenance of turn out – turn out is external rotation of both legs evenly from the hip joint. As well as being visually more aesthetically pleasing for the dancer’s body, it also helps the dancer to achieve greater flexibility and range of movement.
- Legs and feet well stretched
- Arms well shaped (no broken lines)
Technique similar to Jazz, plus
- Shows emotional connection to the music
Technique similar to Jazz, plus
- Audible use of breath
- Spiritual connection to the music
See our Pictorial Explanation for some of the above descriptions.
When a child is underprepared, they tend to be very stressed before an upcoming performance or examination. When fully prepared and rehearsed, the child should feel ready and excited. There will always be some nerves, and that is natural. I always tell my students, that if those butterflies in the tummy were not there, that would mean they didn’t care. At this point you can confidently assure your child that they have done everything they can towards achieving their very best.
Good luck to everyone for the Asia Pacific Dance Competition and CSTD November examinations!