Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dancing in a Box

Dale and I have coined a term that expresses an attitude we occasionally encounter while she's teaching master classes, or attending various competitions and performances with the company: "Dancing in a Box".

Jazz is a medium that is constantly evolving. New elements, taken from modern, street, and daily life experiences are constantly being added to the vocabulary. It is very important to keep an open mind to new ideas and to experience and learn from as much as possible from them.

For the dance student, it is very important to keep an open mind and be free to learn from every source possible. You must not be afraid to leave your "comfort zone", to get outside the "box" that may be limiting your growth as a dancer. If you are afraid to attempt a style that feels foreign, afraid to try something that you KNOW will make you look like an idiot on your first few attempts, you will be seriously limiting yourself. At conventions, take every single master class you can fit into your schedule. Don't hide in the back or sit on the sidelines because the instructor is doing something that you haven't tried before. Nobody is watching you! They're struggling to figure it out themselves!

Convince your teacher that it's important to find a way to New York or LA to take classes with the very choreographers that are on the cutting edge of jazz. Watch the schedules of the nearest performance venue closest to you and go see live performances of professional companies, especially those that are doing something different. You could learn more here than the class you may have to skip to get there! Keep an open mind and strive to increase the vocabulary of tools you use to dance. Leave fear at home, don't be afraid to dance free! Widening your horizons as a teacher is even more difficult than for your students.

First, you are going to have to develop a strong bond of trust with your students and not be afraid to let them take classes outside your studio from time to time, especially if you can't afford to bring in instructors for master classes. While this may rub against your business sense as you're trying to make a living from your studio, your main goal should be to help guide your students to become versatile and open minded. Help them to have every opportunity possible to learn, to grow, and to experience new things.

Second, and even more difficult for some teachers, is that you need to continue to take classes yourself whenever possible. Even if you're 52 and haven't danced much lately, how are you going to help your students advance and grow if you don't keep up with the current trends and experience them for yourself? Nobody expects you to have the flexibility or extension of a 16 year old, and you may even have to mark through certain things, but you will become a more rounded and versatile instructor for the experience. Take a few days during the summer, go to New York, and take classes at Steps or the Broadway Dance Center. Better yet, take some of your students with you get them into classes as well. Don't just take jazz either. Modern and African offer some wonderful techniques that you can incorporate into your classes. The more tools you have to offer as a teacher, the more interesting, challenging and fun your classes will become. Your students will be willing to work harder to learn and will become better dancers!


Dale Lam - Artistic Director
Les Mizzell - Technical Director
The Columbia City Jazz Dance Company Website
Dale and Les on Twitter

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