How to Teach a Modern Dance Class

By Kathryn Radeff

Modern dance, a style that encourages individual creativity and freedom of self-expression, is one of the most popular dance forms today. Interest is higher than ever, and the demand for instruction is so great that courses are now offered in more and more public schools, colleges and community education centers. You don’t need to be a dance specialist to teach a beginning level class. Of course, it helps to have some experience in ballet or jazz dance. Most classes follow a similar structure, but you can be inventive and creative. Use the following tips to teach a class.

Start the class with a warm-up. It’s important for dancers to stretch out their muscles and increase flexibility. Stretch exercises include floor and standing techniques designed to condition and tone the body. You can either develop a set routine of exercises that are repeated at the beginning of each class or vary the order in which they are presented. Introduce your students to creative effort from the very beginning by using appropriate word images that can be associated with movements: stretch like a rubber band, place your arms around a huge beach ball, collapse like ice cream melting. These techniques are a springboard to improvisation, used in the later portion of the class.

Do plies and releves adopted from ballet practice, along with other techniques, to prepare the joints of feet, ankles, knees and hips. Emphasize the importance of movement from one fixed point to another along the way. Overhead arm stretches, bounces with flat backs, slow twisting of the torso and collapsing the entire body downward along while exhaling are useful in easing tension. You can also include exercises to isolate different parts of the body, such as the head, shoulders, arms, hips and rib cage. These exercises are also used to provide a form of expression.

Give combinations across the floor. Do dance walks, a simple and natural form of movement. Here, the toes and ball of the foot strike the floor first. The ankle extends as the foot moves forward and the weight is shifted from the ball of the foot to the heel. Contact with the floor is accompanied by a slight turnout and small plie. Other traditional dance movements like the run, hop, skip, jump and chasse are used in a variety of themes and variations.

Move to the center of the floor. Introduce experiences in improvisation. This helps students to unleash creativity and use movement spontaneously. Be enthusiastic in your presentation on thinking creatively, and involve the use of all the senses. Present movement ideas such as the sensation of floating in cool water, of leaves falling off the trees in autumn, or of walking barefoot in the sand. Ask students to find movements that depend on a chair, a bench or a footstool for support or balance. Look around the room for something that has never caught your attention before, such as a painting on the wall, or the way the sun shines on the floor. Have your students relate to it in some way with movement. Ask them to imagine being contained in a bottle and move within the confinement of its space.

End the class with a cool down. You can repeat some of the stretches that you did when you first started the class. Conduct cool downs slowly, and emphasize good body placement. Make sure stretches are on both sides of the body and for the same length of time.

About the Author

Kathryn Radeff began writing professionally in 1982. A versatile writer, she has contributed to numerous publications, including "Woman's World," "The Buffalo News," "Buffalo Spree," "Reader's Digest" and "USA Today." Radeff studied theater and dance at the University of New York at Buffalo for two years. Following a 20-year career as a fitness instructor and dance educator, she now specializes in writing about health issues.