We all know that dancers need to do exams to get better at their craft. If they have an exam to work for, it makes them work harder and thus they improve. Without a goal to work towards, nothing improves and the mindset to work hard doesn’t exist.
As teachers it can be quite stressful at exam time. Pupils want to do well and parents are pressurizing you to make sure that their children do well. Unfortunately, you as a teacher can only teach the work to the best of your ability and it is up to the students to work hard and get their act together for the final test. As the old saying goes – you can take a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.
As dance teachers, half the battle is technique. If you teach technique correctly right from the beginning, you will make your life a lot easier in the long run. Make sure your students can execute each step with the proper form and technique, before joining steps into sequences and sequences into dances. Each step needs to be broken down from the top, done slowly and corrected bit by bit. Some steps will need additional exercises to get the right feel and look.
Once the dancer has mastered the basic steps, they can be joined and danced. Even then, you will still have to correct arm lines, musicality, foot work and position of the head, but that is mostly the finishing touches that will lead to a better all round performance during the exams.
Many teachers make the mistake of dancing with their pupils the entire year. This encourages the pupils to copy the teacher and not get used to doing the dance on their own and thinking for themselves. It is fine in the beginning while they are still learning, but then sit back and watch. It is amazing what you see when you actually sit down and watch, and it can also sometimes be quite shocking how little they actually know.
As soon as they know their work, you will need to sit and observe them at work, as there will always be technical faults to nip in the bud, as if they do the same fault for too long, the fault will become a habit.
Make sure that each pupil has a chance to stand in the front, because once again the girls at the back usually end up copying the ones in front, and then they can never do the exercises on their own. I usually alternate, and each class a different person gets to stand at the front and back of the bar, and then the middle dancers at the bar will be the front ones in the centre.
Last but not least, remember to show your students what to do and how to behave inbetween the exercises. They need to know how to run into the exam room and greet the examiner, and then how to put their props down and get to the bar. Also how to run neatly into the center.
Doing a dance exam is also about discipline and self control, and can help the dancer in many other areas of his or her life.
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