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Age-Appropriate Technical Choreography

This topic was suggested by Kristen DeFrancisco Miller, a teacher at the highly respected Donna Frech School of Dance in Norwich, NY. Thanks, Kristen!

I could write an entire series of blogs on the concept of “age-appropriateness.” Since this is a topic that remains relevant relevant and is constantly debated, I have decided to tackle it one aspect at a time.

Kristen, a teacher I have known for ten years now, suggested I write about appropriateness of choreography. For example, is it appropriate to put a billion unsuccessful fouetté turns into a nine year old’s lyrical solo?

I have come up with one steadfast rule regarding how to negotiate that delicate balance between wanting to challenge your students with more advanced technical choreography and also wanting them to appear confident and their dancing to appear effortless.

Here it is: If it doesn’t look GOOD, don’t put it on stage.

All audiences, whether professional competition judges, the dancer’s parents, or simply interested strangers, are hoping to see the same thing: dancing that looks good. The job of the dance teacher is to make his or her students both look good, and also strive to be even better. Obviously, students need to be challenged, but certainly not in a way that is going to make them look awkward or foolish on stage.

I recall at one competition I was judging, a fellow judge commented during a lunch break that she couldn’t believe how many times she saw young dancers attempting to perform a heel stretch, but were unable to straighten the leg all the way or to get their leg higher than the hip. We agreed that if the leg can’t be straightened or the heel is no higher than at least the shoulder, it should just be left out of the dance!

Although I can certainly understand a teacher’s desire to push a student to perfect a choreographic element, such as a heel stretch, placing it in the student’s routine and taking it to competition serves no purpose other than to highlight and broadcast the student’s technical deficiency, and risks the student suffering undue embarassment or loss of self-confidence. Who would want to do that to an aspiring young dancer?

My advice, then, is a more balanced approach. Privately, in the studio, always push a student to more and more difficult elements of dance. Once that single pirouette is landed smoothly, celebrate for a few seconds, and then ask for the double. Once a student can nicely execute four fouettés, give them a high five and ask for six. But, do not formally place any element in the choreography for a student’s routine until it is perfected.

The audience is looking for what the student does WELL, so use the choreography to show off what the student does WELL. Elements with which the student is struggling or those which they aspire to accomplish in the near future should be worked out in the studio, not onstage. Remember, you want to highlight what the dancer does well, not what they don’t. You want to set the student up to feel successful and encouraged, not deflated and thoroughly disparaged.

Hope you found this helpful! I’m always looking for new blog ideas and I love comments!

Best of luck, dancers!

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