Monday, 11 February 2013

Working with recreational dancers

Working with recreational community dance groups poses a different set of considerations in class planning. Instead of working with a known quantity, you never know how many dancers you will have; what level of fitness they are at or what level of technique, if any, they have. It can make planning sessions and creating choreography tricky at best. You can have individuals brand new to exercise in with semi-professional dancers, or people who have trained to a high level alongside people with reasonable levels of fitness but absolutely no technical knowledge. Fitness and technical skill can vary wildly, and your job is to find a means of providing a diverse population with a useful, enjoyable and fulfilling class.

Drop-in classes when you don't know who or what you're getting can be the hardest to pitch. The easiest way to provide a safe and enjoyable class is to make the exercises and choreography scalable - have a simple version that can be developed by those with a higher skillset to an intermediate or advanced level. Don't pitch the base choreography too high, and be aware that what is basic and easy to one person may be a considerable physical challenge for another.

Those who have trained extensively in dance tend to have much higher levels of coordination and neuromuscular control than the general public. Simple transfer of weight poses the trained dancer no problem, but can be an initial stumbling block to someone just starting out. Equally jete sections can cause excessive strain on joints in untrained individuals. The most basic plies and port de bras can take weeks for the new dancer to master, whereas the experienced dancer is liable to become bored and frustrated if not able to push themselves physically and technically.

Recreational dancers usually come to class due to a combination of the desire for an exercise class, and an attraction to the art of dance. They didn't go to spin class, out for a run or to the swimming pool, they came to class because there is an urge to dance, whether it's classical ballet, hip hop or zumba. As a dance facilitator it's a balancing act between trying to provide for this desire to dance, and working within their particular fitness and skill limitations. Injuries tend to happen with recreational dancers when they are pushed to perform choreography their bodies are not ready for. You want to push them to improve their strength, fitness and technical skill, the higher these are the more challenging choreography you can throw at them, the more they enjoy the class and the more they grow. Equally many will not have a great deal of bodily awareness or co-ordination, and therein lies the danger of them pushing their bodies too far and opening themselves to injury.

Rhythm and motion class at ODC Dance Common, SF, 2010.
Always start with a thorough warm up; include body-weight and strength work in classes; work to develop aerobic capacity - use the grande allegro section to develop this in new dancers instead of complicated jumps; drill the basics of weight transferral and alignment; develop proprioception; don't push flexibility or attempt lifts just because your students want to do something impressive, stick to the fundamentals; include a decent cool down and stretch, it will develop bodily awareness. If you start with the basics and have more advanced versions for more experienced students you lessen the risk of over-extending inexperienced individuals. A person coming to a class to improve their general fitness does not need to be able to execute complicated physical feats - you need to provide a safe and effective  class that fulfills their desire for physical exercise and experience of dance. Recreational dancers aren't the same as professionals, don't let over enthusiasm cause physical injury.

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