July Book Report - Animobiles

I'm feeling the heat now that it's mid-July, and I guess we're almost close to the dog days of summer?? (I don't know when that officially is, but we're gonna roll with it). 

So with animals on the mind, let's get down to this month's Book Report - Animobiles, by Maddie Frost! I found this book about a month ago and immediately knew it was something I needed for my young dance classes, because not only is it fun, bright, and catchy, it's full of animals making some awesome moves, and is a perfect book to introduce concepts like pathway, speed, and direction.

Simply written with charming illustrations, this book is best for young readers, but isn't short on themes and ideas to explore with students. From rumbling down the road like a cow car, to flying high like a bird in a plane, this book combines two of many kid's favorite things: animals and moving!

If you teach early childhood dance, I definitely recommend putting this book on your shelf! You can buy it here, and then make sure you check out my free download of my Creative Dance Curriculum for more ideas on how to incorporate story with movement. Happy Reading!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

July Brain Dance - Traffic Can Be Terrific!

Happy July! You're likely in the thick of summer - whether you're a dance teacher and that means summer dance camps galore, or you're a parent and you've got kids on your hands and in your house like, all. the. time, today I've got a fun movement game that's great for when you #1 need to get dance classes going quickly, and #2 need to keep the kids inside, out of the heat, but occupied. Plus, bonus #3 this game is SUPER fun - my students always ask for it! Enjoy, and happy dancing!

Body Positivity For Dancers - How To Respond To Food Judgements

Hey All! If you're one of the smart cookies who's subscribed to my Newsletter list, a few weeks ago you got an email in your inbox that had this fun little graphic, and a story about how as a young dancer, I very vividly remember what a chaperone told me about how good it was that I only ate salad during a summer intensive.

Remembering that is what inspired me to create this visual, in hopes that it might be of service to you if you have dancers heading off to summer programs. They'll be encountering lots of new situations, both in the dance classroom and outside of it, and it's likely that some of those situations might include judgements, shaming, or just general weirdness about food choices.

This list offers suggestions for how to navigate those situations, while remaining friendly, positive, and while standing in our own power about what choices are good for us.

I also talk more in depth about these in the video below.

If you're digging these body positivity vibes, I'd love for you to do 2 things!

#1 - sign up for my Newsletter! It's super non-spammy and I send lots of downloads like the one above, as well as tips and resources for your teaching practice.

#2 - check out my Body Positivity & Empowerment In The Dance Classroom course for more in depth ideas and strategies to light your dancers up from the inside out and give them the confidence to grow and develop as self assured, self loving dancers.

Let me know if you'll be sharing this list or this video with your students as they head off to their summer adventures, and happy dancing!

Dance Teachers - Let's Stop Doing THIS!

Hey Friends! So if you follow me over on Instagram, you may have seen an Instagram story I did last week; I went on a little rant about one of the things I really can't stand in the dance classroom. If you don't follow me on Instagram, we should totally be friends, but aside from that, I figured today's blog would be a good place to explain why the thing I ranted about bothers me so much.

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What I was saying was that I really don't like in early childhood dance classes when we label body parts as 'good', or 'bad/naughty'. For example, I see in a lot of young classes during warm up dancers sitting in a circle and working on flexing/pointing their feet. A common enough exercise, for sure. But what I can't get behind is the pointed feet being 'good' toes, and the flexed feet being 'bad/naughty' toes.

While you might find this a trivial point to have a bugaboo with, hear me out - young dancers are especially impressionable, and will not only take these words to heart, and go home to practice them, but these words and ideas have the potential to become ingrained in them and stay with them for years to come as they develop their technique and ideas about their bodies.

Words matter. Especially in reference to our bodies, our choices and abilities. I really don't like the idea of associating morality (good vs. bad) with body parts, from the tip of our heads to our toes. 

Now many teachers teach the way they were taught, right? How many of us use words, phrases, and visualizations that have stuck with us since we were young dancers? (I'm raising my hand here.) There's nothing wrong with that, that's how we learn and grow, but I think it's a good idea to keep aware of the words we use in the classroom and always ask if there's a different way we could be doing things. That challenges not only us as teachers, but our students as well - when we say new things and propose new ideas, our students are more likely to perk up and pay attention in a new way.

Ok, teachers, your turn. Will you be trying new phrases in your classes? Let me know what you think, and feel free to share these ideas with someone you think would find them interesting! If you're curious about how, exactly to shake up your teaching, and incorporate new and more empowering phrases, I'd love for you to check out my online class, Body Positivity and Empowerment in the Dance Classroom.

Thanks for reading, and happy dancing everyone!

June Book Report - Uni the Unicorn

Ah summer! The unofficial time to read ALL the books! If you're anything like me, you've got a stack thigh high waiting for your attention, which is where kid's books come in. Picture books are way shorter, easier to read, and involve less commitment than adult books, which is one of the reasons I love them so much. (Plus, colorful illustrations. Duh.) I use children's books a lot in my creative dance classes, and one of my most anticipated programs this summer is Unicorn Dance Camp, so with that in mind, June's Book Report is about one of my most favorite unicorn books ever.

UNI THE UNICORN by Amy Krause Rosenthal

Uni is a typical unicorn (magical, spirited, beautiful), except she believes that there is such a thing as little girls. All her friends and her family just smile knowingly when Uni brings her beliefs up, convinced that she'll grow out of that silly belief, but Uni just knows.

I won't give away any of the rest of this fairytale story that turns tradition on its head, but the gorgeous illustrations by Brigette Barrager draw readers of all ages right in, and will have you all questioning what you really believe in by the end. Plus, there's now a sequel! Uni The Unicorn And The Dream Come True picks up where the first book left off, so the fun can continue!

I can't recommend this sweet series enough, for anyone in your life who loves the magical, or maybe needs to be reminded that believing is at the heart of wonder, these books are for you. Now, I'd love to know - what's on your nightstands these days? Share, comment, and let me know!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

June Brain Dance - Rockin' Rhythm

Happy June Friends! Every month I post a new Brain Dance (dunno what the heck a Brain Dance is? Read all about the amazing benefits of it here), and this month we're moving and grooving and exploring rhythm! Each of these exercises can be used to explore rhythm with your students. From fast to slow, and everything in between, this is a great introduction to rhythm, and has lots of options to change it up and challenge older students.

Would love for you to share with a teacher you think would dig it, and then let me know how you liked it! Hope you enjoy, and happy dancing!

REPLAY! 4 Props for Awesome Summer Dance Fun

Ok Friends. It's GO time. I'm in summer dance camp mode all the way, so I'm replaying this blog from last year because #1 - it's still relevant (an oldie, but a goodie), and #2 - I've got a lot to do!

Keep on scrolling for my top 4 summer dance props to ensure an epic summer, and then check out this BONUS of some fresh new videos I've made on tips, tricks, activities and games you can use to make it the best summer of dancing ever!

I start my first Summer Dance Camps this week, and I'm SO excited! I'm that nerd who totally geeked out on organizing her school supplies every year, so it's no surprise that I've been jamming away this past week getting all my supplies in a row. That's the inspiration for this week's post - 4 props that you can have on hand at home, or in your dance studio that can be used tons of different ways to encourage the kiddos to move, groove, shake, and bop it out. Click on the pics to purchase your own, and let me know how they work out for you!

1. Parachute

No surprises here. Kids are drawn to parachutes like moths to the flame. Like Baby to Johnny. Like President Trump to Twitter... But I digress. There are so many ways to have fun with a parachute besides just jumping around with it. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Guess the Shape/Body Part - one person goes under the parachute, makes a shape, or isolates a body part, and the others have to guess
  • Rhythm Master - find a song that has fast and slow beats, and try to pulse the parachute on time with the changing rhythms
  • Singing - pretty much all nursery rhymes can be sung with a parachute and you can come up with corresponding movements (skip to my lou, ants go marching), or let the kids come up with their own

2. Ball

Super basic, but not when it comes to use! Grab a few in different sizes, and try these out:

  • Bounce the Rhythm - similar to the parachute game above, choose some tunes and challenge students to bounce the ball to the rhythm of a song. This can be done solo, with a partner, or group
  • Hands Off - what if you used the ball with every body part other than your hands? Can you walk with it in between your knees, toes, elbows?
  • Hit a Move - write several different movements on pieces of paper and tape the to a wall, then let each kid throw the ball at the wall. Whatever movement the ball hits (or is close to), has to be performed by that person

3. Hoola Hoops

Aside from the most obvious way to use a hoola hoop, they are great tools for coordination and vestibular work.

  • Spins - practice spins and turns by holding the hoola hoop waist height and spinning in place, and through space
  • Through the Loop - have kids line up single file holding hands. See if they can pass the hoop from one person to another without letting go of hands
  • Skip It - you know you remember the original Skip Its, but try using a hoola hoop to hop on one foot, it's pretty challenging!

4. Tunes

Yes, I totally consider my tunes and speakers a prop and a tool! Nothing says 'dance party!' like a good playlist. Sometimes the best activities are ones that are child driven, where adults have little to no input about structure. Put on some jams and let the kids move it out however they want, it's a win win for you, and for them! If you need a little playlist inspo, check these out!

*Disclosure: This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive 4.50% if you make a purchase using this link.*

Backstage With Olivia Mode-Cater of Dance Ed Tips

The more I do these Backstage blogs, the more I realize how often I troll the Internet... but, my trolling works, because I find the most amazing people, doing the most amazing things!

Enter Olivia Mode-Cater, who is the Mastermind behind Dance Ed Tips, an organization that's dedicated to helping dance teachers hone their craft, forging connections, and providing tools and resources that make teachers the best they can be.

I was thrilled when Olivia agreed to this interview, because her tips are amazing, her vibes super cool, and I know she's doing some amazing things. Read on, and be sure and check out all Olivia's work here!

KC: What's your earliest memory of dance?

OMC: I come from a family of movers. My mom is a dancer and has always taught dance at local studios.  My paternal grandmother Nicole Mode owned her own yoga studio for over 20 years. She opened the yoga studio the year I was born so I basically grew up there.  My mom would also take me with her when she would go teach and I would sit on the side and watch. So, I’ve always been in and around movement or dance. It’s always been part of my daily life.  

KC: What's your background with dance? Was it love at first plie?

OMC: I’ve been taking dance classes ever since I can remember. As I got older I began to take more and more and began training in various styles. This led me to studying dance in college at Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University.  Dance was definitely love at first plié. Even now, whenever I don’t dance for a while, I always really miss it. It’s a big part of my life.

KC: How did you get into teaching? What's your favorite thing about it?

OMC: When I was a teenager Debbie Coury, the owner of Yvette’s Dance Studio where I grew up dancing, invited me to be a teaching assistant.  As I grew older and more confident she gave me the opportunity to teach classes independently, which I really enjoyed. I really fell in love with teaching at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.  While I was there they started a program where you receive your BFA in dance performance along with your Masters in Dance Education within 5 years. I was part of the first cohort to do that program and that’s where I really became an advocate for dance education.  

I feel really strongly that every life skill I have I learned through dance.  The best part of teaching is knowing that I’m not only sharing an art form that I love, but I am also creating a safe space where students can develop the skills they need to succeed regardless of the career path they choose.  

KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?

OMC: My dance heroes are Barbara Bashaw and Michele Stevens. Barbara Bashaw created the dance education program at Mason Gross School of the Arts.  She was and still is an incredible mentor for me. She helped me discover what dance teaching meant to me so that I could develop my own philosophy and vision as a dance teacher. Her methods challenged every preconceived notion and misconception I had about dance and teaching. She created a safe space where I could develop and grow into the educator I am today.

Michele Stevens is another mentor and hero of mine.  She was my cooperating teacher during my student teaching internship in graduate school. This woman is so incredibly patient and selfless.  She teaches between 600-800 second to fourth grade students every 6-day cycle. She teaches every child with the same amount love and enthusiasm and what she is able to accomplish with them is remarkable. Whenever I am having a bad teaching day I try to channel her calm energy into my work.  

KC: Tell us about Dance Ed Tips. How did it come about?

OMC: Dance ED Tips is a company that is dedicated to helping dance teachers refine their craft, so that they can create the most well-rounded and skilled dancers.  Through my social media handles, website, workshops, and services I help teachers develop themselves quickly and effectively using research-based strategies.

After working with many dance teachers there’s one thing we all have in common: we all want to constantly improve our teaching methods.  Unfortunately, our busy schedules don’t always give us the time (or money) to professionally develop ourselves the way we want to. The last thing dancer teachers want to do after teaching 8 classes in a day is read a lengthy article or book on pedagogy, and yet we still want to improve so all of our classes can be really effective and impactful.  

Last summer I began researching to see if there was anyone who was providing dance teachers research-based, effective tips in a quick and easily accessible way.  I found lots of resources for studio owners trying to improve their businesses and for teachers who only teach ballet, but there wasn’t really anything out there for people like me who teach all styles of dance along with choreography, improvisation, dance history, etc.  There also wasn’t a place for people who teach in studios, K-12 schools, and higher education to all come together in a quick and easy way to discuss solutions to common issues that are happening in their classroom. When I realized that there was no place like that for dance teachers I was inspired to create Dance ED Tips.   

KC: How do you describe what you do for a living to people you're just meeting?

OMC: I had someone ask me once to describe what I do in 6 words and I came up with: “Sharing movement through performing and teaching.”  I think it works!

KC: What's one of your favorite funny or heart warming stories about teaching dance?

OMC: During my student teaching internship, I had the incredible opportunity of teaching a self-contained children with autism class with Michele Stevens (one of my dance heroes! ☺).  Those children broke every stereotype and misconception I had about dance for individuals with disabilities.

There was one day in particular that will stick with me.  We were doing a lesson where we danced out a winter-themed story.  I had one student who, in general, I had a hard time engaging in the material.  In most classes, she stayed emotionally detached to what was happening in the class and from what I could tell she was nonverbal.  On this day, though, as we were dancing out the story she looked at me and clearly said: “snowman.” I was so surprised and excited that she had finally found an entry point into the content! For that whole class, she was really invested in the work.  She created her own dance that represented a snowman’s large, round figure and she shared her creative interpretations of ways snow whirls, melts, and falls. That day proved to me that dance is absolutely for everyone.

KC: Are there any cliches or preconceptions about dance you try to correct in your work?

I think dance teachers, unfortunately, are really isolated in their profession.  Dancers who don’t teach label them as “teachers only” and try to discredit their artistry because they have chosen a path in dance other than performing.  Then, teachers in other content areas try to discredit them as educators because “they only teach dance.” This big misconception is something that I try to combat in my work.  A dance teacher is not one thing or the other. A dance teacher is beautiful, rich, complex, and nuanced mix of these worlds, where both sets of values work synergistically to improve and inform the educational and artistic side of the individual. There is scholarship in dance and there is art in educating others. Trying to label dance teachers in one way or another is futile and, honestly, ignorant.

KC: What's next for you and Dance Ed Tips? Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?

OMC: Dance ED Tips is growing, which is really exciting!  I’m beginning to offer my own workshops where people can work with me to refine their craft.  My workshops are packed with a lot of useful material that dance teachers can take back to their studios and implement right away, which I think is really important.  I’m having one in New York City on July 28th!  Dance teachers can sign up at https://danceedtips.ticketleap.com/dance-ed-tips-workshop--how-to-improve-students-technique/

And now, just for funnies....

KC: Burritos or tacos?

OMC: I usually eat burrito bowls! ☺

KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?

OMC: Definitely legwarmers.

KC: Disco balls or rainbows?

OMC: Disco balls

KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?

OMC: Can I say “Save the Last Dance?”  I was obsessed with that movie as a teenager. ☺

KC: Absolutely! Such a great pick! How about one word to describe yourself?

OMC: Grounded

AH-mazing. Thanks so much for your time Olivia! If YOU want to be featured in the next Backstage blog, or know someone who you think should make an appearance, holla at me here! Then be sure to share this interview with a dance teacher you think would love it! Have a great week everyone!

What My Hardest Day Teaching Taught Me About Dance

Teachers gonna teach, but that shizz is hard (can I get an Amen?). If you ask any teacher to tell you about a memorable day in their classroom, you'd likely get an array of different responses; some hilarious, some cringe worthy, and some super heartfelt.

I've had all of those experiences, but today I wanted to share one of the heartfelt variety. This is a story about an experience I had late last year during my annual Nutcracker Dance Camp. Typically, holiday camps are short, sweet, and full of sugar plums and tutus. And this camp was, but it also gave me a super hard day (and important lesson) about why teachers do the work we do.

A particular student of mine, who I'd had in classes and camps for a few years, was having a really rough week. She had some family things going on at home, some of which I was aware of, and so I was aware of the fact that she was feeling a little extra raw.

Right before one of our craft times, towards the end of a rehearsal of our choreography, I noticed this student becoming withdrawn and emotional. I quietly asked her if she would like to either be my helper, or sit down and rest, and she chose to sit down and rest. Over the next 10 minutes or so, she cried and cried, inconsolable by friends and myself.

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While the rest of my students headed in to do their craft, I talked with my student, and while she was too upset to really talk, I knew that she just needed someone next to her. We hugged for a long time, and I encouraged her to breathe and told her she was safe and loved.

Her mom came a little while later and my student took the rest of the day to rest and soak up the love from her family, but for the good 5 minutes that this little one needed a hug (and my heart was breaking wondering how I could help, and what on Earth could be causing her so much pain), I realized that while dance is the medium through which I reach people, THIS, this hugging, connecting, and loving, was really the work I was doing.

I completely believe we're put on this Earth to connect with others. To reach out and dance, talk, laugh, and communicate with others. Creating connections and shared experiences through dance is what I love doing, and hope to do within my work. While I felt mostly helpless in this particular situation, and initially frustrated that my lesson plans and schedule was being thrown off track, I was quick to see this situation for what it really was: a reminder that my work isn't about keeping kids on a schedule, making sure they perform, or that they report back to their parents that they had a good time at dance camp, my work is about connecting to my students and being there when they need me.

It was a rough and emotional day. I left the studio feeling empty and tired, but I'm so grateful for the lesson, the experience, and the reminder that my work is good work, and I'm in a powerful position to help each and every person who comes into my classroom.