This series is a part of the Creating With Kids Interview Project! I have set out to interview 52 dance teachers working with young children everyday. By doing this project, I have learned that you are all amazing, hard working, creative and inspiring! I hope you enjoy the interviews and can take something special away from each one. A look inside a dance teacher’s class, is a look inside a dance teacher’s heart. -Maria
Introducing Kayla Hocker…
Kayla is an aspiring choreographer, a community movement advocate, and a performing artist. She lives in Greensboro, North Carolina and teaches with Courses for Community at Salem College in Winston-Salem, NC. She can be credited for teaching the first ever youth dance class in the Salem College studio on campus! Kayla has a Bachelors of Arts degree in Mass Media and Communications and a minor in dance. Teaching ages 4-11 daily, she says she believes confidence is 80% of dancing and the other 20% is acceptance and fun! When I asked Kayla how she builds confidence in her dance room she said “by simply having a laugh together.”
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day
Kayla: Before my students enter I make sure the studio lights are full, and that good inspiring music is echoing throughout the studio as I make sure the studio is child-safe because others use our classroom as well. As the students enter we greet with high-fives! And questions like: How was your school day? And what did you take away from the school day? And what new awesome music did you hear today?
The children spend the first 10 minutes doing flips, practicing choreography, and stretching in their own ways as I brief the parents that walk in and drop off with start and end times, necessities, and progress reports on each child.
We spread out to stretch for the next 30 minutes — head, funny neck stretches, hip stretches, arms and legs. We go to wrists and ankles, and then we shake it all out!
We then play musical chairs, or another warm up game using at least 3 of the movements we learned in last week’s class. These warm-up games will always have the following guidelines:
You Can’t Just Walk!
Move your Entire Body!
After the warm-up game we have the lesson for the week, after learning new moves we then do simple choreography with those new movements and last week’s movement for muscle memory, then we perform together with the music a few times.
After we have worn ourselves out, we take bathroom and water breaks, waiting patiently for every mover to get ready to sit down in a circle to discuss vocabulary and stretch. We learn different dance vocabulary each week and I ask what the word means and how we used it today in class, we pass our stuffed animal friend around the circle, and whoever has the stuffed animal at the time has the floor to answer the question then we pass it to the next person.
After we have done our vocabulary review while stretching, we get up to rehearse our choreography one last time and then do a cool down stretch before the parents come in to grab the kids. I keep all kids inside until I see parents, and let them go one by one mentioning all the great points of that day’s class. The same way we enter with smiles and positivity is the way we leave the classroom, asking what they would like to do in class next week, and if they enjoyed class this week. Once all the children are gone I do a brief sketch of an idea of next week’s class and any other ideas for warm-up games, and new vocabulary while its fresh on my mind.
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Kayla: My goal with dance is creating in everyone the mover that they will be proud to show around others, using tolerance and patience in the midst of learning to fully be present in the classroom; mind and body. To enhance the idea of dance, and creativity in the mind while we continue to develop and experience the world around us, everyone is a teacher, and everyone can be taught.
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Kayla: I believe the first quality would be patience; I have been able to develop amazing amounts of patience over some years for the energy of children.
Maria: What are two things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all.
Kayla: I love the children’s willingness to learn new things, and the excitement they have about moving and expressing themselves through dance. One thing I don’t like is when children don’t show up, although it is not the fault of the children, it is very disappointing at times.
Maria: Can you share with us a more specific way you build confidence in your dance room?
Kayla: A twist on Chance Dance for the older kids is how I accomplish this. I create a list # 0-9 putting next to the numbers a general action in life i.e.
1. Yelling at your kid brother
2.Eating an amazing sandwich
3.Running after the bus.
I place them in groups at random and ask them to create the order of their dance using a phone number of one of the kids in the group; they have a limited amount of time to create their own music as a part of their choreography. They also have to include formation changes, speaking, and abstract symbolism with a time limit on the performance of their masterpiece that they will display for the other groups. This builds confidence and I usually use it for a class opener to get the class laughing, build up some positive energy, break some ice between dancers who don’t know one another, and warm up the brain and body so that they can be present and know that we welcome all ideas.
For the younger kids who also take other classes like Tumbling, Step, Gymnastics, etc. They will create a dance of their “specialty” mixed in with movements they have learned in class, and then teach their fellow movers in class. This allows the children to experience what I experience in teaching them, as well as the children knowing they are more than capable to teach other movers what they themselves are good at doing. The younger kids love to direct with their own choreography, and watch others enjoy doing their choreography as well.
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Kayla: The surprises I love the most are what amazing creativity stems from just one idea, what an awesome impact praise and appreciation have on the children, what they believe dance means and its relation to their life. The most amazing surprise is seeing them come back every week with such a beautiful attitude, no matter what difficulties we may have ran into the last week. Children forgive and move on very quickly, if only as adults we could do the same!
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Kayla: I would tell them never ever let your creativity burn out, someone needs it. Keep finding ways to grow and feed that fire.
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
Kayla: After having an end of dance season performance, in the classroom, one of my students’ parents looked at her child in awe then looked at me, and after a long pause just said “Thank you.”
Maria: Teachers of young children need a pocket full of management techniques and tricks to keep things on track. What is one trick in your pocket that almost never fails?
Kayla: Having the children play games in the classroom that they already know how to play and just mixing it with dance! Musical chairs, Red light Green light, freeze tag, etc.
Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Kayla: A teaching goal I am working towards is creating ways to get students to CONSISTENTLY participate in creative activities; some of the children are off and on based on who is there and who is watching. I want them to be able to know that at any time they have the potential to be their amazing selves.
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Kayla: Chance Dance with a Twist!
0 – Scratching an itch
1 – Petting a stinky dog
2 – Telling a friend a secret
3 – Jump
4 – Turn
5 – Believing
6 – Blowing out your birthday Candles
7 – Jumping in a pile of leaves
8 – Pointing to a shooting star!
9 – Swimming with your Best friend
Now use these numbers to create movement, using some abstract ideas along with these simple everyday life actions! You can use a phone number ex. 202-492-8828 ß in that order! Or add some thousands together and use their sums if you want to pick for your students ex. 456373 + 938647 = 1395020 ß in that order!
Count off separating the kids into even numbers depending on the number of students you have in class, give them about 15 or 20min. to create their silly masterpieces, then have them show their moves to the class. (The older kids tend to create their music; the little ones may need a song track) Everyone claps and gives praise to everyone when all groups have gone, make sure to record this session of “Chance Dance with a Twist” for an end of the year session to see how far everyone has come, and to look back on some good times in class.
p.s. You can connect with Kayla on her website or on twitter. Thank you Kayla for being a part of the project! I think we should all call ourselves “community movement advocates” from now on. What do you think? I love it! 😉