Creating With Kids – Danielle Pierce

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 Danielle Pierce…

Danielle lives and teaches in Manhattan. She is a dancer, a dance teacher and a “movement professional.” In addition to teaching kids, Danielle teaches Zumba and Pilates to adults. Danielle teaches at a k-2 all girls school on the Upper East Side and also teaches at the School at Steps in New York. She is currently working on her Masters in Dance Education at NYU and says attending the Summer Dance Institute for Teachers with Anne Green Gilbert has contributed to her success as a teacher.

Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day? 

Danielle: Tuesday through Friday, I get to school at around 8 a.m. I have my coffee and some breakfast, and I have a good amount of time to get my lessons and music organized for the day. I usually start teaching around ten, (the other Lower School dance teacher teaches in the studio first thing) and I go until about 2:30, with one break for lunch. My classes are 40 minutes long, and I see each group of kids twice each week. On the Weekends, I teach two classes on Saturday and four on Sunday.

Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.

Danielle: I think it’s really important for children’s classes to be creative, but I firmly believe that kids can be given a taste of technical concepts in a fun and developmentally appropriate way.

Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?

Danielle: I’ve been told I “run a tight ship”. I am totally in control of the room and the children know that I mean business. I am slithering on my belly, rolling around, and being absolutely goofy with my students, but they know that I expect them to their best dancing and be safe.

Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all. 

Danielle: I love helping students get to the “AHA” moments…when everything clicks…especially if it’s been a long journey to get there. I also love seeing the growth in kids from year to year…it’s amazing what can happen when you have a student for a few consecutive years!

I suppose my least favorite part about teaching is the extensive exposure to germs…I cannot begin to tell you the number of cuties who have coughed basically on me or had their hand go from their nose to my hand. I try to wash my hands every chance I get, and when I catch kids with their hands in their nose or mouth I try to have them use a sani-wipe so they are not sharing all of their cute little kid germs with me or their classmates. I also try to take airborne daily and really take care of myself outside of the studio so that I stand a chance against the colds!

Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?

Danielle: I’ve been teaching for a considerable length of time, and  I am still astounded by how different classes can be across age levels. Every group of kids is different and what they bring out in each other can very greatly from week to week. Especially with three and four year olds, every day is truly different.

Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?

Danielle: PLAN YOUR CLASS, but BE FLEXIBLE. Be ready to throw away plan A and have a great plan B and C in your pocket. Know your objective for the day. Know the way you think you are going to get there. Know three other ways that you might get there if the first activity is a bust or you can see that the kids are not in the headspace for what you had planned. As you teach more, you will develop a repertoire of activities that you can go to in a bind, but the more prepared you  are, the better you can deal with the unexpected.

Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.

Danielle: I will tell of a “teachable moment” that I failed to seize. When I was a new, very young teacher (but I thought I knew everything), I had a three year old girl who was blonde and blue eyed look up at me and say, “Miss Danielle, why Is Anjali brown?” I had no idea how to answer her at that moment, and I said, “Because she is. Come skip with me.” Looking back, I wish I had figured out a better way to introduce the child to the the beauty of the fact that everyone is unique and we’re all beautiful in our own way.

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?

Danielle: Utilizing every configuration of your room possible is one way that I think is helpful to keep a class moving. If you transform your space every five to seven minutes or so, there is not enough time for the attention to wander. For example, I usually start class in a circle, move to dancing throughout general space, have a quick chat as a group in the corner, spread out to lines or another formation, etcetera. If/when kids are dancing one at a time (especially with threes and fours) having kids who are waiting their turns sit and watch with their back to a mirror or wall helps keep them steady, gives them a chance to rest, and can also start to teach them how to watch their classmates.

Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?

Danielle: One thing I’m working on is trying to consistently use dance concept words as I’m teaching dance skills. I know I do it well when I’m leading improvisational work, but I have let my use of concept language during exercises lag.

Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style! 

Danielle: This lesson is one that I wrote as an Undergraduate Student for an Education course, so it is complete with standards and a little bit of Educational Jargon, but I have used it many times and I would say it’s one of my faves!

Kindergarten (or first grade) Lesson:  How do you feel today?

Aim:  To support the growth of emotional intelligence by familiarizing students with feelings.  Students will develop an understanding of different feelings and emotional states.  They will understand what the feelings look like, sound like, and what makes brings about different feelings.  They will be able to identify or express the feelings using different media (writing, drawing, dancing).  A text will be the jumping off point for multiple forms of creative expression.

New York State Learning Standards:  

ELA Standard 1—Language for Information and Understanding:  Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.  Listening and reading to acquire information and understanding involves collecting data, facts, and ideas; discovering relationships, concepts, and generalizations; and using knowledge from oral, written, and electronic sources.

Performing Arts Standard 1—Creating, Performing, and Participating in the Arts:  Students will actively engage in the processes that constitute creation and performance in the arts (dance, music, theatre, and visual arts) and participate in various roles in the arts.  Students will perform set dance forms in formal and informal contexts and will improvise, create, and perform dances based on their own movement ideas.

National Learning Standards:  

Dance Standard 3- Creating- Understanding dance as a way to create and communicate meaning.
Dance Standard 7- Interdisciplinary Connections- making connections between dance and other disciplines.
Physical Education Standard 5- Understands the social and personal responsibility associated with participation in physical activity

Prior Knowledge/Motivation:  When students become aware of how they are feeling, they are better equipped to be respectful of others’ feelings.  They are also better equipped to monitor their own behavior.  At the kindergarten or first grade level, the idea is also to teach the students that everyone has feelings, they change daily, and that is okay.  Students are likely familiar with being happy, sad, or angry, but can now learn the significance of these words.

Materials:  Today I feel Silly by Jaime Lee Curtis

Chart Paper and Markers

Music Player and Music of various emotional qualities


Worksheet with circles (For faces)


Warm Up:  Who can make a happy face?  A sad face?  An angry face?  Happy, sad, and angry, are all emotions, moods, or feelings. We’re going to look for other feeling words as we read Today I Feel Silly.

Read Aloud:  Today I Feel Silly

On Chart paper, as a class, we will list other emotion words that we find:  Grumpy, joyful, confused, quiet, excited, cranky, lonely, discouraged, frustrated.

Sometimes music is very expressive of feelings.  Listen to four different types of music and talk about what kind of feelings the class thinks the piece expresses.

Practice:  Improvise movements to the different types of music as a class.  Then, in two groups, with a group of dancers and an audience.

Journals: (Entries drawn, teachers write text next to children’s writing for legibility; in a first grade classroom this might be a good writing activity).   Think about a time when you were Happy/Sad/Angry/Sad/Confused/Silly.

What happened?   What did you look like?

On Worksheet:  Draw the faces that you see on people who are:  Happy, Angry, Sad, Confused, Silly

Performance Based Assessment of Student Learning:

As the students perform their dances, the audience will evaluate the other group with yes or no questions:

Did you see Angry Dancing?  Happy Dancing?  Sad Dancing?  Confused Dancing?  Silly Dancing?

Teacher conferences with students along with journals and worksheet task can assess understanding of feelings and the students’ ability to connect the story and the class lesson to their own life.

Self Evaluation:

Questions to ask after this lesson has been taught:

  • Were instructions given clearly?
  • Were the students on task?
  • Did their performance indicate a thorough level of comprehension?
  • What can be done differently?

Danielle recently traveled to Uganda where she taught dance to children.

Thank you Danielle for being a part of the project! I loved what you said about using every possible spot in the room. I also use all of the space, but the way you explained it really clicked for me! 🙂 

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