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 Kate Barber…
I usually introduce the teachers first, but Kate had such a beautiful introduction already that I thought I would let her introduce herself.
Hi, I am Kate Barber, I am a mum of two, I live in Sydney, Australia and I teach creative ballet to young children. I teach in a private studio, my own business called Big Steps Little Feet – I hire local community spaces to run many classes each week in the mornings, afterschool and all day Saturday. I currently teach children from 1 – 10 years of age. The majority of our classes focus on the 2 – 6 yrs age group.
I create classes that engage and inspire children to use their imagination, discover new skills and I ensure that their body and brain receive the oxygen and activities required to fire new neural pathways. I am known for cultivating technically proficient dancers who are intelligent and socially aware as a result of the alternative process oriented approach taken to teaching.
I am currently writing my first book (of 3) for dance teachers of preschoolers called Jump Forward ~ Jump Back. It’s a fun, informative and engaging book; a series of class plans for teachers to follow and get excited (not fearful) about teaching dance to toddlers.
And…I am creating a network of teachers who are passionate about early childhood dance, who want to embrace my animated and creative philosophies and seek support, ideas, structures, plans, concepts and business strategies to be the best possible teachers of young children.
I have a Bachelor of Arts (Dance) from the University of Western Sydney, I am a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). I have completed the Nurturing Pathways licensing program – created by the wonderful Christine Roberts in Seattle WA and I have been so fortunate to attend in 2011 the Creative Dance Centre’s two week Summer Dance Intensive for Teachers in Seattle WA, learning from the incredible, funny and gifted Anne Green Gilbert and her equally talented team of teachers including amongst others Terry Goetz and Anna Mansbridge
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day?
Kate: 4.44am: I wake trying not to wake any child or animal, I meditate or write a few pages of my book.
5.ooam: Catch up on facebook, read some of my favourite blogs and pinterest pages, reply to any emails that have come in that I’ve yet to address.
6.00am: Work on the new class plan for the week, make changes, update music on the ipod and pack the suitcase full of props required for the week ahead.
7.15am: Quickly pack kids lunches, make smoothies for everyone, get ready for work and bundle everyone into the car, do school drop offs in time to get to work around 8.40am
9am: The first of 4 Rainbow ballet classes for the morning – we start with the babies.
1pm: Catch with a staff member over coffee/lunch to check in on their classes, any thoughts they’ve got or problems they are having.
1.45pm: Return call & make calls regarding work and my own children.
2.15pm: Catch up with my admin assistant to see if she needs help with any emails or items of communication that we need to send out that week. I also put on a load of laundry.
2.45pm: Arrive at hall for the afternoon session of 3 classes, commencing at 3.20pm with a 3-5yrs Rainbow Ballet.
6.45pm Finish classes – the last being a Grade 2 Ballet class.
7pm: Home and it’s straight into connecting in with my own children’s day, helping with homework, signing permission notes, listening to stories or problems from school. Our nanny has cooked dinner for the kids, sometimes I’ll eat with them or I will wait to the kids are in bed before making my own dinner.
8.30pm: Kids are fed, bathed and in bed.
9pm: I catch up on some emails, social media, research for my book – I try to catch at least 30 minutes of trashy TV before getting to bed around 11.30pm. Maybe a little bit of reading or writing before heading off to sleep.
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Kate: Be kind, be honest, be silly. I teach with metaphor, with skill and with joy.
I hold the space for children to be seen, heard and valued – allowing them to be who they are (crazy or quiet) on any given day at that point of time. There is no hustling for my attention or love in any of my classes, we celebrate and value children period.
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Kate: I am patient, persistent and I don’t take myself too seriously!
Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all?
- Teaching is a moving meditation – it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling or how busy and stressed I may be, when I arrive at the door & as soon as the kids arrive and I start class, I’m 100% focused on what’s happening right here and now with energy and focus, there is no time to dwell at all on anything that’s happening in my life or my head. Which means I always finish work feeling better and calmer than when I arrived.
- The children; watching their ‘ah ha’ moments, listening to their stories, seeing their creativity thrive and their skills develop. I love watching their collaborations as well.
Don’t Like: ….. I don’t like it when the expectations of a parent are projected onto me or worse, their own child.
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Kate: I continue to be amazed at how the method (using metaphor, joy and skill) of my teaching continues to be embraced and produces dancers that are thoughtful, skillful and can articulate their own stories or experiences in dance and through dance.
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Kate: To let go of how they were taught. Be 100% open and curious to new ways.
The stand and deliver method of teaching is archaic & not appropriate for children and to let go of being sarcastic & judgmental, it’s a killer of soul and joy.
And…If you always focus on the results you end up teaching to the results rather than experiencing and broadening the creativity and skill set of a young dancer (and yourself). You are also missing out a a world of learning and sharing and engaging and experiencing and collaborating and failing and succeeding and growing…
Focusing on the result, be it exam result, competition result, new flashy trick to put in a lyrical routine becomes so one dimensional and boring.
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
I have two (sorry – couldn’t help myself)
On stage for a rehearsal that was going all kinds of wrong, it was a really hard slog dealing with so many dancers, their parents and technical staff. I found myself sitting with the 2yr olds on stage waiting for their dance and zoning out when Georgina – who had never said a word to me in 12 months – announced that she was going to dance like Darcy Bussell and immediately stood up and leapt into the most amazing improvisation I’ve seen. For me I had a total realisation of this is why I signed up for this gig – all of the hard work makes it so worthwhile when moments like this happen for young children.
I also had a child led moment where in class one afternoon my teaching assistant and I merely became facilitator’s, not teachers or directors of the class. The children engaged with and then took the story for their own, they fed off each other and made it their own. They were funny, they were all on each other’s wave length and boy did they dance. I merely gave the class some shape and kept in on track.
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?
I don’t really have tricks as such – perhaps the tricks are in the class plan…my class plans are filled with highs and lows to match the attention span of young children. To keep things on track I always push through even if the activity isn’t hitting the mark, I simply vow to make it a little different next time I teach it.
And I always teach to the core group. I don’t wait until I have the focus of all the kids – teach to the engaged 80% and the others will just follow along eventually.
Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Kate: Great question.
One teaching goal that I am working towards is finding a balance in my 5yr classes between creating a much needed creative and familiar outlet after school, as well creating new content for skill development (because 5yr olds can actually do amazing things) and applying novel creative dance explorations. Many of our 5 yr olds have been doing Rainbow Ballet for 3 or 4 years and the problem when you have a great pre school program can be what is on offer afterwards lacks finesse in comparison. As we know comparison is the killer of joy so I don’t want to focus on that but create something of meaning and value to the children whom are big kids at ballet but little kids and school, who are skillful, creative but yet not ready for the micro focus required for ballet or grasping the conceptual approach in creative dance.
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Kate: I would like to share with you one of the class plans from my upcoming book Jump Forward ~ Jump Back. This book was inspired from my time as licensee of the popular TV show here in Australia called Hi-5.
I love this class as the framework is so refreshing as well as being so much fun to teach. A lot of the creative dance explorations have come from the books of Anne Green Gilbert.
I used to teach this class in 30 minutes, now I have relaxed the pace a little to a 40 – 45 minutes class.
Dance Concept of this class – Size
Do not mark the role, do not add circle activities like stretching. Simply gather the children to a ‘home base’ 2 minutes before the class is scheduled to start, briefly welcome the children to class today and them ask them to get to their starting spot slightly away from ‘home base’ and commence theme song, volume high and energy high.
- Create a short catchy theme song for your class with high energy choreography.
- You’ll commence & finish every class with this dance.
- Approximately 12 sets of 8 counts is ample.
- Remember the 2 -6 yr olds your choreographing for – don’t make it too hard. Spend some time watching children’s television, especially the performing arts oriented shows and see how the entertainers commence, look at choreography and energy – and then create your own. Don’t copy. Introduce the Concept
Movement Quality of the Week – Each week there is a different movement quality to focus on – this week – Week 1 – Size:
- Verbally inform the dancers of the movement quality of the week – SIZE. “Today our words are going to be BIG & LITTLE because we are going to be dancing in different sizes” For this age group we only explore Big & Little the extreme contrasts are effective we don’t worry about middle size. Be careful what you demonstrate as size isn’t the same as level or height as you can have a LITTLE shape on a high level.
- LITTLE refers to close together, close to the spine.
- BIG doesn’t mean tall it refers far apart, far from the spine as possible.
Ask the children to demonstrate movements with you; BIG shapes and LITTLE shapes.
Dancing the Concept
Choreograph a simple routine to a nursery rhyme, songlet or chorus.
- It only needs to be 4 x 8 counts it needs to be repeated with a 5 second pause in the middle.
- I like to choreograph a slightly harder routine for the 4yr olds and over and a very simple one for the 2 and 3 year olds.
Each week this ‘concept’ dance is exactly the same choreography but the way it’s done is different depending on what the movement quality for the week is.
For Example: I choreographed a simple dance for the 2yr olds to a Hi-5 song called Jump Forward, Jump Back (the origin of book title) I edited the song selecting only the phrase I wanted, inserted a silence in the middle – for the statue shape – and repeated the same song phrase again.
Using this choreography in this class plan you can instruct and show the children how to do it LITTLE ie ‘baby steps’ with all movements close together; creating a LITTLE shape in the pause. Second time through emphasise BIG as much as possible with all movements, jumps, turns with ‘far reach’ making a BIG shape or two at the end.
In this section of the class plan you will work on the recital routine, you will start by teaching the chorus and add on about 4 x 8 counts each week (at the very most) and do it only once.
1. Find a great track that is current or soon to be released – there is nothing better than dancing to the latest chart topper especially for the media savvy older children (however songs like Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke should be avoided!) or choose an old classic or a great fun song from a familiar children’s entertainer great for the 2-5yrs. In Australia we have Justine Clarke, Play School, Hi-5, Georgie Parker, Coco’s Lunch, or search itunes for great kids tracks from overseas; Elizabeth Mitchell, Laurie Berkner, to name but a few. I’m still amazed how many young children love Abba!
2. Choreograph a fun energetic routine that’s not too hard – keep it simple but don’t ‘dumb it down’ too far. Remember the purpose of your class – it’s not to enter them into a competition or win an award with your detailed choreographic skills. Nor will the children be expected to remember the routine and perform without any assistance from the teachers.
The skill is in your ability to create something upbeat that is easy to grasp and fun to dance; extracting the ‘joy factor’ and teaching this is another way of looking at this ‘teaching.’
3. In your first week start with the chorus choreography, take a minute or two to teach this section in as fun and confident manner as possible. Be sure to choreograph something for the start of the song as well, but don’t ‘teach’ that to the children today – they will follow you and pick it up when the music starts.
4. Play the music once from the start (all the way through) – Ask the children to follow you – as you demonstrate some choreography in the first verse that they can follow without prior instruction.
5. Chorus – lift your energy and instil confidence in the children as they perform the choreography learnt at the start of this section. (Repeating this each time the chorus is heard).
6. The following verses can be repeating what you did in verse 1, asking the children to skip around the room in one big group and free dancing until the chorus starts again.
7. The last part of the song (in today’s plan) can be everyone holding hands in a circle and then galloping around, stopping when the chorus is heard to repeat steps learnt.
8. Free dancing until the end of the song or if it’s the chorus only until the song’s end keep doing this.
The children line up in their starting positions on a straight line for example and one at a time they run forward to give you a high 5. Be sure to compliment them, saying some nice, what you saw, how they look, how they dance, jumped, twirled. This is a moment for them to be seen welcomed it’s a great moment to give that warm fuzzy feel good positive affirmation.
Skill Development – obstacle course
Design a course in a clearly defined square shape that today travels clockwise (next week anti clockwise). It needs as mix of locomotor and non locomotor movements and must match the level of the class. It’s okay to be a little repetitive. In the babies classes the carer needs to assist their children around the course.
For today create an obstacle course with whatever objects you have available that make the dancers travel and leap and move in different sizes BIG & LITTLE. Use what you have on hand: spots, shapes, props, tunnels, mats, benches, mini trampoline. Use cartons/boxes as objects fir leaping over.
Here is an example of a simple but fun obstacle course!
Music: Play an energetic track or two whilst the children do the course. No short cuts!
The children dance with scarves whilst you (and parents) and teaching staff pack away the obstacle course.
Choose a lyrical track for the children to play. Encourage big sways and turns and alternate with little light jumps, scrunching the scarf small inside hands and a big throw in the air. Keep dancing big and little.
Playing a restful song or lullaby the 2 year olds can have a little cuddle time with mum (older children just go straight into) laying quiet in ‘home base’ for a moment of rest before performing a sequence of familiar yoga stretches, child’s pose, upward dog stretch, downward dog, ……… finishing in candle (prayer position) with hands asking for complete silence.
The Magic Dance
I anchor this section with the same novelty, choreography, props, activities each week. This allows the children to pace themselves and creates a sense of familiarity in a class that is designed to be slightly different each week.
I used to call this the ‘directed dance’ but I don’t really know what that means …. the children just follow and copy the same choreography week after week.
I use a song by Hi-5 called ‘I Believe in Magic’, it goes for the perfect length of 1.15 minutes, we dance around a Magic Bag that is filled with a doll or toy representing the dance concept and a shaker of glitter.
For my magic bag: I made a gorgeous sparkly prop bag from purple sequin fabric with hot pink lining, I threaded bright coloured bangles onto the handle before securing, I added bright brooches and sparkly big earrings as I came across things of interest.
- Choose an upbeat song or songlet – I use ‘I believe in Magic’ (or use editing software to make a favourite song suit this purpose.)
- Choreograph a simple routine that is energising for the kids and teachers and that is fun.
- Perform it around the magic bag, incorporate holding hands in a circle, coming in to make the circle little, stretching it to make it big, galloping around to the right and left and then following you the teacher for the set choreography performed pretty much in self space.
This section is called fizzy once again due to the title of the song & once again a song by the kids entertainment group Hi-5.
It is a simple body parts awareness activity that we do every week straight after the magic dance. It’s a moment of silliness where our body parts do things without our control.
From the ‘Magic Bag’ pull out a shaker filled with glitter, we sprinkle it over the children’s hands (have two shakers for big classes) and then we pat the glitter onto many different body parts.
With a sense of silliness accentuate and emphasise flick, shake, wriggle, stretch, bend, sway, curl, float, slash, press. You will have to talk over the music, today they are going to ‘fizz’ doing things that are little and big.
From the Bag
From inside the bag, pull out dolls or objects that represent the dance concept.
Today we pull from the bag a big doll and a little doll, I also have a little balloon inside and I blow up a fresh balloon to a big size.
Creative Dance Explorations
- Balloons Exercise (pretend balloons)
“Start in a small shape on any level. Blow up your shape like a balloon. Keep blowing until you’re a big shape. Feel like a giant balloon, stretched until you feel you might pop. Now POP! Shrink into a small shape again. Start to blow yourself up again but make a new shape. Balloons come in many shapes and colours. Choose one. Now instead of popping, you have a small leak. Let all the air out very slowly until you’re a little shape again. Put a patch on your leak and blow up again. Choose a new shape and level. This time we will float around the room in our big shape. POP! You fly through general space shrinking as you go until you’re a little shape once more.”
2. Balloons (using real balloons, already blown up and contained within a big homemade drawstring bag)
Alternate dancing LITTLE with the balloon and hitting it with BIG movements
& then alternate dancing BIG with the balloon and hitting it with LITTLE movements.
It’s time to close the class using this same format every week, the recital routine followed by the theme song. The children quickly move back to their positions from the start of class, standing on a straight line at one end of the room.
In this section of the class plan you will work on the recital routine, you will simply start the music going straight into what you learnt at the start of the lesson and do it only once.
At this time I like to use bubbles for the last half of the song; get a big bottle with a large wand and wave the wand in all different directions, (rather than blowing) get children to pop bubbles today using little movements and body parts contrasting with big movement and body parts.
Every class repeat the short catchy theme song for your class with high energy choreography. Exactly the same as you opened the class.
E N J O Y!
“I hold the space for children to be seen, heard and valued – allowing them to be who they are (crazy or quiet) on any given day at that point of time. There is no hustling for my attention or love in any of my classes, we celebrate and value children, period.”
THAT is quite a statement, and I whole heartedly agree!