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 Becca Weber…
Becca lives in the Fishtown/Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, and teaches all over Philly and the surrounding areas. In any given day, her students may range from age 3 to residencies in public schools, from college students to professional dancers. Becca teaches littles in both private studios and within several branches of a large nonprofit music education organization.
Maria: What is your Education?
Becca: I now have two graduate degrees, an MFA in Dance (from Temple University in Philly) and an MA in Dance and Somatics (from the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England). I also got a minor in dance in undergrad, but I started dancing when I was 10 and attend a fine arts magnet school. I liked it so much, I took up dancing at a local school, joined a ballet company, and would dance for 9+ hours a day! I was much younger and more spry then, of course.
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day?
Becca: Depending on the day, I start teaching as early as 8am. I usually get home from it all around 9pm. That’s a long day! I spend a lot of time traveling from job to job. My school residency is in the morning, university classes are midday, and then studio teaching more in the afternoons and evenings.
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Becca: Because of my background in Somatics, I work a lot in helping dancers find agency–their own artistic voice. I also work on feeling what efficient movement is like, so dancers move with sensation of their alignment, rather than just external motivation or validation. Often in a class, this means working with imagery to feel sensations. Even with little dancers, I squeeze some technique into creative movement, and some creative movement into technique!
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Becca: I think you would notice that I am very dynamic and outgoing, and change the pitch and rhythm of my voice a lot. Allowing myself to be silly helps to create a safe environment for experimentation and learning. Also that I like to reinforce the good as much if not more than harping on what needs improvement.
(photo by Bill Hebert)
Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all.
Becca: I am going to go extra on both. I love seeing the “a-ha!” moments when a student really gets something, and I love when my students teach me things. They are so inspiring! I also love it when I see them step into their own and really become the dancer they were meant to be, whatever form that takes.
I don’t super love how undependable teaching work can be, or all of the time I spend on public transportation in order to teach enough to support myself.
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Becca: Back when I was teaching babies, I was so surprised by how early their personalities developed, and how strong! Sometimes today I am surprised by the connections my students make–like my 5th graders who connected the geometry of a right angle to the hesitation step in a waltz. Or my 5-year old student who told me her rond de jambe wasn’t a “D” to the left, that it was a rainbow instead!
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Becca: I would say to make sure you are the most engaging thing in the room. If you don’t give them 110%, you will lose the little ones, because they just don’t have that attention span we do. And to make sure to have down time for yourself, because sustaining that energy and the patience you need with little ones can be so draining.
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
Becca: Once, we were doing “shape” exercises–make a round shape, make a straight shape, make a twisted shape, and so on. The students usually start telling me shapes are things like circles, triangles, and squares. So, we made circles with our bodies. I asked “how can you make a circle? With your arms? With your legs? With your whole body? How?” And I had one student who just stuck out her rolled-up tongue. I died laughing! It was a circle alright–one I’d never seen before. I always like to tell that story when I am talking about just how creative those little ones can be!
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?
Becca: Two: with the littles, speaking quietly when they are loud. It’s counterintuitive, but when you whisper, they want to know the secrets, so they hush up. And the second is from a mentor of mine, who always said, “Dance more, talk less.” I like to over-think things sometimes, but she is right! Give them more opportunities to practice, and they stay on track more often. Plus they need to be able to think while moving to succeed, so it’s okay to talk as they dance.
(photo by Bill Hebert)
Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Becca: I am always working on figuring out new ways to engage the students that are less inclined to “good behavior” for whatever reason. I have some classes right now that are pretty diverse in development stages, so I am working on methods to keep those kids interested, while keeping the more advanced students challenged. It’s tough!
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Becca: For littles, I love to use bubbles when they deserve a treat! I like to use it to teach body parts and control–asking them to pop with one finger, a thumb, a pinkie finger and then asking them to pop by clapping, pinching, or grabbing (for fine motor skills). Then we practice popping with an elbow, a shoulder, knee, or toe (for gross motor skills, balance, control, and body parts). Even our heads! When I ask what other body parts we can pop with, one of the younger ones usually starts with their mouth! Yuck! But it is one of the first ways we get to know the world, I guess…
I also like to start and close with rhyming songs. Here are a couple: To start: ”I touch my nose, I touch my toes, I grow up tall, and I get down small. I touch my nose, I touch my toes, lean to the left, lean to the right, spin around fast and curl up tight!” Sometimes I say the nose/toes line again, and then ask my students to help fill in the second half with body parts they can say hello with. “Did you bring your belly with you today?” Et cetera.
To end: ”Reach for the floor, reach for the sky. Flap my wings and start to fly (releve). Reach for the floor, reach for the sky, spin around and wave–goodbye!”
(photo by Bill Hebert)
you can connect with Becca on her website! Thank you Becca for being a part of the project! I love the tongue story! Also, “dance more, talk less” is so important to remember! Thank you for reminding us! 🙂