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 Nadine Armiger…
I run my own dance school, Waimauku Dance, in a small town in rural North-West Auckland, New Zealand. I’m a former high school teacher and now a mum of 2 boys, which are two factors which have contributed enormously to my current role. I teach ballet and jazz to children aged 4 years and over in a small community hall across the road from my home. (I also teach an open ballet class for adults, and run low-impact zumba classes two mornings a week.)
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day?
Nadine: Very early every morning I clean the local hall where my studio is based (don’t worry, I get paid for it!). This means that I know that the floor is clean and the space is tidy, regardless of how busy any other user groups may have been the night before. I teach after school, so during school hours I need to prepare my classes – I write a plan for every class and mark through all the dancing at home. When I arrive at the hall I need to set up my table, iPod speakers, paper work etc, uncover the mirrors, and hang a curtain over the main window (the view of the park outside is quite distracting, especially if there is horse-riding going on!). I have from 2 to 5 classes each afternoon, depending on what times have been reserved for other hall user groups (e.g. Scouts and Pony Club).
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Nadine: Dancing is fun! I want my dancers to work hard and challenge themselves, and I expect them to behave appropriately in a structured class environment, but within that framework we have a lot of fun and there is plenty of joking around and laughing. I want my students to enjoy dancing and spending time with me as much as I love teaching them.
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Nadine: I laugh a lot. I laugh a LOT. Never unkindly, and often at myself . . ! I joke around and use word play (e.g. ‘hands on hippos’ for hands on hips), and I like to be as positive as possible.
Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all.
Nadine: Like – Kids! I love kids and spending time with them. It’s a privilege to connect with children and make each and every one of them feel special.
Like – Being my own boss. I used to be a high school teacher, and I’m so glad I don’t have to answer to ‘The Man’ any more – plus I LOVE being able to joke around and be ridiculous without all the disapproval I used to get from my bosses.
Don’t like – Negative attitudes towards young boys learning dance, especially ballet. It breaks my heart!
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Nadine: The way they can grow and mature right before your eyes. Every year there are one or two ‘silly’ students who just want to be beautiful princesses and don’t listen to me particularly well. But after a few months (or more . . ) with me, especially after coming through a big milestone like exams or the concert, suddenly I will find them exactly where I want them – focused and motivated. And these wee bunnies might be only 5 or 6 years old! It’s such a thrill to see.
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Nadine: Don’t be afraid to learn! Read all you can, find mentors and ask all the questions you can think of, try things and learn from them whether they succeed or fail. Of course you have strengths, but don’t forget to develop in other areas that need it. Never lose interest in learning.
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
Nadine: I will always remember one year watching my senior student’s solo ballet exam rehearsal. I was playing the role of examiner so I spoke very little, and she simply danced for me. It was very, very special.
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?
Nadine: Gather close, get down on their level and whisper. Sometimes I even say ‘I’ll tell you a secret’. It doesn’t matter what I actually SAY (often it’s a compliment about their timing or pretty stretched feet or something), but breaking out of the pattern of ‘standing in front of the room speaking loudly’ is very effective at regaining focus.
Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Nadine: I really want to see if I can get any of my students through exams with a ‘Distinction’ result (top grade). I am kind and fun, not shouty and scary, and I want to find out if I can achieve the high marks that the intense high-pressure big-city dance studios get. 😉
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Nadine: This is tricky – I feel like EVERYTHING that I do is taken from somewhere else! I do have a little ‘Swimming in the Sea’ dance where we dip our toes and shiver, gradually tiptoe into the water, get splashed by a big wave, then finally run and jump in. I have a ‘Picnic’ dance for slightly older students which involves lots of picnic-blanket shaking followed by hamper-unpacking, culminating in popping the cork on a bottle of bubbly. And I have a ‘Goldilocks’ dance with lots of cautious tiptoeing, porridge-eating and chair testing, finishing with the broken chair. For all of these I have a piece of set music and a prescribed story arc, but the students have quite a lot of freedom in how they express themselves.