Creating With Kids – Chasta Hamilton Calhoun

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

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Introducing Chasta Hamilton Calhoun:

Chasta lives in Raleigh, NC where she owns her own studio, Stage Door Dance Productions. She also teaches satellite programs at two country clubs and brings dance to to a variety of preschools and community organizations. Chasta teaches ages 2-18, with 75% of her classes to the 6 and under set. The other 25% of her classes are jazz, musical theatre, and contemporary.

Chasta graduated from North Carolina State University with a B.A. in Arts Applications & Administration (emphasis in Theatre) with a minor in Film Studies. She started dancing in her childhood and never stopped. Chasta says she began choreographing and teaching in college and that is where she really found her niche and passion.

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

Chasta: A typical teaching day lasts from 8:30am-9:30pm:

  1. Waking up, answering emails, and publishing an article on The Dance Exec
  2. Heading out to teach 1-2 morning, preschool aged classes
  3. Lunch Break
  4. Teaching 2-3 preschool aged classes in the afternoon
  5. Handling Studio Business
  6. Teaching 1-2 classes for older students in the evening

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

Chasta: When I teach, my goals are to push each student to his or her greatest potential while tapping into the child’s passion, imagination, and creativity in a structured and nurturing way. I want students to understand the purpose and history of the movement and how it relates to their overall composition as an artist.

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

Chasta: I think my most recognizable qualities as an instructor are: structure, efficiency, and equality. For every class I teach, and especially in my younger classes, I find that children thrive off of structure. Structure does not mean that the class is rigid or less enjoyable; rather, it sets expectations and boundaries in place and the students excel is a consistent environment. Classes are also efficient and productive, maximizing the amount of class time available. When you are teaching, it is your duty to maintain a captive audience, and a full lesson plan holds students’ attention. I am also overly cautious to distribute equal attention in class; whether a student is perfectly executing or struggling with first position, a little bit of attention and reassurance goes a long way in helping the student believe in him/herself.

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

Chasta: I absolutely love having the ability to interact and inspire students. I also love having the opportunity to constantly challenge myself to be the best dance educator possible (via curriculums, choreography, class plans, music, etc.).

One thing that I don’t like very much are when issues arise that are unrelated to actual dancing. Granted, this is a part of the dance studio industry/business (or any business involving children), but there are times when it can be frustrating and distracting from the actual art of teaching.

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

Chasta: I am always amazed at young students’ tenacity, insight, capability, and fearlessness. They are eager to learn and excited to perform. Young students are SO brilliant, and it is very frustrating to hear some instructors underestimate the power of our young dancers. My young students amaze and inspire me every single day.

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

Chasta: I would tell them to be confident and creative. If you are having fun, the students will have fun. Teach the students, but allow yourself to learn from them, too. Always have a plan in place, and be prepared to toss that plan out the window and revert to a back up. Expect the unexpected. Be aware of the students’ level of engagement; find a way to reach, inspire, and connect with each and every one of your students.

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

Chasta: I created a tap program at the Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, NC. In 2008, we performed a show, and after the show, I received countless letters from the students thanking me for believing in them and teaching them how to dance. The experience was a game-changer for my teaching philosophies, and I will be eternally grateful for such a rewarding, humbling experience.

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?

Chasta: Keep it positive! Praise the student that is listening, and the other students will want to model that student to receive equal praise.

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

Chasta: I am constantly looking for ways to integrate new metaphors, games, and music into my classes. Each year, I try to mix-up my holiday/seasonal themes and keep my class plans consistent and fresh.

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

Chasta: In my classes, when it is time to transition to floor stretches, I use my “magic wand” to “cast a spell” on each dancer using the magic words (which can vary from week to week). When the dancer receives the “spell”, he/she executes a series of defined movements (sautés, marches, skips, etc.) and lands in a designated stretching position. This is a great, fun way to mix up the class and give the students an opportunity to shift their focus prior to a new segment of the class.

You can connect with Chasta on her website and blog. Thank you, Chasta for being a part of the project! I love your “cast a spell” dance. Sounds like something every 4 year old would love! 🙂 

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