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 Cait Fraser…
Cait is the director of a dance studio in upstate New York. She bounces between 2 different locations throughout the week. She teaches ages 4-18 in creative movement, modern, beginning ballet, and tap.
Cait holds a B.A. in Dance from the University at Buffalo and a B.S. in Accounting, which she says has definitely helped with the business side of the studio. She also tries to attend as many master classes as possible and she loves to read read read (dance books, blogs, and magazines)! Cait says “the best training is observing other teachers and learning through doing.”
Maria: Paint us a picture of your typical teaching day?
Cait: Running the studio makes my days vary from one to the next, but a typical weekday starts with working on my lesson plans in the morning, running to the studio or doing errands to do some paperwork / administration stuff for a few hours and then teaching from the early afternoon until about 9pm at night.
Maria: In a few sentences, describe your teaching philosophy.
Cait: Dance is about so much more then learning steps—other skills like confidence, creativity, self-discipline, etc, can be developed in dance classes. I try to remember that as I plan my classes. If at the end of the year, a child comes out of my class and has only learned “steps”, then I haven’t done my job.
Maria: If I came to observe you teach today, what is the first quality I would notice about you as a teacher?
Cait: I am patient and silly. I use a lot of call and response in my classes (“ok dancers, this step is a…” and the kids shout “plié!”).
Maria: What are 2 things you love about teaching, and one thing you don’t like very much at all?
Cait: With my older students, I love seeing the growth from year to year. As dance teachers, we often have the privilege to see the same students for many years (as opposed to schoolteachers or coaches, who get the student for 1 or 2 years). This in itself is so rewarding.
I love the relationship of music and dance – finding new music, incorporating music into my classes, finding new ways to interpret songs, watching students respond to new genres…my favorite is sneaking in their parent’s favorite music and having the kids say “this is a cool song – what is is?” and seeing mom grin from the observation window!
One thing I do not like are class level discussions and decisions (who can move up, who should stay). It is tough to tell the dedicated child who works hard and has a great attitude that they are not ready for the next level. I am sad when the label on the class dictates the student’s joy and ambition for that class. I am so happy when a parent is supportive of our decisions and helps their child work through the disappointment and motivates them to continue to work hard—it seems like there are fewer and fewer parents like that these days.
Maria: What surprises you the most about teaching dance to young children?
Cait: The ideas that come out of their heads and mouths! I love how each class will never be taught the same way. For example, no matter how many times I teach tendu, there is always a new way of seeing it for the little ones (“it’s like a scoop” “It looks like a train leaving the station”, etc). Children’s creativity will always surprise me.
Maria: If you were going to speak to a group of aspiring creative dance teachers, what would you tell them?
Cait: Plan plan plan… and then throw it all away! Be flexible but always have a back-up plan. Watch as many classes and other teachers as you can and steal their best stuff!
Maria: Share with us one teaching moment that you will never forget.
Cait: We had a high school student with cerebral palsy who asked to perform at our recital. She chose the music and worked with another one of my faculty members to create a solo, performed with a chair. I will never forget the feeling in the theater as she performed her solo – as I looked at my students, their faces were filled with admiration and joy. When I looked at the parents, there were tears in their eyes and smiles on their faces. That is one of the best examples of the true joy that can be shared through dance.
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?
Cait: With large classes of older students, I try to use the time efficiently by using our space – changing lines, doing steps line by line or two by two when there isn’t time for me to look at everyone individually, traveling across the floor in different patterns. One of my favorite things to do is to partner them up and have them work on a certain step or combination. The partners give feedback and corrections (I usually say “tell your friend one thing they did GREAT and two things they could improve”). By doing this throughout the year, the students learn how to give specific feedback and in turn, will (hopefully!) begin to self-correct by the end of the year.
Maria: Since teachers continue to learn too, what is one teaching goal that you are working towards?
Cait: I want to increase the number of master classes I attend each year. I love taking class from different teachers – even if I’m not learning new steps, I love “borrowing” classroom ideas and teaching styles to make my classes even better.
Maria: Share with us your most favorite creative dance lesson so we can all use it tomorrow. You know, Maria’s Movers style!
Cait: The “Elevator”: First we establish where the elevator is (and for really littles.. WHAT an elevator is). For classes that need more structure, everyone has their own elevator on their spot in line (so they remain spread out) and for older students, we make one big elevator in the center of the room and all squish in. A student or teacher picks the “floor” number to go to (Floor 4!). We look for the button and push it and jump that many times to get to the floor (“one..two..three..FOUR!”). We open the doors and discover we are on the <<insert Dance Skill here>> Floor! We practice that skill around the floor until we get tired and then come back to the elevator to do it all again.
You can use this exercise for any class – tap, ballet, jazz, modern. In between the skill floors I mix in creative movement, such as: underwater floor, ooey gooey sticky floor, deep dark forest (tip toes only so you don’t wake the bear!), ice and snow, slow motion, backwards, clouds, trampoline floors… the possibilities are endless! By the end of the year, I let the kids pick what floor we are on… they come up with some good ones!
To get back to dance class and end the elevator game, we take the elevator ‘down’ to dance class by counting backwards from 10. It helps transition out of “game” mode and into the next exercise.
You can connect with Cait on her website! Thank you Cait for being a part of the project! I also do the elevator dance and it’s my absolute favorite! Also, thanks for sharing the moment with us of your student doing her solo on stage. So inspiring! 🙂