Cleaning Dance Routines

Originally published February 25, 2011


Polishing, cleaning, fine-tuning… whatever you call it, its necessary before a performance.  I thought I’d share some of my favorite techniques that I’ve picked up over the years as a student and teacher.

The first key is making sure everyone knows the dance – break the routine into 8 counts, count by count and analyze and correct everything from the head placement, arms, feet, legs (bent or straight), and tempo.  If you’re low on time, start at the messiest part of the dance.

Once everyone knows the dance, repetition is key!  One of my teachers would not move on until each section (usually 8 counts) had been performed correctly and cleanly three times… in a row.   If we messed up on the third time, she started over.  She called it her “Rule of Three’s” and used it for only the messiest parts of dances because it can get very frustrating, but yields results.

Read more suggestions after the break!

Just Arms – Students sit or stand and do just the upper body (arms and head) to the dance.  Sometimes I allow them to move around to their formations while doing arms.

Formations –  Having traffic jams?  Perform just formations / spacing.  Have the students go from one formation to the next quickly in succession.  Repeat until all the formation changes happen easily and smoothly.

Re-Start – My kids hate this game, but it works.  Every time I see a mistake, we start the routine over from the beginning.  The only downside to this one is that the beginning gets very clean, but the end does not.  To help with this, I add “checkpoints” like in a video game.  Once we get to a certain point, they only have to go back to that section.  I usually choose every 45 seconds or 1 minute as a good checkpoint.

Super Slow-Mo – Perform the routine at slower speed.  We have pitch control on the CD player, allowing you to slow down the music to up to -16%.  I have the dancers perform the routine at a very slow speed, forcing the students to listen to the beat.  It also shows you if there’s areas where the students are unclear of arm positions or counts.  They always beg to do it at ‘super fast’ speed afterwards which is just fun.  This works for all types of dance, but its my favorite for tap.

Play Judge – Step out of your teacher role and try to look at the routine as if you’re seeing it for the first time.  If you are unable to do this, get a friend or another teacher to come in and watch.  When I play judge, I will give the class a score on performance, technique and overall (or whatever categories they will be getting judged on at competition).

You can also divide your group into two and have one half perform while the other half watches.  If the students are younger, I find it works best to assign each ‘judge’ a very specific aspect to watch like arms, smiles, staying on the balls of the feet, pointed toes, etc.  This also helps the students learn how to give feedback to their peers.

Disorientation – Perform the routine in a new space or facing a new wall or direction.  Forcing the students to adapt the dance to fit into new spaces gives them a chance to experience what its like to be on an unfamiliar stage.  This usually reveals what dancers has been “following” in the mirror and do not know their dance.

Video Critique – Record the routine and replay it for the kids. Then watch it again. And a third time. Make the students critique themselves. They are often their best (and worst) critics.

Last One Standing / Knock Out – My kids beg to play this one.  We perform the routine and focus on one aspect (pointed toes, smiling, arms, etc).  Students who mess up, get called out and have to sit.  We play until the routine ends or there is one person left.  I don’t like this one as much because most of the time the students who need repetition are the ones who get out first, but it does make them want to work harder to be the last one in.

What is your favorite method?

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