What do you love about teaching these kinds of classes?
So many things! I love the opportunity to build each Parent/Child class I teach into a supportive community of compassionate and embodied explorers, risk-takers, and dancers. Anne Green Gilbert’s 5-part lesson plan provides such a balanced scaffold for learning: exertion followed by recuperation; student-centered activities followed by teacher-directed activities; exploring and dancing as individuals, with partners, in small groups, and coming together as the whole group… it is satisfying to teach and deeply satisfying to experience. I enjoy the challenge of connecting with the shyest of toddlers while keeping an enthusiastic three year old focused and engaged. I love the moment when I see a parent moving in their body with more confidence and extending the material I am sharing in their own creative way with their child. I enjoy teaching the grown ups as much as I enjoy teaching and dancing with their children. I am lucky in that I teach Nurturing Baby, Parent/Toddler, and Parent/Child classes at the Creative Dance Center, which means I often dance with families over the course of 3-4 years. This allows me to really get to know my students and celebrate the tremendous growth that happens in these early years. It is a gift to be able to share with parents the importance of developmental movement and how the dance concepts have applications outside of the dance studio. One of my favorite stories from a parent came after we had a lesson on Focus – single focus and multi-focus. While trying to get shoes on her 2-½ year old to leave the house, this mother reminded her daughter that it was time to use single focus. It wasn’t the time to use multi-focus, paying attention to many things, but rather single focus, paying attention to one thing… putting shoes on. And her daughter knew exactly what that meant because we had explored lots of different ways of using single focus in dance class!
How did you learn to teach this class - content, pace, etc? Who are your role models?
Parent/Toddler class is how I met Anne Green Gilbert! I had recently retired from Pacific Northwest Ballet after the birth of my first daughter and wondered if there was some place in Seattle that offered dance classes for parents and young children. I found the Creative Dance Center in the phone book and showed up for Parent/Toddler class in January of 1997 with my 18 month old, having no idea who Anne Green Gilbert was! I was immediately blown away by the combination of fun and depth of content in Anne’s lessons. I soon found out she was quite well-known and a respected author and dance educator and registered for her Summer Dance Institute for Teachers that summer. I continued to take Anne’s Parent/Toddler and Parent/Child classes with my daughter, and when my second daughter was born in 1999, we signed up for Anne’s Nurturing Baby class. I danced with my children in Anne’s classes until they were each 4 years old. That was the best learning experience I could have ever asked for. Anne would spend time with me after class as I asked about music selections, movement explorations, prop choices, developmental movement, pacing, and lesson plan structure. I wrote down every single lesson I took with her, and when I first started teaching, those were the lessons I taught. From dancing with Anne for all those years I learned how to speak to parents to put them at ease and involve them; I learned how to handle transitions from activity to activity with continuous flow; I learned the balance of repetition and novelty that is needed to keep toddlers and young children as well as their caregivers engaged in class; I learned the power of cueing for class management; I learned how to thread a dance concept through each element of the lesson plan; and I learned that sometimes you just have to laugh and power through and say “there must have been a full moon last night” when things get crazy so that parents don’t feel bad or embarrassed by anything their child might be doing or not doing!
What are some of the challenges?
I have found that clear communication with parents and caregivers at the first class of a new session is critical to laying the groundwork for a positive learning environment. The challenges can be parents who don’t realize they have a very active role in class; those that tend to socialize with other parents while class is going on; those that think their child isn’t “participating” correctly; and those that may be more interested in photographing or filming their child rather than being actively engaged WITH their child. In order to alleviate these issues, at our first class I am proactive in communicating the ways that parents can best support their child’s learning and experience, and I repeat much of this information over the course of a session. We also give a handout to parents, offering tips on ways to support learning in early childhood. Our studio is a cell phone free zone within reason, always understanding that there are special moments a parent, nanny, or caregiver may want to capture for family and friends. Letting parents know that each child is going to react differently to different parts of the lesson plan (and that’s okay!), and that class is about discovery and connecting and learning from one another rather than doing everything “correctly,” can be a huge load off their shoulders. Once parents understand the importance of their role in Parent/Child class you now have a room full of empowered adults who are teaching right alongside you, not to mention a slew of super assistants to help manage props, transitions, and setting up the obstacle course. Offering ways to adapt and vary the activities is especially helpful when you are teaching a class that includes toddlers who have just learned how to walk and super active 2-½ year olds. I often joke that though there might be moments where all the grown-ups are dancing around like maniacs with toddlers just standing and staring at us, those toddlers are still learning so much! And the grown-ups get to have the release and enjoyment of moving their bodies in a judgment free zone!
Your favorite aspect of dance classes for young children (props, books, improvisation, etc):
I don’t know that I can pick one favorite aspect! I am always blown away with excitement and awe to see toddlers begin to do BrainDance exercises on their own for the first time after sitting in their caregiver’s lap and observing; to see and hear a one to two year old do core-distal movements while singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, there is nothing like that. I think sometimes I get more excited than their parents! I love the moments when I look around while leading an improv and see parents interacting with their child not necessarily in the way I am showing but following their own child’s creativity and lead, letting their child lead the learning and exploration. I am grateful for the sense of ritual the 5-part lesson plan provides and that each week we deeply dive into exploring a new dance concept. Waltz time, when parents hold their child in their arms and we swoop and fly and spin, and come together to say hello and goodbye and really see each other, is special. I love rest time, at the mid-way point of every class, letting parents know this is one time in their week they can count on to relax and release and BREATHE for 3-4 minutes while their children either snuggle with them, come sit with Teacher Terry, visit quietly with other children, or do their own special dance. After rest time, I love hearing all the little voices say “Wake up!” ---because they know it is time for instruments. I especially love that parents and caregivers are there to witness the cognitive, physical, and social-emotional growth and development of their child week to week and that I get to celebrate that growth with them.
A resource to share with other teaching artists interested in parent/child classes:
I would say come to the Summer Dance Institute for Teachers at the Creative Dance Center in July. Not only will you learn how to structure beautiful conceptual lessons for all ages in all dance styles, you can observe (or participate in!) Nurturing Baby, Parent/Toddler, and Parent/Child classes that are held during our Summer Session. If you can’t come to Seattle, there is fabulous information, resources, and lesson plan formats for Parent/Child classes in both Brain-Compatible Dance Education and Creative Dance for All Ages by Anne Green Gilbert. Music choices that I have found invaluable when teaching Parent/Child classes include all of Eric Chappelle’s Music for Creative Dance CDs, selections by Hap Palmer, Parachute Express, Greg and Steve, Ella Jenkins, and more current musicians Laurie Berkner and Caspar Babypants. When I play anything from Lisa Redfern’s lullaby CD Sing Me Goodnight during rest time I often see parents and caregivers wipe away a tear and hug their child a little closer. For rest time, I love finding songs that connect us in our humanity and honor our diversity.
Terry Goetz is Director of the Creative Dance Center in Seattle, Washington. Terry has been on the faculty of the Creative Dance Center since 2000 and began training intensively with Anne Green Gilbert in 1997. She teaches Nurturing Baby, Parent/Toddler, and Parent/Child creative dance classes and ballet and modern dance for older children and teens. Terry has taught in preschools, elementary classrooms, and studios throughout the Seattle area since retiring from Pacific Northwest Ballet where she danced from 1988-1995. Prior to performing with PNB, she was a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater from 1986-1988.
She presents to PEPS (Program for Early Parent Support) groups, Early Childhood specialists, and at Early Childhood conferences focusing on the importance of movement in the early years of life. Terry presents workshops locally, nationally, and internationally, training dance teachers, educators, and teaching artists in BrainDance and Brain-Compatible Dance Education. She worked with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in WA state as a Dance Specialist developing updated state-wide K-12 Learning Standards for Dance. Terry is an active member of the National Dance Education Organization and served as President of the Dance Educators Association of Washington. In 2015 Terry was honored as Dance Educator of the Year at the Fall DEAW Conference. This annual award is presented to dance educators working in the state of Washington who exemplify excellence in dance education.