What to do when things get a little heated? Calypso gives you tips for tricky situations, as they sometimes arise in the everyday teaching world, as well as a number of valuable suggestions on the topic of contemporary dance.
From our experience, difficulties and conflicts can be assigned to the following topics: fears and irritations, aggression, beginning phase, refusal, diversity, prejudices about dance and working together. You will always find the stories of everyday life here.
Celine: I work frequently with partner exercises, where students come into physical contact with one another. At first, that triggers a defensive attitude in a lot of students, especially older ones, which has something to do with anxiety about being touched. So I pay attention to how I time it and first introduce the exercises in a really matter-of-fact way after I’ve already gotten to know the students better. I ignore comments. When curiosity and excitement are the dominant feelings, usually everything goes great. But as soon as I notice that deeper fears or feelings of shame are present, I reduce the “dosage” and concentrate on the touching of “harmless” body parts, like the shoulders for instance, in the tasks that I give.
Irina: When I give the students assignments and they show each other their results, I encourage the ones who are watching to applaud for the others. After all, it takes courage to show something of one’s self. On top of that, the students should understand that artistic practice is not always about right or wrong. We can also get excited about results that don’t correspond to the actual assignment.
Nina: In one school, a teacher took a kid who had disturbed the lesson massively several times to the director’s office. The place went really wild after that and it was total chaos. Shouting and threatening them didn’t have any effect. To channel their energy, I put on some techno and had the students run fast diagonals. They were able to let off steam and for me it suddenly felt like I was surfing on the students’ energy.
Ronaldo: I’ve experienced aggressive behaviour in class pretty frequently, it has to do with the neighbourhood. The first thing I always ask myself is: What’s behind it? Fear? Frustration? Or conscious manipulation that is meant to intimidate me? No matter what it is, I establish clear boundaries: insults and physical violence are not going to fly here. But when the students are simply anxious or frustrated because they can’t manage to do something in class that they are supposed to do, you can try to make space for their aggression, in order to give voice to the emotions behind it. But if the students are out to provoke me, I try to expose the aggressive behaviour and show them: “That’s not going to work with me.”
Elisa: The scene is the last rehearsals before the performances. The kids are all riled up, it’s extremely loud, and that’s mostly Yasin’s fault. My team partner gives him a clear rebuke, but it doesn’t have any effect, Yasin keeps disturbing things. He was already in jail at the age of 15 and he is always getting tangled up in territorial disputes between various gangs of petty criminals. But he loves dancing. We take a break, I address Yasin: “What’s up, why all the drama?” I ask. He answers: “I think I’m nervous. But I’m not like the others, you know me. When I’m annoyed by something, I flip out. I see red and start throwing punches, please tell David (my team partner) that he needs to back off a little, otherwise something stupid will happen...” It wasn’t a threat, he wanted to warn us about himself, I thought that was fantastic. I talked to David, then David had just a brief word with Yasin and everything was cool, the premiere was great.
Alessio: Often I’ll play “leading” and “following blind”. One time it happened that a child just let another one walk right into the wall. I got very angry and the kid who had done it broke down in tears while I was scolding him and almost losing control. At first, I felt really bad about my reaction, but then I realised that my behaviour was comprehensible for the other children as an expression of my deep shock.
Lisa: When younger children in particular absolutely don’t want to calm down, sometimes I’ll pretend to be in despair and call out: “When you don’t listen to me, I feel like I don’t exist. Do I really not exist? Can somebody touch me quick and tell me whether I’m still here?” It’s not really desperation, but it makes the kids laugh – and sometimes it even calms them down too.
Lina: For me, the first three to four hours are totally crucial. If I can’t manage to reach them there, then I’ve pretty much already lost. That’s why I always have a plan B and C up my sleeve. During this phase, I try to observe the class very closely in order to figure out the social dynamics in it. Who are the leaders? Who do I have to win over and interest in the project first?
Ulf: In the beginning of a project, I use material from my practice that I have already tried out. Often I establish contact with individual students and try to get to know them. I also reveal something about myself in the process. Especially in schools with a lot of kids with a migration background, I like to talk about my “nomadic life” as a dancer. Personal stories can help to create a sense of closeness.
Anna: From the beginning, I pay very close attention to establishing rituals and rules and to communicating with all those involved in the project. Having fun is just as important to me as doing tasks that challenge the kids on a physical level. Above all, the class should start to get excited to dance and become curious.
Larissa: After a whole year of teaching dance in a class, I suddenly saw a girl that seemed unfamiliar to me, whose name I didn’t know. But she had been in the class all along from the start. Since that moment I’ve made a point of asking the class teacher for a class picture even before the first lesson and I learn all of their names as quickly as possible.
Nathan: After hearing students say for what felt like the tenth time “Your music is totally 80ies”, I started having them bring me their favourite music. I’ve incorporated it in my playlists and introduced the concept of “1 minute dances”. Here the students dance for one minute a piece to ten different pieces of music. That was a good way for me to expand both my musical repertoire and theirs.
Jonas: If a child absolutely doesn’t want to dance, ever, first I think about how I can appeal to them, or what I can change to make them want to join in. Sometimes I just have to accept a refusal to participate and offer an alternative that is closely related to the project, like picking out music for example, or documenting the lesson. The students then often decide to join in after all, on their own initiative.
Paula: More than anything, it’s important not to take resistant attitudes in class personally. When I have students who refuse to participate, I often see if I can have a conversation with them again after class, and I try to talk about other subjects than the dance project, to show that I’m interested in them. Sometimes I manage to reach them that way, though sometimes I don’t. It’s impossible to always reach every single child.
Ines: Once, when I was working in a class with older students who refused to participate, to touch one another, the class teacher told me I ought to just respect their wishes – as a transitional phase in these young people’s lives, for whom touching or being touched are simply embarrassing phenomena. I was really put off at first, that didn’t match my conceptions at all – but nowadays it feels liberating not to always have to force through my ideas, but instead to find ways to deal with the students’ anxieties surrounding touching in a creative way, or to accept them for the time being.
Rabea: Once I had a class in a special needs centre that I really loved working with. All the same, there were days where nothing worked. One time when I didn’t have any idea how to proceed, I told the class that I was going to go into another room and I wouldn’t come back until they had all settled down. The teacher agreed to this, she stayed in the classroom, but otherwise she didn’t say anything to them. The students had a heated discussion about how they could potentially manage to calm down. After they worked it out amongst themselves, they came and got me and we were able to keep working in a good way.
Giuseppe: I got to know Emmy in an inclusive school. She is in a wheelchair and suffers from spasticity, but she is very bright and nothing gets past her. I took on her handicap as a challenge and thought about how I could adapt exercises and assignments so that she would also benefit from the lessons. That worked well frequently and Emmy chuckled in joy. But when she felt excluded she could really whine a lot. Just like everybody else too.
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Thomas: I’ve kind of specialised in schools in socially difficult neighbourhoods in Berlin. There it helps when I figure out who dominates the class as early as possible. Then I try to establish a relationship to this individual right away, whether male or female. I ask questions or make small talk before and after the lesson. If it goes well, I let him or her demonstrate movements too. When I manage to get this person fired up for the project, I am confident that the rest will follow.
Anna: One boy always came too late, was in a really bad mood, sat listlessly in the corner and wouldn’t dance along. Through the teacher I learned that his mother just couldn’t manage to wake him up on time, make breakfast and get him to school at the proper time. So I told the class about my chronic lateness and the trouble that’s caused me again and again and that that’s why I would absolutely love to do a piece about always getting to places too late. It was like dealing with another boy after that – all thanks to the thought that you can dance ANYTHING, even your personal difficulties.
Georg: A girl from a seventh-grade class manages to do something really special: she can move without moving. Although she does imitate the movement forms, she invests so little energy that you can barely recognise the movements. Her eyes wander around distractedly, as if she were somewhere totally different. I make a special deal with her that she can take a short break whenever she likes. In return, she’s got to try to apply a little more energy to the exercises. Over time, the breaks become less frequent and the movements keep getting clearer and stronger.
Irene: There was this one girl whose name I still didn’t know in the second half of the project. Heng-lih was small and skinny and made neither a positive nor a negative impression. To bring her out of her invisibility, I let her direct the movements of the class with her gestures, the way a conductor directs an orchestra. In the beginning, that was difficult for her, and I had to encourage her so that she would take charge. But everything worked really well in the subsequent performance.
Helge: In school classes with older students, some boys will often use the line: “Dance is ballet and that’s only for girls anyways.” I try to counter that with physical ability and I show a couple tricks at the beginning of every lesson. Something like a handstand or the dolphin, and then they see: Wow, he’s not wearing a tutu or toe shoes and he can do stuff that I think is cool and would like to learn myself.
Sven: Sometimes they’ll break out the lines like how dancing is gay, uncool and not for men. Then I show them the film about Safet. Safet is a Muslim Roma guy who studied contemporary dance at the Folkwang Academy in Essen. He got his start as a breakdancer and he can move really great. His brothers made fun of him at first and told him “Dancing’s not for men”, but eventually his family even supported him. The film is a good example of how you can put prejudices into perspective and awaken curiosity.
Florian: In a class with a high percentage of Palestinian students, I used a religious song with Hebrew lyrics for a piece once, just because I really loved the music. I was braced for the choice to cause a fuss. But that’s not what happened at all, the class just went along with it. Sometimes we have our own prejudices too when it comes to the supposed prejudices of others.
Uwe: With some teachers, the chemistry is great right from the start and you can get down to working together immediately. With others it’s a bit tougher going. You have to pull together first! What has helped me is the experience that everyone has good reasons for their behaviour. Me too! So I try to be flexible and give the other person space.
Carina: The class was difficult, but I thought it would work out somehow. Unfortunately, the teacher didn’t go along with me. In retrospect, I think that I should have included him and his knowledge of the class more actively in the project from the start. After all, everyone wants to be seen and heard!
Anna: Oftentimes, I explained exercises and was then surprised afterwards how little of my explanations the students had apparently understood. Finally, at some point a teacher called my attention to the fact that I was talking way too fast, way too much and everything was too complicated and that I shouldn’t be surprised to see clueless faces. I learned from her how important it is to express the task instructions clearly and precisely.
Ute: As a teacher, sometimes I could barely take the chaos and high noise level we had during a dance project. The dance mediator only comes for a two-hour slot every week, but I’m at school every day and have to put up with the noise. We reached an agreement eventually: she integrates moments in her lesson regularly where everyone can calm down and I’ve understood that volume and chaos are part of the deal if you want to offer the students enough freedom for their own active contributions and creativity.
Sofia: A music teacher had asked me to share my personal appraisal of the students with him in writing, because their participation in the dance project was supposed to be included in their grade for music class. At first that was strange for me, perceiving 26 kids individually and writing short reports about their development. Since then, I’ve even started to offer that to teachers on my own initiative. If they have to be graded on their performance, then I feel that it is important that the process be transparent and comprehensible for the students.