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C. J. Biene
Instructional Product Reviews
Movie Reviews

A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD Intro to Dance for Boys Using Horton and West African Dance

by C. J. Biene
December 11, 2015
An Overview of Dance Spotlight's Technique Class DVD Series
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Beginners Class"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Intermediate Class"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Class"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "Intro to Dance for Boys Using Horton and West African Dance"
A Review of Dance Spotlight's DVD "Graham Technique Taught by Peggy Frank: An Intermediate Class"
In Dance Spotlight's Intro to Dance for Boys Using Horton and West African Dance, Tracy Inman and Yahaya Kamate teach a class to a group of young male students in the Ailey Athletic Boys Dance Program who seem to be between five and eight years old. Though I wish the DVD had been broader in scope, I nevertheless think it is an excellent pedagogical tool for teachers of dance who seek to improve their ability to teach this particular age group.

The DVD begins with an introduction from Tracy Inman, a former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer who has an extensive teaching resume. In the introduction, he explains what he focuses on as a teacher when teaching this age group and what the pedagogical focus of the Ailey Athletic Boys Dance Program is. He informs viewers that his goal is for the class they are about to view to be exciting, fun, and both physically and mentally challenging for the boys. He explains that Horton is an excellent technique for young dancers—all young dancers, not just boys— to learn because it is geometric in shape. He tells us that the class will include the fundamentals of Horton technique and the vocabulary of West African Dance and other techniques. Mr. Inman explains why he has structured the class with Horton at the beginning and West African Dance in the second section: Horton gets taught at the beginning of the class because that is when the young students have the most focus and attention, and then West African gets taught next because it provides an opportunity for them to release the kind of rambunctious, jump-around energy that little boys often have. Mr. Inman also explains that the class is designed to teach the students about discipline and about how to show respect to one's teachers, one's fellow students, and the accompanist. I agree that it is never too early to teach dance students about the respect and discipline that are so important to any serious study of dance; this is a foundational concept that is age-appropriate, and Mr. Inman is right to emphasize its importance.

During the class itself, Mr. Inman often uses a call-and-response format to get the children's attention and impart information. It is a very effective technique. Class begins with a review of some Horton vocabulary and positions. Sometimes Mr. Inman corrects students who need help directing their gaze correctly by gently re-positioning their necks and heads with his hands. I can see how this can be a very good way to give corrections to children who do not yet have a lot of anatomical knowledge or a sophisticated dance vocabulary. I think the way that Mr. Inman sometimes has the class count aloud together is wonderful because it seems to really help the students feel the energy of the group and the energy of dancing together. Mr. Inman's corrections are always uncomplicated enough to be age-appropriate. At one point in the class, Mr. Inman instructs students to purposefully slouch so that they can learn correct alignment by first feeling incorrect alignment. I think this is a great way to reach students who do not yet have the knowledge for a discussion of vertebrae or planes in space to make immediate sense. Also nice is the way Mr. Inman has students rhythmically chant out their motions as they move across the floor; he is helping his students get the gist of the rhythm of the exercise in an age-appropriate way.

I think it is terrific that the DVD shows what a teacher should do if a young student cannot answer a question when asked. In this situation, Mr. Inman asks the class, "Who else knows?" He also frequently asks, "does everyone understand?" and "does anyone have any questions?" I think these are good ways to keep a class full of young students on the same page, so to speak. The way that he shows movement is varied, which I think is important because not every student might find any given method of demonstration the most easily understandable. Sometimes he demonstrates movement himself, sometimes he has a student demonstrate the movement while he moves the student's torso or limbs, sometimes he has a student demonstrate the movement on his own, and sometimes he has his teaching assistant demonstrate the movement. This way students both have opportunities to feel like the movement is something they can do, because they are seeing a child their age and gender do it, and to be inspired by seeing the movement done with a lot of expertise and grace by a professional.

I like that the two instructors and the teaching assistant are all male, since it may be easier for young boys to see male dancers as role models than it would be for them to see female dancers and/or teachers as role models. I also like how my Inman fielded a question form a student and then asked if anyone in the class knew the answer so that another student could have the opportunity to answer the question. The fact that students can learn a great deal from both their teacher and from one another, rather than only from the teacher, is another foundational idea of dance study, and Mr. Inman does a fine job imparting this idea to students. When he has students thank their teachers and the accompanist at the end of class, he reinforces another important concept of dance study.

Yahaya Kamate teaches the second portion of the class, the West African portion. His greatest strengths as a teacher are the ways in which he is able to keep a firm grasp on the class's attention from moment to moment and the way he is able to keep a rhythm going in his teaching. Both he and Mr. Inman often teach the lower body part of a movement exercise, then teach the upper body part of an exercise, and then have the students combine the two, which I think is very helpful. I like how Mr. Kamate sometimes has one young student demonstrate a sequence of movement for the class, makes one correction (such as "I didn't hear your claps!"), and then has the student do the same movement again. It is a very effective teaching technique. I also like how he sometimes has one-half or one-third of the class dance through some movement while the rest of the class watches; I think this helps the students become comfortable with performing what they are learning from the very beginning, and also helps the students to learn to be inspired by the dancing of others. Lastly, this split-class convention (for lack of a better phrase) will almost certainly appear again in class when the students take more advanced technique classes at higher levels, so I think it is nice to introduce it at this age.

Though Mr. Inman and Mr. Kamate generally do an excellent job of showing how to instruct young boys in a beginner-level technique class, there are nevertheless some shortcomings of the DVD. For one, the DVD shows students taking a class that they have clearly taken before. It would have been helpful to see, for at least a portion of the DVD, one of the teachers teaching a group of students that are new to him or her or teaching the students movement that they are completely unfamiliar with. Then viewers could see how best to introduce students to movement they have never seen before. I think this an oversight that should not be taken too lightly, since this is probably the hardest part of teaching young students for many teachers. Also, even though the students are young, they are not too young to be introduced during the Horton portion to the concept of using all of one's time (not being early on the music). Though the students should not be expected to demonstrate mastery of this concept, I do not think they are too young to be introduced to the concept, and so I wish Mr. Inman had made some mention of it. I also wish one of the teachers had introduced the concept of "a correction for any student is really a correction for the whole class", since this is a very important part of learning how to take class. I think this concept could have been introduced in an age-appropriate way as well, and I was disappointed that it was not mentioned at all.

Even though some important ideas were left out, this DVD is absolutely a useful tool for teachers who want to learn how to teach young boys, or young students in general, better. Because of its oversights, though, the DVD is probably best used as a teaching tool by students of dance pedagogy who are also using other teaching tools or texts to develop their teaching skills. The DVD does not show how to do everything helpful a teacher could possibly do, but this is ultimately understandable given the seventy-one minute length of the DVD. It is a very useful tool for learning how to embody some aspects of high-quality teaching of young boys.

The DVDs can be ordered online at www.DanceSpotlight.com

or from:
Dance Spotlight
156 West 44th St Flat 7
NYC, NY 10036

or ordered by calling: 212-398-4200
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