4 Tips for Training Musicality and Timing in Your Dancers

I have fond memories of my dance teachers growing up always having ‘the coolest music’ (which I now recognize as retro Janet Jackson and 90’s Eurodance). I don’t recall them ever playing The Spice Girls or *NSYNC or whatever else I was listening to at home – and now as a coach myself, I understand why. Musicality comes naturally to some but for most it needs to be skillfully trained and nurtured like all other aspects of dance.

Here are my Top 4 tips for training musicality and timing in your dancers:

Maple Grove High School from Maple Grove, MN

Maple Grove High School from Maple Grove, MN

1. Have a set choreographed warm up and enforce synchronization. This makes timing and music awareness a priority right from the get-go, as soon as they start moving. Choreographed warm ups require counting, not just copying – after a while nobody wants to be that one girl still in a lunge while everybody else has expertly moved on to arm circles in one swift movement. Moving ‘as one’ through warm up also creates a nice sense of teamwork and purpose.

2. Like the great dance teachers of your childhood, be more picky about what music you have your dancers moving to. You can’t control what they listen to at home but you can be in control of increasing their music vocabulary in the studio. Moving to only Top 40 all year and then throwing an intricate pom mix or emotionally mature lyrical/jazz song at them for competition is asking them to go from 0 to 100.

Between warm up, across the floor, stretching and conditioning, you play at least 45 minutes worth of music each practice. Use this time to expose your dancers to music they don’t hear on the radio, intricate or unique beats and melodies, various genres, and songs that evoke different types of emotions. Being mindful of age appropriateness, this can be harder with younger dancers. For little ones I like to use things like classical or rock covers of pop songs so they’re hearing familiar music presented in different ways.

I know sourcing music can be the bane of coaching – but don’t worry! I’ve linked you to my Spotify playlist (above). I update it regularly so it’s always fresh. Follow and enjoy! If you don’t see the link you can find it on Spotify by searching ‘dtmasterclass’ and follow my DANCE TEAM playlist.

3. When it comes to timing for a specific routine, have your dancers listen to their routine music any chance they get. Not practice, just listen. On the bus, walking home from school, brushing their teeth – anywhere and everywhere! Make sure they have easy access to the music on their phones and computers. The closer it gets to competition, the more I make them listen to it – sometimes 10 x per day. They will begin to hear things they hadn’t noticed while dancing – different instruments, accents, lyrics and mood changes. That familiarity will come through in their dancing.

4. For cleaning routine timing, I like to do the routine ‘a cappella’. Without music and ideally with minimal counting (just 1’s or just 1’s and 5’s). This can be packaged and sold as a ‘game’ and is super easy to get your dancers excited about due to Pitch Perfect fever. Aca-awesome! Being able to hear every step, slap, jump and shuffle highlights who and where your timing issues are coming from. If it’s not sounding so hot all together, start by breaking the team into smaller groups and have them perform for each other.

What are your favorite tips for training musicality and timing?

Goal Crushing Your Way Into 2016: 3 Easy Steps

The excitement of “New Year’s resolutions” is buzzing once again and as a coach I personally milk it for all it’s worth. January is a great time to reassess the goals your team (hopefully!) set at the beginning of the season. If goal-setting got swept under the chaos of tryouts and then choreography, now is the time to do it!

Here are my 3 easy steps for goal crushing your way into 2016:

1. Re-evaluate what you already have, both team and individual goals.

How are we looking? What progress has been made? Often times at the beginning of the season we set big, faraway goals like “placing at so-and-so competition” or “having whole-squad triple pirouettes by first competition”. These are great but they require some serious Action Steps, which tend to fall by the wayside as the season rolls on, or never even exist to begin with. Identify all necessary Action Steps! That is, what needs to happen to achieve each goal.

2. Enter, 30 Day Challenges!

My Goal Tracking worksheet. Click to download your free copy!

The goal tracking worksheet that I use. Click to download your free printable copy!

My absolute favorite way to turn Action Steps on paper into actual action, which equals real in-the-studio results. This is where the magic happens (because magic is actually hard work, duh)! It’s exactly what it sounds like – you set your dancers a challenge and they have to do it at home every day for 30 days. Have them track their progress both on a chart (like the one on the right) and by filming themselves.

The key is setting the right challenges, they need to be effective. There can be benefits to setting a “whole team” challenge, however I find results come much faster when each dancer is working on their own individual needs. If Sally is struggling to turn her pirouettes into triples (her goal), she’s probably having trouble holding form. So one of her Action Steps is likely “increase core strength for balance and control”. A perfect 30 Day Challenge for Sally that will check this Action Step off her list is 10 Minute Ab Workout – once a day for 30 days. That’s just one example, the possibilities are endless!

To make all of this easier, CLICK HERE to download a free copy of my goal tracking worksheet (or click on the photo above). Save and print as many times as you like.

3. Daily Goals!

Or more accurately, every practice. Some of our dancers we see 2 or 3+ times per week, dance practice becomes a second home. Which is great – but sometimes that familiarity gets in the way of productivity. Having your dancers set Daily Goals for themselves gives every practice a sense of purpose.

Daily Goals need to be 3 things – small, achievable, and not about dancing. We already have a whole list of dance-related goals for the season. This is more about keeping your dancers mentally healthy, keeping morale up, and re-focusing energy when needed. Some examples of Daily Goals are:

  • I will be on time for practice with all attire that I need
  • I am going to give 100% effort
  • I will get through the whole practice without Coach having to ask me to stop talking

I like to have blank notecards and markers in the lobby that the girls fill out first thing when they arrive and then post on our big pinboard just inside the studio as they enter for practice. On their way out they take them down for quick reflection. You can have them keep the cards in a journal or scrapbook, either at home or in the studio, so they can look back and track their progress every few weeks. Daily Goals don’t have to be fancy – sticky notes on the mirror or wall work just fine!

Happy 2016! Go forth and crush your goals.