Bestworst lesson

14th December 2007 at 00:00
Best: Many pupils, on first meeting, seem to think that there are two kinds of dance in the world: street and ballet. Street is the kind of dancing that they know and ballet is anything else. So, as a key stage 34 dance teacher, it is a regular challenge for me to convince pupils that there is a world of dance outside this dichotomy that is possible, interesting and fun.

My group of Year 10 pupils were taking dance for the first time and were initially resistant to anything that was not street. I tried several strategies with them: non-western dance forms; movement tasks that allowed plenty of their own creative input; introducing contemporary movement using familiar chart music. After about 10 weeks, the group was really warming to the idea of trying and creating new movement. We got to the point where we started to put a piece together for the borough dance festival.

A few rehearsals in, members of the group were happily trying out some new movement material in the drama studio when some other Year 10s arrived for the next lesson. "What are you lot doing?" asked one. "Is that street dance?"

"No," replied my group with unexpected satisfaction. "It's contemporary dance." I was surprised but overjoyed to see them take pride in a dance form they had almost completely rejected a few weeks before. And I was ecstatic when they completely rocked at the dance festival, too.

Worst: It was my first day at a new school and the head of department, who would usually be on hand to discuss expectations and introduce me to the pupils, was unexpectedly off-site. I was shown into a freezing cold sports hall with a carpet-covered concrete floor and tiny CD player. The space was so inappropriate that I seriously considered not delivering the session. But, wanting to make a good start, I decided we would just have a really good warm-up and restrict jumping on the hard floor.

A large group of girls came in for their lesson. Some were clearly not interested in any activity at all, some were (again) resistant to dance that wasn't street style and there was quite a lot of low-level challenging behaviour. It was necessary to stop the session several times to address disruption and 15 minutes into the session I removed one girl altogether.

It was then that another girl broke her ankle. Not in my class, fortunately, but on the netball court outside following an awkward fall. To compound matters, the injured girl's parents were not available and so the other PE teacher had to take her to hospital; so now I found myself with 60 girls in the sports hall all avidly discussing the incident and rubbernecking the scene outside. My session ground to a halt with nothing at all achieved and I felt more utterly disheartened than at any time before or since in my career.

The group was much better the next week and for the rest of term, but I still have nightmares about that first lesson.

Lise Smith is a dance teacher based in Barnet, Middlesex, working in a variety of secondary schools.

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