Knowing your student's comfort zone can be the difference between success and failure in a class. But when you are dealing with multiple students, it can be hard to know the overall comfort zone of a group. If you take the class too fast, your students could become uncomfortable and overly self-conscious and if you take it too slow, you could run the risk of boring the group. So how exactly do you calculate your student's comfort zone and when is the right time to take them beyond it?
Staying in the comfort zone
Staying inside a group's comfort zone is essential for the absorption of new material. This applies in particular to a class of new dancers. When a student begins to learn dance they will be understandably self-aware. Being pushed beyond what a student feels comfortable with or what their body is capable of can not only lead to negative emotions, it can also dramatically decrease the size of your class.
If you are teaching a class of mixed cultures it is important to be aware of what these cultures find uncomfortable. For example, students from India or Asia will be uncomfortable in a close embrace or in movement that requires sustained eye contact. If these are essential to your class, you may have to adapt your teaching to make these students less self-aware.
Just as students from certain cultures will be uncomfortable with close embraces and sustained eye contact, you may find that young women also find this unsettling. The important thing here is to offer encouraging words of reassurance and if you find your students blushing excessively or unusually stumbling their movements, again, adapt the lesson.
If you are teaching a group of older students you will have to modify your teaching to suit their level of physical ability. If you have a long piece of information to tell the students, allow the group to sit down while you convey this information.
Be aware of the overall pace of the group. If it is your first time teaching a particular group, this can usually be assessed in the stretching routines you administer at the beginning of the class.
Pacing of your class is essential to keep your students both in their comfort zone and challenged. Judge this by the overall class and not by the individual. When 90-95% of your class grasps the steps and concepts, you should advance with the lesson. The remaining 10% although not completely competent, will be aware that they are slower learners and will appreciate you moving on with the lesson and not drawing attention to this fact.
This is an invaluable trait for a teacher to have. If you loose your temper in class not only will you make all of your students feel uncomfortable you will also compromise your authority and loose the respect of the class. This takes both you and your students out of the comfort zone. Authority in class is an essential element of effective teaching and will be discussed in greater detail in other articles.
Going beyond the comfort zone
When your students are preparing for performance or competition, it is vital that you take them beyond their comfort zone. This can be done in a number of ways. The first and most effective is the coverage technique. Quite simply this involves your students working with the absence of mirrors. This will make your students less distracted and also less tempted to notice their mistakes out of the corner of their eye.
If you do not have the ability to cover the mirrors in your studio, simply turning your students away from the mirrors can be just as effective. Once you have taken away the mirror "stabilizers" you may need to rebuild your dancers steps. You should being this process at least one month before competition/performance. Rework the spacing and formations step by step and take things slowly. Again, patience is everything with teaching.
Removing the mirror from a routine will build both your dancers confidence and knowledge. Live performance is an integral part of progression and to ensure success, you need to do your upmost as a teacher to make sure your students are prepared and ready to step out of their comfort zone.