An Interview with Preschool & Camp Director, Ms Erin
How long have you been working at Dance 1?
On Halloween this year, I will have worked at Dance 1 for 3 years. Yes, my very first classes were on Halloween Saturday three years ago.
What did you do before?
Well I have been a stay-at-home mom since 2009. Before that I was a zookeeper at the Los Angeles Zoo, Santa Ana Zoo and a teacher with the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium. I started off working with primates, but then worked my way into animal training, working with the sea lions, otters and polar bears, but expanded to various animals throughout the zoo, and ended my career in LA as a supervisor over various animal areas.
I have a Biology degree and a minor in Dance, as it has been a part of my life since I was 5.
What is your favorite part of the job?
There are so many things that I love. I love being able to dance in a classroom everyday. I love seeing the dancers try something new, sometimes even get frustrated, and then accomplish that move or combination and build confidence, courage, and increase their self esteem. I love creating. And most importantly, I love meeting all the new adults and children, and getting to know them all.
How do you go about putting the camps together?
When I took over the summer camps, Ms. Donna had such a great outline to follow, so with her inspiration I just built on that. The first summer we decided that doing a superhero theme would be great, because of all the new superhero movies that were coming out that year. Last summer, I just wanted to party each day, so each day was a different themed party, pajama party, Mad Hatter tea party, and we added in dress up themes for campers too. The teen helpers (Selena, Ruby, and Nene) came up with the idea of doing a different movie theme each day for this year so I have built on that.
I developed a Creative dance class last year, where I plan dance activities related to the theme for the day. This class really allows kids to take dance philosophy and incorporate it in their own unique movement style. From this class, I developed the Toddler camp. I took the one hour class and expanded it to include lessons in various dance styles (hip hop, musical theater, ballet, and jazz), crafts, and science experiments which are related to the theme of the day. For example, this summer, one of our themes will be volcanoes. We will read a book about volcanoes, we get to make a volcano explode for our science experiment and we will get to dance and become a volcano and explore the elements of energy as we shake and wiggle and finally EXPLODE! And all of these themes I am lucky to try out first on 3-5 year olds at an after school program I have been teaching in Westchester, so the kids who come to camp get to do all those tried and tested activities that work perfectly with this younger age group.
What are your goals for the camps?
Well, other than the primary goal of having a fun week, I hope that the kids make a new friend or two, that they get to try out some dance styles that might be new to them, use their creativity, and that they get the chance to develop their leadership skills. Last summer the groups in the 6-12 year old camp got to choreograph and stage the musical theater number, so the dances were different each week and based on the personal and group choices.
For the Toddler dance camp for 3-5 year olds, the primary goal is for them to use their own style of movement and explore some new things based on that. This 2 ½ hour camp is just the perfect length for them to try out something on their own, and hopefully I get to show them something new.
Teaching little ones can be so tricky! How do you make it so successful?
Well there are definitely some songs and activities that I always have in my back pocket, that I know they love! And not everything I try is successful. But, I am willing to end an activity and try something else if it isn’t working. One of the things I love about the 3-6 year old age range, is they are so forgiving and so honest. If something isn’t working they let you know, then when you try something else, they are right there with you ready to try the new thing.
Working with any of the age ranges, you must be willing to be silly or just explore the movement with them. Setting the example of not being self-conscious helps them try new things too and we have developed some pretty awesome combinations because we have been willing to try stuff out.
One of the days, we’re having a dress up disco dance party and two of my more timid campers got up during that time and performed a song and dance that they had made up together. I hope to always create a safe space in which the kids feel free to be their full selves, try things out, and share their uniqueness with each other.
What is the philosophy behind your teaching methods?
Many kids start class because their parents or adult person see them dancing around the house, and want to provide an avenue to use that fully. I do not want to lose that love of dance, but in the midst of learning to dance there can be frustration and a lot of hard work. But as they overcome those frustrations and succeed, as they work hard and see that pay off, their confidence and love of the art increases as well.
So in every class I try to make sure there is some exercise for them to show off this love of dance, maybe it is their choice of an exercise, maybe it is loosening the expectations to just have fun moving and counting music, or maybe it is using a prop of some sort to explore free style movement in a different way.
The other thing I love to do is repeat similar exercises for a couple of weeks. This allows them to build the confidence to do the movement.
Finally, I like to challenge them with a new move or a new combination of familiar moves so they don’t get bored. I love it when someone says, “This is hard,” or “this is complicated.” Then they “get” the dance step, and I can say, “there you go, you worked hard and now you have it!” And there is a giant smile on their face.
What is your proudest moment so far?
I think my proudest moment so far, was the “Our Garden” Combo/Toddler dance in the Spring Recital this year. Ms. Francesca trusted and allowed me to develop the idea of the toddler/combo dance recital piece at the Winter show, and the other combo teachers were willing to give it a try as well. I also instigated their own dress rehearsal night on the Friday before the show, which I think really helped build their excitement and gave them more confidence going on stage. The Combo 3 Sunshine, sprinkled their rays on the Toddler Flower, who grew in the garden, the Combo 5 Bluebirds came into the garden to enjoy the flowers, but were eventually scared away by the Combo 4 tap dancing Ants. They did wonderful dancing and great acting too!
Why should people sign their kids up for Summer Camp at Dance 1 this year?
Even though we are a year round dance studio, I know that some kids “take a break” during the summer. Our dance camps give all kids the chance to try out the various styles of dance without having to commit to a particular class. For the older kids we have field trips which are super fun so we aren’t inside the studio the whole time, and you get to come and hang out with other people who like to dance and have fun!