Elle Johansen: What is one of your favorite teaching moments?

Elle Johansen: What is one of your favorite teaching moments?

One of my favorite teaching moments is the one that taught me the importance of adapting to the unexpected. While getting my BFA at The University of Utah, I attended a teaching methods class. Part of the work done in this course was to teach creative dance classes at different schools. This particular aspect of the class was especially nerve-wracking to do as your peers would watch you teach and then provide feedback after your class was completed. I was so nervous to have my peers watch me; consequently, I spent hours and hours on a lesson plan regarding the states of matter and atoms. Something I’ve always been passionate about, that we were taught throughout this class, is how to incorporate subjects such as science and math into a movement class lesson plan.

Trumpet Concerto – III. Allegro (rondo) by Sara Pickett, SOUNDS FAMILIAR

So, I tried to create a class that had scientific concepts of matter woven into aspects of movement. My goal was to incorporate science and dance into a full learning experience for the children. I took a deep breath and began to teach the 26 sixth graders this lesson plan. It went surprisingly well in the beginning. That is until we got to an exercise where I was trying to get the kids to understand that there are different levels of movement: high, medium, and low.

Little Fugue in G Minor by Nancy Simpson Carter from SOUNDS FAMILIAR

I was relating this to the concept of different states of matter and atoms. Therefore, I would tell the kids to make a small shape of any kind on the lower level. I think my exact verbiage was, “see how small you can make your matter.” In contrast, I would have them make large shapes on a high-level to, “see how big they could make the matter in their bodies and spread their atoms.” This ended with me being schooled by a sixth-grader.

There was one student who was really excited about participating in all the exercises I had planned. However, I turned around at this point in the class to this student standing directly behind me with a puzzled look on their face. I asked if they had a question and the child BOLDLY stated: “I’m confused, we’re made of matter and the amount of that matter never changes so even if the shape is small or big it’s still always the same, right?” I stood there frozen because he was absolutely right.

“Nessun Dorma” – Turandot by Nathan Shaw from SOUNDS FAMILIAR

At that moment my lesson plan made no sense. Of course me getting schooled in science by a 6th grader had all my peers laughing. I froze for what felt like an eternity because I had no idea how to react.  I took a deep breath, laughed at myself, and said, “you’re right, but let us use our imaginations as if we could change matter.”   This teaching moment was hilarious at the time and I’ve held on to it for so many years because it taught me so much. I think it’s because I am reminded that no matter how well I prepare or plan, things don’t always go according to plan.

I Give Myself by Bryn Cohn

Before that class I firmly believed that “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,“ however I don’t agree with that now. You never know what questions or problems are going to arise in your class, but these are the moments that excite me the most. It’s in these important moments where the teacher becomes the student and we are able to grow from the younger generations insight.


Elle Johansen is originally from Salt Lake City Utah and began her dance training at the age of 9 with the Janet Gray School in Salt Lake City Utah. She earned her BFA in Modern Dance from the University of Utah in 2015 where she received both the “Outstanding Senior Award” and the “Student Service Award. Elle has been a guest dancer with RDT since 2015 and officially joined the company in 2017.

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