Created by Massahiko Sato
Created by Massahiko Sato
It comes as a surprise to many that the world of dance training is experiencing tremendous change because of the research of some very brilliant dance physiotherapists and the strong shoulders they stand upon-the pioneers of dance medicine. And as they pass this knowledge down to the committed teachers that hopefully teach in your area, everyone benefits as the form and function of dance continues to make this world a better place.
For as long as people have danced, injuries related to the movement arts have been analyzed and studied. And even the relatively short period of time that I myself have been studying human movement, so much has changed. Committed dance educators everywhere are saying the same thing – in our lifetime, there’s been a massive amount of information we can now use to help our students dance longer, dance safer, and dance more efficiently. There are many people to thank for this wealth of information even though, as you can imagine, funding for such study is scarce. But dance has adapted in spite of it and students are lucky to have teachers that continue to learn and hone their craft for the good of the art form.
Dancers, you have worked hard for 9 long months and summer is a great time to take a much needed short break. At the professional level, it’s unusual for artists to take more than 7 days at a time away from training because muscle decline happens so quickly. It’s the same reason patients are up and walking as soon after surgery as possible. So give yourself and your family a break from the studio but limit it to a week, possibly 2 this summer. All that hard work from last year, all those new muscles, the new awareness, the hard fought progress you’ve been making-you want that to continue this fall and not start where you were last year around Christmas, right? And don’t forget to ride bikes, take mom to yoga, and go swimming as well!! 🙂
Recently I was listening to a podcast interviewing author Eric Kaufman about his latest book Four Virtues of a Leader. While I was intrigued by the subject, it occurred to me that in my teaching of young dance artists, these same four virtues are critical.
The first trait is focus. The complexities of body movement, particularly as the dancer matures and must tackle an ever more complex vocabulary requiring strength, flexibility, and balance requires a tremendous amount of concentration and attention to detail. The author asks “what am I creating?” For the artist, this is a critical query while interpreting the intention of the dance maker or choreographer.
The second trait Eric Kaufman explores is courage. For a leader, he encourages the question “what am I avoiding?” The dance student is often unable to make that choice in a classroom setting however it is no less valid as the artist matures. Fearlessness is often encouraged from a young age precisely because it allows for pushing physical boundaries. Pushing beyond yesterdays limitations or not confronting challenges is to limit progress.
Trait number three in the author’s book is grit. With so much interest in the wellness world on resilience, I like to think of this as the foundation that sustains the dancer. Inevitably there will be emotional, physical, and psychological/spiritual setbacks in the trajectory of any artist and this is the ability to bounce back. This hot topic alone can be studied at length however in the life of a dancer, it may be the most important virtue of the four.
Finally, the fourth virtue of a leader is trust. The beauty of this one in the dance world is that we have hundreds of years of history to observe. We know that the training yields great results. Every student stands on the strong shoulders of those who came before them. Trusting the process is not easy for all dance students but once embraced, success is inevitable.
For Kaufmann, these four virtues enable and empower leaders of the world. But every artist, by arts very nature, is given the opportunity and task each and every day to create and recreate their work based on their inner guidance. In Mr. Kaufmann’s work as a leadership coach, he holds people accountable on this path. And for me as a dance educator, I do the same. But at the end of the day in spite of disappointment and frustration, battling physical limitations and fatigue, it is up to the individual. This is how the arts create leaders. Those that learn to trust in themselves and the process, who have the courage to show up, the grit to keep going, and the focus to know why they do WILL be tomorrow’s leaders.
thanks to TedTalks/ Jennifer Tortorello and Adrienne Westwood (and YouTube)
As we head back into the season here in North America, it’s a good idea to revisit some of the concepts from last year. As a movement teacher who spent the last few year learning about the Pilates MVE chair, I think the central axis/mid line topic deserves some attention.
The informative picture below (kindly provided by Lisa Howell) offers several valuable reference points to help orient dancers in a stationary position. It does an excellent job defining where strength is necessary with supporting considerations such as softness in the jaw and fingers as well as proper weight distribution in the standing leg. However once the dancer begins moving through space, it becomes far more difficult to keep these concepts in mind. Without a clear understanding of the central axis point in our bodies, students will struggle.
“The axial skeleton forms the central axis of the human body and consists of the skull, vertebral column, and thoracic cage.” (Source: Boundless. “Human Axial Skeleton.” Boundless Biology. Boundless, 08 Aug. 2016. Retrieved 17 Sep. 2016 from https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/the-musculoskeletal-system-38/types-of-skeletal-systems-215/human-axial-skeleton-813-12054/) In classical ballet training, the mid line/central axis point is so critical because it orients the dancer to a position in space as they’re traveling. Constant recalculation based on the ingrained patterns studied and practiced over years of training as well as kinesthetic memory come into play.
“A three-dimensional object always rotates around an imaginary line called a rotation axis” (Wikipedia). So this would apply to the human body in motion. Since we are bi-peds and our four limbs connect to and extend in space away from our central trunk, dancers, knowingly or not, are constantly using physics and re adjusting in order to achieve movement through space. Additionally, they are challenged as the choreography demands, particularly in more contemporary applications of these principals where the central axis contracts, rotates, etc.
Of course this is a very large area of exploration for the developing dancer and one that each must ultimately explore for themselves. But even a general awareness of movement intent is important here. The dancer can explore this in class with the instructor or in rehearsal with the choreographer. Obvious starting points can be movement where the dancer feels unstable.
Below the dancer in in developpé devant anchoring the right hip and the left shoulder in such a way that they work from each side of the body toward the midline. The same is true for the right shoulder and left hip, stabilizing the left standing leg and the right supporting shoulder. I would encourage my students to work with this concept in class and rehearsal, reporting back whether they can recognize for themselves other examples.
Hi, there! This is your dance teacher. Your older dance teacher. Let’s chat.
First, I know you love dance. You want to be great. You want to work. You want people to see all that you have to offer. You are also coming of age in a dance world that is so different from the one I grew up in, and I’m excited to see what develops.But I’ve seen a lot that concerns me.
You come from a generation that has been empowered like none before in humanity. You have been taught to question authority – to do your own thing — from an early age. Many of you have been raised where “everyone gets a trophy,” and your teachers, parents and coaches, trying to be encouraging, often praised you just because. Furthermore, in the age of the Internet everything is accessible instantly and effortlessly. You want to look up a word or person? Google it. You hear a song you like? You don’t even have to remember the words — just Shazam it. Hell, you don’t even have to push a button anymore; you merely touch a screen.
When you are asked to work at something because that is simply what one does, many of you ask “Why should I? So-and-so made this thing and it went mad viral.” A few people are genuine overnight sensations — results of our spectacle-hungry, media-addicted culture. Most sudden phenoms, however, have been toiling quietly for years before their “moment.”
Success is a process. Success is also a product of criticism from others and oneself. In dance class, corrections are very public. The teacher cannot always say everything in the gentlest way. With a class full of students, she needs to be concise and clear.
Your teacher’s job is not to make you like her, not to make you want go have coffee or drinks, or to be lifelong or even Facebook friends. Personally, I like it when I become friends with students. But this happens because before anything else the student trusted me — my skills and knowledge as a dancer and teacher.
If you don’t trust your teacher you might find her corrections disrespectful. I tend to get zealous with corrections, going on campaigns and harangues to fix things. My humor tends toward the sarcastic, which can rub people the wrong way. Thus the combination of doggedly wanting to help and a dry wit might offend some students. If you are one of these students, you need to come talk to me about it. Don’t rip me a new one via your parents or in your course evaluation.
Certainly there is humiliation, even cruelty in the dance studio. The caricature of the mean teacher or choreographer is based in truth. But when you find a teacher who is going out of her way to correct you, and perhaps getting a little frustrated – to call this teacher disrespectful is wrong. You do yourself a disservice. It is much easier for your teacher to ignore you, and spend time on someone who makes changes quickly. Only a teacher who thinks you have potential would bother to try to help you. Not disrespectful at all — exactly the opposite. And that puts the onus on you, to take responsibility for yourself. If you don’t understand why you are getting a correction five times per class or why your dancing is not getting the compliments you’d like, ask!
The teachers who gave me the harshest, most brutally honest corrections are the ones I learned the most from. I didn’t like what they had to say, but in my day, we just went home and cried — never did we accuse the teacher of disrespect. Weeks, months or even years later, I realized how right the teacher was. That said, their corrections didn’t mean I was a) a bad dancer b) never going to dance professionally c) meant to be a Taco Bell employee.
So please, take class mindfully. Work hard. Bring passion into the studio. Be curious about how to get better. Ask questions. And remember, if someone cares enough to work with you day in and day out, if she or he cares enough to get frustrated with you, she’s not being disrespectful, she’s teaching.
You have so much information and technology available to you, and I know you have a lot to say. But a skilled dancing body still counts. Let me help. momsnewstage.com