When I was younger, I remember a dance teacher telling me to pretend there was a string on my head, pulling me up. Now, I understand that she was teaching posture and placement, but in first and second grade, I had no idea what she meant. Similarly, in middle school, I remember being told to engage my core because it would control your center. Again, now it makes perfect sense, but at that time, I had no idea how to define or engage my core/center.
I transferred these experiences to my teaching, and I am constantly asking myself if my students will understand a certain step or concept in the way it is being taught. Am I over assuming their understanding of a concept? Am I properly breaking down each segment of a step? Are their bodies able to feel the proper execution, and can they consistently and autonomously re-create that execution?
- Arm Placement: Do students understand that their arm strength comes from the center of their back? If you only say that out loud, they likely will not “get it”, but if you have the students create an arm placement and you gently press on their arms, their strength (or lack thereof) will indicate their understanding of engaged versus un-engaged arms.
- Extending Legs/Stretching Through the Knees: The unextended leg line is one of the most frustrating positions in dance. Sometimes, students are not even aware that their legs are not fully stretched because they do not realize the importance (or feeling) of stretching behind the knee. To help students understand this concept, I have them stand in parallel and practice engaging/dis-engaging the knee area (for younger students, we call this “jell-o knees”.)
- Pointing Feet: In dance, we say “point your feet” to the point of ad nauseam. How do we make sure our students know what we mean? It is important that younger dancers understand that “point your feet” does not mean crunching your toes; it is a stretching movement of the foot that extends from the ankle. Gently, reiterate this concept as you explore point and flex floor stretches.
This philosophy of teaching can be applied to every style and discipline of dance; it just takes a little extra time and a touch of creativity. If we work hard to create a language our students understand, we will produce stronger, more knowledgeable dancers.