by Jamie Drake Stephens
Teaching dance can be very challenging. There are many aspects of this art form to instill in each student. One integral part of teaching dance is using correct dance technique. This is of great value because correct technique will build a dancer’s body, enable the student to perform more advanced physical and mental skills, and inspire other aspects of dance. Teaching correct technique will infuse truth in your student’s dancing!
Learning correct technique is fundamental. The student’s body cannot develop correctly if the physical movement performed in the classroom is done improperly. A student needs to achieve a dancer’s body; a physique in which the muscles used to perform correct technical moves are enabled and strengthened. This will prevent future injury and create an easier path for the student to advance. These goals are only met through teaching correct technique.
In the drill team world, many groups focus on precision and “trick” ability while sacrificing basic technical skills. They need these basic skills to accurately perform their style of dances. Drill team dancers tend to ignore their feet. The carriage of the torso is also varied. The use of their arms is limited to angular shapes. This will cause injuries! Landing improperly out of a leap sprains many ankles, or the muscles around the ankle are not developed enough. Back injuries occur due to weak abdominal muscles or lack of control of the torso. Pulled or strained shoulder muscles can develop because the student does not know where to place the arms. Incorporating some ballet exercises into your daily classes can prevent these injuries!
To build strength and control in these areas the student needs basic ballet technique. Teaching easy tendu and degagge combinations will show the student how the foot properly leaves and returns to the floor, how to fully extend the entire leg when pointing the foot, and give the feet a malleable appearance. Correct the student on the carriage of the torso during these combinations to clarify placement. Are the hips square to the front? Is the pelvis upright; not released to the back or tucked under? Is the rib cage connected and are the abdominal muscles engaged? Are the shoulders relaxed? Give an easy port de bras with the combinations. In English, give the student a series of arm movements made by passing them through various ballet positions. These simple exercises can aid in preventing injury. Other dance techniques could be used, however, ballet seems to correct these areas the quickest!
A dance student can easily advance to more difficult physical and mental skills with the direction of a technically correct teacher. Every dance teacher needs to be well rehearsed in the particular technique of the style of dance they are trying to achieve in their students. With clear instruction dancers can physically learn harder steps with ease, mentally improve their dance education with correct terminology, and perform like a team rather than individuals. You are on your way to having technically advanced students!
The physical challenge of learning more difficult dance skills will be much easier with skills understood. Correct torso placement enables a dancer to perform multiple turns or find their center of balance quicker. Strengthened and trained feet allow the dancer to jump higher and move in and out of the floor with no trouble. Being more aware of the variety of arm placement will enhance the student and teacher’s choices of arm pathways while dancing. Overall coordinating and mind-body awareness will be improved which will help in all areas of dance. Physical advancement in dance is inevitable with correct technical training.
While enriching the student physically through dance, the teacher must also mentally educate the student about this vast art form. Not only should a move be performed technically correct, but also the student should be able to describe the action in which they participate. This is an important skill to have in dance. Using correct terminology in addition to correct technique is imperative.
Different forms of dance use similar steps. Many of these terms are well known, but can your students spell them? Also, we all have come across a dance step whose name we are unsure of. Nicknames of dance moves are memorable and fun, but this does not help your student. The best solution to this terminology problem is knowing your descriptive dance terms. Many ballet and modern dance terms are precise in their explanation of a dance move. Get out a ballet terminology book, go observe a modern class, or better yet, take a ballet or modern dance class and pay attention to how each movement is described.
Ballet terminology uses French verbs that are conjugated and put with other French descriptive words to become what we think of as “names” of dance moves. It is actually just a verbal description in another language of a physical movement. For example, most intermediate dancers know what a tour jete looks like. The term “tour jete” is used in ballet classes; however, it is a corruption of the term “grand jete dessus in tournant.” This means big or large (grand) jump from one foot to the other (jete) over or the working foot passes in front of the supporting foot (dessus), turning (en tournant). Modern dance is a little easier because it uses English. Many different modern techniques exist today because people developed their own way of training dancers so they could perform their unique compositions. Most modern classes today teach aspects from several different techniques. Be aware of the descriptive words used in modern technique classes to help you and your students understand exactly what movement is desired and how it is to be performed. Clear communication is the answer to achieving correct technique from your students.
For drill teams or other precision dance groups, it is important that the members dance alike. This level of performance quality is reached by staying consistent with the teacher’s instruction. Stay true to whatwas taught in the classroom. Your team will perform more as one rather than numerous individuals who execute dance steps with their own embellishments. It is fun for a dancer to put their own flair into a dance routine, but save that way of moving for other projects. Clear and correct technique will give your group a unified look.
There are several other aspects of dance technique that do not focus only on the physical execution of steps. Dancers need to be confident in themselves and in their abilities. An encouraging, well spoken, educated teacher can help give dancers the confidence they need to achieve and prosper in their dance careers. Also, giving your students the chance to express themselves and put their own style into a dance will help them grow confidently and technically. Dance technique is more than the physical execution of movement, it is the total process of expressing oneself and evolving through creative development. Allow chances for the students to compose and create choreography so they do not feel bound by the only dance language they have, yours. Give students a chance to develop their own dance language to further their education and improve their own expression through this awesome art form. Their innovative ideas might inspire you!
You are a great influence on all of your dance students. Portraying a true representation of correct dance technique is one of the most valuable things a teacher can pass on to a class of dancers. They will gain from you a physique trained for dancing, more advanced physical and mental dance skills, and hopefully an inspiration for other aspects of dance. Keep up with the developments in jazz dance and hip-hop, and do not forget about ethnic dance or traditional, cultural dance. The challenge of teaching dance can be met if you, the teacher, tell the truth in your own dancing by realizing the value of educating students with correct technique.
Jamie Drake Stephens
Director of Texas Christian University’s dance team, the Showgirls
BFA in Modern Dance, Texas Christian University
Marching Auxiliaries choreographer, instructor, and judge for 9 years