July 2017 | Collective Wisdom | Classroom Connection: Sound Effects

Ideas and advice from our readers

Classroom Connection: Sound Effects

A few years back I had a student with beautifully clear technique, particularly in petit allegro. Yet beyond technique, her dancing lacked artistic touches, such as expression, dynamics, and color. After toying with some tactics to help her add nuance to her dancing, I landed on a method I refer to as sound effects.

This method helps students think beyond the mechanics of technique by encouraging them to consider what they wish a step to communicate in a specific moment of the combination or choreography. It also teaches students how to use sound as a vehicle to move any given step down an artistic path of their choosing.

Present a combination to the class. Task students with applying a different sound effect to a handful of steps in the combination. For example, if they’re doing an adage, students might choose the developpé, promenade, and port de bras.

Sounds can be absolutely anything and everything, from a booming “bam!” to a hushed “shhhhh.” It is important that students explore and arrive at these choices on their own as this helps build agency and individuality. (You can also allow students to work in groups if they work best this way.)

Students then experiment to discover how to integrate the dynamic of a sound with their movement. They can think the sound or say it out loud, but the goal is to silently dance the tone of the sound.

Here are some prompts you can use to help guide students through this exercise.

    • If your dancing was illustrated on paper, what sound effect would be written for each step? Where would it be written: next to the arms? Close to the floor? Around the head?
    • What happens to the movement if you replace that sound with a different one or focus on a different element of the step? Does that alter anything?
    • Can you apply more than one sound to one step?
    • Encourage students to take chances and explore the unknown.

—Robyn Hartley


For more than two decades, Robyn Hartley has taught ballet at several studios including the Midwest Conservatoire of Dance. She is the artistic director of Kaleidoscope Dance Theatre.