Exercise of the Week
For years I have watched students “prepare” for class by sitting in a comfortable second position straddle, usually with an iPod attached or chatting. This stretch does little to prepare the mind or the body for class. In order to meet the ever-changing demands of the discipline, instructors must develop a technique class that challenges the student to push physical boundaries and also instills knowledge, artistry, and respect for the aesthetic tradition of the form.
Within the confines of the typical 90-minute class, teachers must address both the athletic and aesthetic needs of the students with balance and clarity. Without sacrificing one for the other, you can successfully sprinkle Pilates-based movement and sport-specific conditioning exercises into a ballet class. Introduce the “Exercise of the Week” and encourage students to incorporate these stretches or conditioning exercises into their personal fitness regime.
By limiting the exercise to one per week, you allow students to practice, retain, and commit the movement to mind–body memory. An optimal time to teach the exercise is during the transitional time after the barre. By considering the fitness and maturity level of each class, you can introduce age-appropriate conditioning exercises that work in tandem with the dancers’ understanding of technique.
Some interdisciplinary crossovers to consider:
- Pilates: hundreds to encourage core stabilization and use of breath; single- or double-leg stretch for hamstrings and back; bridging for back of legs, gluteus, and core.
- Gym: standing parallel with attention to alignment, bring ankle to hand and extend slightly, pushing foot to hand to create the stretch, targeting hip flexors and quadriceps.
- Yoga: cow face pose for flexion and extension of the hip.
- Fitness bands: for resistance training, strength building, and injury recovery.
By introducing varied somatic practices into a technique class, you’ll help students develop a personal repertoire of exercises that target individual needs. And you’ll expose them to cross-training methods that they may want to include in their dance training.
Hints of Dance History
We can help our students have a well-rounded education in dance by including dance history within our schools. You may wonder how you could possibly devote any of your precious class time to the depths of Petipa or Balanchine, but doing so could ignite the imaginations of students of any age. There are easy ways to stimulate interest.
While young students practice ballet walks across the floor, explain how a French king who danced was responsible for ballet terms being French or talk about the grandeur of early ballets done by royalty.
Likewise, discussing the various styles of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Gene Kelly, Eleanor Powell, and Brenda Bufalino in tap classes can not only provide insight into those styles and personalities but also help students understand the evolution of dance.
Exposing students to dance history doesn’t need to be heavy-handed or formal. Just as learning terminology enhances rather than restricts dance education, so does understanding the roots of the art form.
Here are some ideas for integrating dance history into your school:
- Have age-appropriate handouts for students. These could be as simple as a coloring sheet or word search for young students or brief biographies of notable dancers for older dancers.
- Have a designated progression of dance history in each of your classes. For example, the youngest ballet students would learn about Louis XIV while each additional level would progress through the Romantic era and end with 21st-century dancers.
- Post the name of a famous dancer, style, or time period each month and provide age-related activities on that subject for each group.
- Provide a free lecture on dance history for your students and parents, or open it to the public. This helps to establish you and your school as providers of quality education.
- Play DVDs of dance performances or musicals in your waiting room.
Explore other ideas with your colleagues to engage and expand your students’ interest in dance.