Focal Points and Weight Shifts
By Toni Pierce-Sands
Students often have difficulty retaining phrases once they become directionally complex. Help your dancers remember the material, even when facings change or more complex spatial patterns are introduced, by encouraging them to find a focal point in the room for each direction. To practice, name the focal points (exit sign, piano, barres, mirrors, etc.) out loud as you teach a phrase. These visual cues will help students memorize the movement more efficiently; for example, turning to face the exit sign cues a big leg swing. Once students have a handle on the phrase, stop the verbal cues. The ability to find focal points will give them more command over the movements and help them absorb the movements and directions simultaneously. This will save learning time, giving your students more time to dance.
One difference I see among modern techniques is in the shifting of weight. In Horton and other classic modern techniques, dancers often shift the weight clearly from one leg to the other as they move between distinct shapes. In contemporary techniques, on the other hand, the weight placement may be more constant, centered between the legs in readiness to move unexpectedly in any direction.
Helping your students identify their weight shifts aids them in defining the quality of their movement. I start working on this in the warm-up, building in exercises to get the dancers’ weight correctly placed for the big moving phrases later in class. In simple exercises, such as tendus or a lateral-T series, have students practice shifting their weight dramatically into one leg, then into two legs, then back into one again. Once students feel this sensation clearly, they can use it as a point of reference for more complex weight shifts later in class.
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater soloist Toni Pierce-Sands is co-artistic director of TU Dance, head of the School at TU Dance Center, on faculty at the University of Minnesota, and a teacher of the Horton technique.