August 2016 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | “Relinquish Your Ribs” and Rhythmic Turns

Photo by Carolyn DiLoretto

Photo by Carolyn DiLoretto

“Relinquish Your Ribs” and Rhythmic Turns

By Patrick Corbin

Tip 1
When students’ ribs are splayed, it probably means they are not engaging the abdominal muscles correctly. Throughout my early training, instructors would often tell me to engage the abdominals by puffing out my chest and sucking in my stomach, using words like “hold,” “grip,” “tighten,” and “squeeze.” Unfortunately, this created tension in my torso and was a terrible waste of energy. I was well into my 20s and taking class with the great Susan McGuire (a longtime Paul Taylor dancer) when I heard her say, “Relinquish your ribs.”

Suddenly everything fell into place. Engaging the abs was actually a release! When I let go of the idea of puffing out my chest and ribs, I could engage my abdominals in a productive way and breathe and move with much less tension. My torso was free, and my alignment was pure. That is why every day in class I too say, “Relinquish your ribs.”

Tip 2
Multiple turns are not the province of ballet only; modern and contemporary choreographers do sometimes ask for them. Yet this skill can be enigmatic. Turns come and go, and sometimes we wonder if we ever understood them. At times in my performing career, turns came easily; at others, they eluded me. Then, during one period of excellent turning, it dawned on me that when I was “on,” my turns flowed with the music. The rhythms of my head spotting and my body turning were harmonious.

When asking students to do multiple turns, set a verbal rhythm first: “Body-head. Body-head-head. Body-head-head-head.” When I ask students to focus on rhythm, instead of balance, their turns improve immediately. I’ve found this to be true for turns in any position or posture, and at any speed. Turns are all about rhythm.


Patrick Corbin, an assistant professor at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, has an MFA in dance, performance, and choreography from NYU. He danced with The Joffrey Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and his own troupe, CorbinDances.