Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers

January 2015 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Dance Teachers | Risk-Taking and Groundedness

I sometimes sense my students moving hesitantly in class, doubting themselves and shying away from risk-taking. To address this, I tell them to ask themselves these questions in class when they feel unsure: “What is there to lose? What could go wrong? Do I trust myself enough to figure it out if I, say, turn the wrong way?” Their bodies are smarter than they realize: they don’t need to sabotage themselves by worrying about major catastrophes.

Read More

December 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Inviting and Allowing

I like to invite, not tell, my students to participate. “I invite you to form a circle,” for instance, has a very different tone from “Form a circle.” Words like “invite,” “encourage,” or “ask” indicate to students that they have agency, and that they and I are equally engaged in investigating new possibilities.

Read More

November 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Fun, Challenges, Success

Every technique class should include opportunities for students to have fun. I encourage you to begin class by asking, “Who has a joke?” You might keep a supply of your own (lighthearted, non-political, non-religious, mostly silly) jokes on hand in case students can’t think of one. You’ll find that after a while many students will come prepared and eager to share.

Read More

October 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Opening and Closing Rituals

I find that an opening ritual can be an important component of a successful class. One of my favorites is to have students stand in a small circle. I make eye contact with each one, welcome them, and invite them to “go inside” and notice what is alive for them today. That is, what questions about their bodies’ moving or the work from our last class still resonates? I ask them to share their personal aliveness with another student or, sometimes, with the entire group.

Read More

August 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Words for Optimal Functionality

Instead of saying, “Point your toes,” I say, “Reach through your toes,” or, “Allow energy to pour out through each toe tip.” I find that the image of “pointing the toes” can create tension that immobilizes the many joints in the foot and ankle. Thinking of the foot in isolation can cause disintegration. Our continuous goal in guiding our students should be integration, recognizing that the foot (like the rest of us) is a constantly reorganizing and adaptable part of the whole human organism. The images of “reaching through the toe tips” and “allowing energy to pour out through the distal ends,” however, can create a synergistic energy balance through the leg and foot. The result: they are resilient and pliable and look longer.

Read More

May-June 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Balanced Rotation

Balance is the key to healthy functioning, in dance as in all aspects of our lives. Activating internal (inward) as well as external (outward) rotation in the hip joint is crucial to our students’ well-being. Turning out more than turning in creates unhealthy imbalances. Because muscles that are not continually engaged become weak and muscles that are overworked become disproportionately strong or hypertonic (inelastic), it’s important to give students opportunities to work in outward rotation, neutral rotation (parallel), and inward rotation in every class. I enjoy sharing phrases that move through inward and outward rotation and linger for crystallizing moments in positions that allow students to experience being turned in, parallel, and turned out in both the supporting and gesturing legs.

Read More

March-April 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Talk About Turnout

Many young dancers develop chronic injury patterns as a result of erroneous ideas about turnout. Outward (or lateral or external) rotation at the hip is the movement of the femur around its own axis, away from the midline of the body. Classical ballet requires outward rotation, of course, but modern dancers also need to understand and use turnout. Many of the college students who first enroll in my modern technique courses have tried for years to turn out primarily in the feet, ankles, and/or knees; they have developed serious misalignment patterns (including anterior tilting of the pelvis and pronation of the feet) as a result. A change in one part of the body creates a change throughout the whole organism, and the entire body of a dancer with a misaligned pelvis or feet lacks neutrality, connectivity, and resilience.

Read More

February 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Balance and Functions

Proportional balance: Recent research in dance science confirms the importance of proportional balance in classes among time spent on the floor, time spent standing in place, and time spent moving across the floor. All three portions of class are important, but dance scientists recommend that teachers devote approximately one-third of class time to each.

Read More

January 2014 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Shape and Process

It is important to understand the pathways or processes through which body forms (sometimes called shapes or designs) are created. We do not simply move from one static shape to another when we dance; we engage in a continuous process of change. A change in one part of the body is accommodated by changes throughout the whole organism. It is in sensing and/or witnessing the process through which the body changes form that we find the deepest kinesthetic satisfaction.

Read More

December 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Get Grounded

Teachers ask if they should mix styles of technique (Graham, Limón, Cunningham, etc.). Of course, but students do need a grounding in the base modern-dance style you have evolved (which has most likely drawn from several sources). If you teach your “home” style through concepts and principles—rather than only steps or exercises—those same core ideas can serve as inroads to different styles. You can investigate movement patterns in a new style or technique on your own until you feel ready to share them, or you can say, “This interests me. Please help me explore it,” and let your students participate in how to unpack it and integrate it with your other work.

Read More

November 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Seeing the Good, Analyzing the Need

When judgment starts, learning stops. When students perceive they are being evaluated, they become concerned with being “right” rather than actively engaging in a process of investigation. They lose their willingness to fail and then try again, and again, developing new skills and neuromuscular capacities. Analyzing what students need from us, and from themselves, in order to move forward successfully, is different from looking for what is “wrong” with them.

Read More

October 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Change and Replace

Teachers often ask students to “let go” of a habit. However, I have learned that we can’t simply let go because each habitual pattern serves (though perhaps not well) a need. We have used that inefficient pattern to develop the skills and artistry we possess. What we must do instead is replace these habits with new patterns. Instead of asking our students to focus on what not to do, encourage them to focus on the positive traits they are trying to establish.

Read More

September 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Unpacking, Uncovering

Most students learn longer combinations more efficiently if you follow a whole-part-whole strategy. First demonstrate the whole phrase as clearly, musically, and qualitatively as possible, so that the students get the big picture or context. Then, unpack the various parts and teach portions of the phrase. After each part has been investigated, it is time to put the whole pattern together again: whole (oneness), part (differentiation), whole (integration).

Read More

August 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Placing the Weight

When straightening the knees is over-emphasized, students can learn to stand with the body weight back on the heels. This pattern causes rigidity throughout the body and misalignments of the pelvis, spine, and rib cage. Encourage your students to experience each foot as a tripod, placing equal amounts of weight on the first and fifth metatarsals and the calcaneus (heel bone). This will direct the line of gravity in front of the heel and distribute the weight where it needs to be for a resilient feet-to-head connection.

Read More

July 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Joy of Teaching

As you walk from your office or dressing room to the studio, take a moment to check in with your breath, ground yourself, and remember that you love to dance and teach. Sometimes the difficulties of managing a business or interpersonal conflicts with colleagues or students’ parents deprive us of the joy that is waiting for us if we remember who we are and why we chose to become teachers.

Read More

May-June 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Spine Flexibility

Spinal curves create shock absorption. Some teachers encourage students to “straighten the spine”; I don’t consider this sound advice. The curves in the spine make us resilient, spreading the impact of forceful movement throughout the body and allowing us to move with elastic buoyancy. Flattening the curves creates rigidity and may invite injury.

Read More

March-April 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Discovering the Spine

Touch brings awareness. When investigating successive (wavelike) sequencing through the spine, I ask students to work in pairs. One student stands behind the other and slides a fingertip firmly but sensitively down the spine, from the base of the skull along the 7 cervical (neck) vertebrae, the 12 vertebrae of the thorax, the 5 lumbar vertebrae, and the fused vertebrae of the sacrum and the tailbone (coccyx). The student receiving the touch is invited to close her/his eyes and tune in fully to the kinesthetic experience.

Read More

February 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Investigations

Opposites provide variety. Rudolf Laban framed all his movement inquiries as investigations of opposites. He believed that things are defined by what they are not and that exploring all the possibilities between two extremes helps us understand the choices available to us. This guiding principle leads me to design classes that include a balance of large/small movements, strong/gentle forces, front/back spaces, set phrases/improvisation, musical/breath rhythms, outward/inward rotation, fast/slow tempos, inward/external focus, and strength/flexibility. Variety creates balance, and balance creates well-being.

Read More

January 2013 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Focus on Intent

Thought creates action. To change the way our students move, we need to help them change how or what they think as they prepare. Too often, we talk about the result (for example, “your shoulders went up when you lifted your arms”) rather than the cause (for example, “you resisted scapulo-humeral rotation as you raised your arms”). By thinking of allowing the humeral head to rotate in the shoulder joint as she raises her arms, the dancer allows her scapulae (shoulder blades) to upwardly rotate and her shoulders will not elevate.

Read More

December 2012 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | The Whole Dancer

In modern dance today, the personal uniqueness of the dancer is more important than ever. Choreographers seek dancers who can bring themselves to the phrase work given in auditions. I try to validate the strengths and qualities of each dancer while helping her or him develop a deeper understanding of the body and movement possibilities.

Read More

November 2012 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Strong and Liquid

Challenge the core. To build students’ core strength in each class, have them do the yoga “plank” with weight on the forearms. Tell them to hollow the abdomen (exhaling to bring the navel closer to the spine) and maintain this form for at least 30 seconds. As they become stronger, encourage them to place one hand at a time behind the back and then to lengthen one leg at a time until the foot leaves the floor. Incorporating these into longer movement phrases with music allows students to experience them as dancing rather than exercises.

Read More

October 2012 | 2 Tips for Modern Teachers | Energy Paths

Yield and Push. By studying developmental movement patterns, which take place in utero and during the early months of life, we have discovered the necessity of yielding to and bonding with gravity and then pushing through every point of contact to the earth. Yielding establishes an active give-and-take relationship with gravity and a readiness to move. Pushing sends energy from the earth along open pathways of flow through the joint centers to the body’s core.

Read More