December 2015 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Using the Legs, Encouraging the Individual

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Using the Legs, Encouraging the Individual

By Toni Pierce-Sands

Tip 1
Fully engaged legs are essential to classical modern technique. Yet sometimes so much value is placed on the torso and arms in the classroom that clarity in the legs is lost.

Remind students to be aware of their legs (I often say “Bring your legs with you!”) to encourage a full-bodied dance experience. Also, try doing your own research outside of modern technique classes. Floor barre and the Gyrotonic method are good sources of inspiration for teaching energy extension through the legs. Take classes in these methods to discover how certain exercise series focus your attention on energy moving through the legs. Then try incorporating ideas from these exercises into your modern classes.

Tip 2
When training is too focused on physical ability, students may miss out on the sense of personal exploration that is one of modern dance’s most important gifts. Especially with codified styles, we teachers may get lost in a sense of achievement as our students advance through the acquisition of vocabulary and proper technique. But it’s important always to be exploring ways to bring forth students’ full humanity in class. We should be able to see the individual in modern dance—it is part of what makes this tradition so beautiful.

Facilitate this with lots of encouragement. Give students permission to take movement further than they’re told to. Try this exercise: have students think about a phrase’s textures and dynamics, then connect it to their own experiences by asking, “What does the movement feel like to you?” Have students mentally create their own narrative within the phrase so they can invoke their feelings, thoughts, and experiences when they dance.


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.