February 2015 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Arms and Legacies

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Arms and Legacies

By Toni Pierce-Sands

Tip 1
Arms are often students’ last concern. They’re concentrating on legs and core, so their arm movements seem unfinished or like afterthoughts.

To increase students’ awareness of their arms, spend some class time locating where the arms connect to the back and the spine through the scapulae. Use images—for example, a great bird flapping its wings to lift off—to help them understand how much power the arms can generate when integrated with the back. With young dancers, your focus may be on teaching correct arm positions and shapes, but you can also begin to layer in ideas about energy and quality of movement. Help your students discover that their arms can lead a movement as well as follow it.

Tip 2
Mary Hinkson, one of my early Graham teachers, passed away recently at age 89 (see obituary in “FYI”). I’ve been reflecting on her impact on my development as a dancer and teacher—and on the important task we teachers have of sharing our dance legacies.

When I feel at a loss in class, when I don’t know what to teach or where to go next, I ask myself: “What would Mary do?” I find it reaffirming to imagine that she too must have felt lost at times. Having the gift of teaching doesn’t mean we must always have the answers. We can feel assured by the legacies that support each of us and allow us to call on our mentors as points of reference.

In your next class, take a minute to remember that everything comes from somewhere. Talk with your students about your own mentors and the legends who influenced you. Pass this message on: your students are not isolated in history. They have a legacy behind them as they move forward to become dance’s next generation.


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.