July 2015 |2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Listening and Tuning In

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Listening and Tuning In

By Toni Pierce-Sands

Tip 1
Teaching musicality is vital to help your students grow from dancers into artists. Whether music is live or recorded, encourage them to listen to it, and to understand that music and movement are partners and support each other.

With an accompanist, you may find students struggling to match timing, tempo, or dynamics. If this happens, stop class and take time to listen to the accompanist play the musical phrase. Tell students to envision the movement while listening, and then ask them to talk about what they heard.

Live music in class can be wonderful, but budget constraints or a lack of accompanists mean we often must rely on iPods or CDs. Try this listening exercise with recorded music too. With a live musician, remind students to acknowledge that person’s presence in the room and the gift of live music that he or she contributes.

Tip 2
In this digital age, students often come to class seeming disengaged from their bodies. They have trouble processing and retaining the physical information they get in class, such as placement corrections.

To counteract this, start class with a “tuning-in” time: a few simple improvisation exercises to bring the focus into the body. For example, prompt students to ground the feet and release the sacrum as they move; or allow the pelvis to lead the movement, without trying to choreograph or plan ahead. Use verbal cues to build the students’ awareness outward, from their bodies to the space and people around them. Then have them find a resolution. Move into technique only once you see that students are ready to move through class in a present, focused way.

Create a tuning-in time that works for you. With students more engaged, you may find you’re able to cover more material in each 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.