March-April 2015 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Focus and Shaping Momentum

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Focus and Shaping Momentum

By Toni Pierce-Sands

Tip 1
Training an awareness of focus is a vital part of developing students into dancers and artists. As my students work in class, I often notice their eyes and their focus first. Their focus can tell me how they’re receiving corrections and information, and also whether they understand shifts from one style or technique to another. While training the physical body, make sure you’re also training students to be mindful of being present in their focus. Encourage them to think about whether the technique, style, phrase, or choreography requires a focus that’s inward or that embraces the space around them. Remind students to be aware of their focus by cueing them, “Where are you looking?”

Tip 2
I sometimes see students emphasizing either shape, form, and line, or momentum, energy, and dynamics, instead of integrating them. To address this, I use the idea of “shaping momentum.”

Line and architecture in dance technique should not be static. Can your students imagine shape as the vehicle through which momentum moves? Look for ways to help them experience the momentum, whether it’s big or subtle, that their movements create.

Take time in teaching a phrase for students first to let momentum drive them across the floor, encouraging them to take risks and push their boundaries. Then have them move across the floor again, this time concentrating on only the shapes of the steps. Ask them to identify the sensations of those distinct tasks. The next step is exploring how to integrate the two sensations—which can be easily a whole semester’s worth of movement research.


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.