May-June 2016 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Healthy Heads and Sequence Recall

Photo by Carolyn DiLoretto

Photo by Carolyn DiLoretto

Healthy Heads and Sequence Recall

By Patrick Corbin

Tip 1
Maintaining a healthy head position is a constant challenge for students at every level. Students often jut the chin forward, which can create a number of problems with alignment. This first came to my attention while I was recovering from rotator cuff surgery. My physical therapist pointed out that my chin was out and the base of my skull was sinking into my cervical spine. “That’s why you have shoulder problems,” he said.

A neutral spine is important in modern dance, yet we often forget to check how students are holding their heads. If you see a jutting chin, suggest that the student fill in the back of the neckline. Never suggest tucking the chin. By adding awareness of the head to the idea of a neutral spine, you may lengthen a student’s career.

Tip 2
Uneven musical phrasing makes combinations more interesting but also can make sequence recall a challenge. When teaching a complex combination, first announce the count structure: “Eleven, three fives, and a seven.” Then have students repeat it back until you’re confident that they grasp it.

Next, start teaching the combination, making sure to return to the beginning of the combination every four beats or so. This repetitive accumulation helps students remember and sequence steps more quickly than teaching measure for measure. You can also accumulate the fine details as you repeat the major elements of the dance phrase.

These two strategies—announcing the count structure and repetitive accumulation—will help students develop the skills of sequencing and remembering steps.


Patrick Corbin, an assistant professor at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, has an MFA in dance, performance, and choreography from NYU. He danced with The Joffrey Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and his own troupe, CorbinDances.