Preparedness and Repetition
by Toni Pierce-Sands
The start of class can be challenging if I don’t allow students time to transition from their everyday routines into class time. So before we begin our first exercise, I have them walk about the room; lightly jog, run, and dart; and finally, actively rest from their momentum. In the space of a few minutes, my students reach a high level of physicality and interaction with one another, bringing their awareness, spirit, excitement, and warmth to the forefront in readiness for class.
This is my method for preparing middle- and high–school–aged dancers to learn, but I encourage you to find your own methods. A preparedness ritual may cut into your class time by a few minutes, but it is well worth it. When students are engaged and ready to learn, you accomplish more in every class.
Repetition is always important, especially with middle- and high-school-aged students. Their ability to learn movement quickly can fool you into thinking that they don’t need much repetition. But it’s important for you to take the time to explore and break down movement for these students, particularly with simple transitional steps.
When you break down a chassé, for example—the shifting of weight from one foot to the other and landing on the original foot—you encourage students to go deeper than imitation. They’ll understand this transitional step both intellectually and physically, and also how it’s used in the technique (contemporary, release, Horton, etc.) you are teaching. Breaking down and repeating transitional steps (which are often overlooked) guides students to an understanding of their value. They’ll discover this on their own through repetition—a rewarding experience for student and teacher alike!
Former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater soloist Toni Pierce-Sands is co-artistic director of TU Dance, director of the School at TU Dance Center, on faculty at the University of Minnesota, and a teacher of Horton technique.