November 2015 | 2 Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Spirals and Using Progressions

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Photo by Ingrid Werthmann

Spirals and Using Progressions

By Toni Pierce-Sands

Tip 1
It’s important for students to understand the modern dance concept of the spiral in the back. The spiral allows dancers to move in a way that feels fully three-dimensional. Think of it as a carving motion, in which dancers use the arms or legs to help them carve through space and generate a turn or fall.

To help students understand the spiral, try drawing on foundational exercises from the classical modern dance techniques. Good choices are turns around the back (sitting in fourth) from the Graham technique (see Marian Horosko’s Martha Graham: The Evolution of Her Dance Theory and Training, page 233) and spiral falls from the Horton technique (see Marjorie B. Perces, Ana Marie Forsythe, and Cheryl Bell’s The Dance Technique of Lester Horton, page 156).

Tip 2
To teach coherent classes with a sense of progression, try incorporating the shapes, movements, and energy of the final combination or phrase into the earlier parts of class. This means no improvising the final combination on the spot—it must be choreographed in advance so the rest of class can be planned too.

Especially with beginning and intermediate students, use the time spent going across the floor to introduce key elements of the combination one by one. For example, if the choreography includes a stag position, introduce it and work on refining the shape during across-the-floor sequences. Then students will already have pieces of the final phrase stored in their muscle memory. If at the end of class they’re confused by the choreography, remind them, “This is just like what we did earlier today.”


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.