Relaxed Placement and Direction Changes
By Toni Pierce-Sands
Students often try to achieve correct placement through tension. But to maintain correct placement while moving, dancers must feel engaged, not tense.
When working on placement, encourage students to relax while you make adjustments. In a lateral side position, for example, the body should be horizontal and parallel to the floor. Place your hands to stabilize the student’s pelvis and ease the torso down to horizontal. If the muscles tense and resist, ask the dancer to inhale and exhale, to relax and release, to deepen the position. Repeat several times if needed.
When the student finds the correct position, move away and allow him or her to maintain it independently. Ask “How did that feel? Did you feel the difference?” to help the student identify, and return to, this feeling of correct yet relaxed placement.
In the August 2015 issue, I wrote about using focal points to remember facing changes. When changing direction, students should also consider which body part leads the shift. The upper back, for example, might initiate a pivot; the pelvis might initiate a level change. This awareness gives focus to direction changes and improves movement quality.
Have students practice feeling the sensations of leading or withdrawing from the back and ascending or descending in the pelvis. Ask them to use the back to push forward into an imaginary wall, then retract or contract away; this can also be done with a partner for physical resistance. Use pliés to practice an up-and-down motion that feels engaged from the pelvis.
Start incorporating these new sensations into specific movements: shifting the back to turn, or dropping the pelvis to descend to the floor and recover.
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.