Questions in Class and Hyperextension
By Toni Pierce-Sands
Sometimes students lean too heavily on asking questions. Encourage them to understand that part of class is figuring out answers for themselves. Students become more engaged in learning if they’re empowered to use various methods for absorbing material or concepts, such as observing another dancer or trying an exercise a few times.
Try limiting students to three questions each per class—to be used wisely! Questions are richer when saved up, and students won’t feel they must have all the answers before they can start moving. Embrace these questions as teaching moments. Prompt students to notice their own learning process, and build their ability to tap into their existing knowledge by asking, “Why did you choose to ask this question?”
Working with hyperextension can be challenging in all dance forms. First, students struggling with hyperextension need to understand which muscles to engage for support; I often focus on the adductors and hip flexors. Students can find their adductors by standing in parallel while squeezing a yoga block or medium-sized therapy ball between the thighs. Have them repeat this in first position, encouraging them to feel the thigh bones spiraling outward, taking pressure off the knees.
Second, have students move the heels slightly apart in first position. When the heels touch, hyperextended knees can’t lengthen fully, and the quadriceps engage. Separating the heels creates space for the adductors and external rotators to lift the pelvis, and their support lengthens the knee joints. Encourage students to feel the difference between locking back into the knees and engaging the adductors to lift the knees up and forward. Repeat this in parallel to experience the same sensation.
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.