Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Stretch, Strengthen, and Share Weight

Photo by Jonathan Sherry

by Amber Perkins

Today’s modern and contemporary choreography for students includes more and more partnering, so it’s important to designate class time to teaching its foundations. Try these exercises I developed to teach safe weight sharing and to strengthen the core.

Blind back-to-back lengthen and balance. Begin with two dancers sitting back to back on the floor, legs straight out and about 12 inches apart. One person pushes backward, lengthening the spine, to lie balanced as flat as possible on top of the dancer underneath.

Single leg lifts. The top dancer from the previous exercise lifts the pelvis to extend the body and legs in a straight line and balance (heels still on the floor) with arms in high fifth. Hold 30 seconds; lift one leg high and hold 30 seconds; repeat with the other leg. This teaches the top dancer how to balance on a partner’s body, while giving the dancer underneath an excellent hamstring stretch.

Core lifts. The top dancer stays in the same extended, hip-lifted position as the previous exercise. The dancer underneath, with arms in second position, lifts the top dancer a few inches up and down 10 times, thereby strengthening the core and lateral abdominal muscles.

Repeat this series twice before switching roles.

In the next series, the top dancer shifts all weight onto the dancer underneath. This is a great way to teach how important both roles are in partnering.

Toes to the floor. The top dancer in the extended, hip-lifted position from above bends the knees into the chest, toes pointed; reaches backward to grasp the ankles of the dancer underneath; then extends the legs out and in 10 times, each time touching the toes to the floor, legs bent. Reverse roles.

Double leg lifts. The top dancer, still grasping the ankles of the dancer underneath, lifts and lowers straight legs together, up to the ceiling, then nearly to the floor, 10 times. Reverse roles.


A native of Norwich, New York, Amber Perkins owns Perkins School of the Arts and directs Phoenix Project Dance. Her choreography has earned numerous awards. She has a BFA in dance and BS in economics.