As prominent educators of dance, it is our job to figure out our students subconscious minds in class. You have to know what it is that makes your students light bulb go off, and their technical abilities click.
Your dancers and students should be performing their technique from their unconscious mind, rather than from their conscious minds. It should be drilled into their mind, body, and soul, so movement and correct body placement happens naturally without them even thinking about it.
Here are some analogies I have gathered from other educators and teachers, that I currently instill in my students.
- “Pull up your neck.” We constantly see shoulders up to the ears in classes, but instead of just saying “Press your shoulders down,” include “lengthen the back of the neck” as well. Pressing the shoulders down engages the laterals for their arm positions, while lengthening the back provides a sense of movement and opposition while doing so. Everything in dance works in opposition, when you are going down you are pulling up, and vise versa. Literally, EVERY single movement in dance works in opposing energy.
- “Squeeze your lunch” or “Zip up your corset.” Have you found that every time you tell a student to pull up their stomach, their rib cage explodes open? It happens every time. One of the things that will help this is to tell them to pull their stomachs in from the back of the spine, rather than from the belly button (hence a contraction, right?). Pulling the back of the abdominal wall into the spine will cause the energy of the spine to separate upwards and downwards. You can also tell them to imagine they have a zipper below their belly button, and as the zip it up, everything goes inwards like a corset. I find the second one works the best with young dancers still learning about their bodies.
- “Tilted pelvis, or sitting back in the hips.” In order to get the pelvis in line, I ask all the students to take their finger and find their tail bone. Then press on it softly, press it down, and squeeze your bum cheeks to hide your finger. (Not the prettiest image, but it works). You never want to use the term “tuck your pelvis or tailbone.” Instead tell them to pull their tailbones to the floor, and lift up in their hip flexors at the same time. Sort of like a set of blinds, when you pull the string down, the shades go upwards. Again… opposition yes?
- “Energy through the back of the neck and head.” A final touch for perfect posture is to think of the back of your neck and head always pressing backwards slightly. Keep your students chin tilted downwards slightly and walk around the room gently pressing your palm on the back of their heads to feel the energy. This will help them lengthen the spine and pull the neck out of the shoulders even more.
- “Iliotibial Band (IT Band).” The IT Band starts at the top of the pelvis and runs down the side of the leg and attaches to the knee. It is really important to stretch this to prevent a lot of common hip and knee injuries in dancers. Stretching the IT Band is a bit more difficult than a normal muscle due to the thick fibrous tissue it is made of. The best stretch I have found to work is the following:
- Sitting in pike position on the floor with flexed feet, take your left arm and grab the outside of the right foot.
- Lift up the leg about 45 degrees, keeping the back as flat as possible.
- Carry the leg across the body over your left leg, and reach behind you with your right arm gently twisting the focus and spine behind you. Be sure to keep your legs parallel and sit up nice and tall!
6. “A simple Plie.” A plie is the simple basic move in dance where almost everything comes from. It is one of the most important foundations to learn correctly. When teaching your students a plie, make sure the dancers are lifting up from the hip flexors and using their core the lengthen their upper body upwards from the plie. It is important to lengthen the toes into the floor and stay connected, you should feel like you could jump or sote’ from a plie at any given time! Lastly, every time you bend the knees to go down, make sure your dancers energy is going up, and when straightening the legs you are pressing downwards into the floor. I love how my teacher would say “push the floor away from you.” It gives it such a different feeling and leaps become so much easier!