Terms like "proprioceptive" and "vestibular input" don't often come up in the dance studio. But for Rhythm Works Integrative Dance (RWID) founder Tricia Gomez, they were the "magic words" that convinced a reluctant school principal to give dance a try.
Gomez's hip hop–based curriculum fuses rhythm and dance for students with learning differences. Launch Preschool in Torrance, California, serves children or adults who have autism or other disabilities. Their partnership is one of many that Gomez has built since the program's implementation in 2015. In some cases RWID is delivered in schools that cater to disabled students, such as Launch, but in others, it's used in programs where these students are mainstreamed.
To create a multimedia piece that premiered at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in 2014, choreographer Andrew Bartee filmed Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers performing in vastly different surroundings, all within Olympic National Park. While dancing in a rainforest, on a snow-covered mountaintop and along a pebbly beach—all during the making of one project—may seem extreme, dancers don't have to travel far to encounter the challenges of unfamiliar settings.
Whether on pavement, under blinding sunlight, on a chilly outdoor stage or at high elevation, students need your help to meet environmental challenges with confidence. Dancers and choreographers who have performed in atypical settings shared their best tips with Dance Teacher.
When Tracie Stanfield teaches contemporary class at Broadway Dance Center, she often includes choreographed stretch combinations. Dancers might move from a contraction into a lateral bend and then to a cambré back, before repeating it all on the other side. "I try to maximize their range of motion," says Stanfield. "It's my responsibility to get them ready to dance and not just focus on hitting a picture."
Most dancers want to improve their flexibility, especially if they have tight muscles and joints that inhibit their extension. But they might be preoccupied with the height of their legs and disregard the quality of their extension. Some might even force themselves into unsafe stretches or positions, trying to imitate what they see on social media. You can give students safe exercises and ideas—the right balance of strength and flexibility—to help increase mobility while deemphasizing the need for whacked hips and backs.
There was a time when the rules of dance studio etiquette were clear to students: Don't stand with your hands on your hips. Never step in front of the teacher, especially as she demonstrates. Wear pink tights and a black leotard to ballet class. Don't talk. But in today's age of entitlement and instant gratification, studio conduct codes can feel optional at best. No specific etiquette is categorically right or wrong for every studio. But clarifying what your rules are and how they'll be implemented—to students, parents and staff—ensures a consistent, effective learning environment for your dancers.
Claudia Rahardjanoto likes to keep her adult-beginner tap students on their toes. "The vocabulary itself is not tricky, but I make it a little bit more difficult with weight shifts," she says. "It's not always going to be the classic flap-ball-change. Maybe it's going to be a flap-heel, ball-change."
Tammi Shamblin works magic with the boys of Ballet Tech in New York City. Here, she uses imagery to teach rond de jambe.
Most boys begin puberty around age 11 or 12 and complete the process by 16 or 17. It is a physically awkward time; growth spurts can leave boys gawkily tall and unsure where their extremities end. This is especially tough on male dancers, who can temporarily lose their grace and coordination, as well as some flexibility. As their dance teacher, you can help them continue to train successfully, even as their bodies change. The Portland Ballet teaches the following body-weight-based workout to its boys around 11 or 12, to complete outside the studio on their own time.
In his technique, Matt Mattox has a series of codified warm-up exercises that often combine straightforward legwork with complex port de bras, as in this tendu sequence. Mattox expert Bob Boross finds that teaching the lower half of the body first and then adding in the arms helps students wrap their brains around it faster.
On a chilly Friday morning in a New York City studio, a group of students are making themselves fall, over and over again. This isn't an exercise in futility—it's Roxane D'Orléans Juste's class in Limón technique, and the dancers are venturing off center in a classic fall-and-recovery combination. As they swing their legs out and up and let gravity do its work, only to rebound against the floor and launch themselves back to an upright position, they attempt a moment of suspension. This signature principle of fall-and-recovery proves to be one of the more challenging concepts for students to grasp. "The idea of suspension is not necessarily natural," Juste says, with a lilting accent that reveals her Montreal origins. "How do you teach suspension?"