Prevent and ease vocal strain.

Jaune Buisson’s voice was failing her. She had a full teaching schedule as artistic director of Metropolitan Dance Theatre of New Orleans, while spending her weekends singing in local musicals. Tea and lozenges didn’t soothe the problem and eventually, she could barely speak. “It was a nightmare. I couldn’t produce sound for two months,” she says. “It’s really hard to teach preschool classes when you can’t speak.”

The voice offers praise and correction. It sings the tricky counts of a song, enthusiastically bellows a job well-done and calls a wayward line of tiny ballerinas to order. All this over music, tap shoes and chatter. But after years of dancing, teachers can forget to train and care for this vital tool.

For most, vocal strain begins with overusing the voice. “It’s like anything with your body when you overexert yourself,” says Dr. Joseph Turner, an ear, nose and throat specialist and clinical associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “If you’re doing too much, the muscles just get tired.” In addition, anything that irritates a throat, such as colds, allergies or smoking, can add to the problem. When particularly stressed, vocal cords develop nodules, which Turner describes as small calluses. These affect the vibration of air and how sound is produced. If well-rested, vocal cord nodules can dissolve over time.

Warming up your voice, similar to how dancers need to do pliés before grand allégro, is the best way to prevent strain. Humming along to the radio or trilling the lips silently and slowly adding sound can help you prepare for class. And these exercises can easily be performed on the way to the studio. Turner also reminds patients to drink lots of water. “If you’re dehydrated, it’s like a motor without the oil,” he says. The mucus covering your vocal cords needs to remain thin and slippery to allow proper vibration.

After prepping your voice, projecting clearly and correctly requires proper breath. Vocal coach Liz Caplan, developer of the Singing for Dancers app, says dancers tend to breathe high and shallow. “This is largely due to tightening the core and not wanting to see expansion of the rib cage.” Work on breathing deeper into the lungs and back, which opens the throat and allows for better projection. “Yoga is a good modality to begin practicing inhaling and exhaling with precise choreographed intention,” she says.

Buisson eventually discovered that her vocal strain was compounded by irritation from acid reflux. But she learned from the experience of being mute, becoming more aware of her body language and what it conveys to her students and their parents. “It forced me to become an observer in my classroom,” she says.

Short-Term Soothers

Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Joseph Turner suggests these methods for soothing slight throat pain. If you’ve had a hoarse or raspy voice for a week or more, see a doctor.

  • “Humidification is the key to reducing the vocal strain,” says Turner. Take a hot shower and breathe the steam in deeply or put a hot towel over your nose.
  •  Mucinex, an over-the-counter cough suppressant, helps thin out the mucus that coats and lubricates the vocal cords. This will allow the cords to vibrate properly.
  •  Invest in a humidifier. Room humidity, which you can check with a hygrometer, should be between 30 and 50 percent.
  •  Jaune Buisson of Metropolitan Dance Theatre of New Orleans purchased a wireless headset microphone so she could apply corrections in even the noisiest tap class without having to stop the music or shout. Alternatively, you can download the Microphone Pro app (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad: $0.99), which turns your device into a handheld mic. The downside is that the player must be plugged into your stereo with a cord fed through the headphone jack, limiting how far you can walk with the converted mic.

Quieting the Little Ones

Keep the attention of your students without having to shout.

  • Foster respect: With her younger dancers, Jaune Buisson begins class outside the room. By having everyone enter together prepared to dance, they understand the sanctity of the space.
  •  Command attention: To calm a chatty group, Buisson will quietly say, “Everyone who can hear me, clap once.” The children standing closest to her will follow. She repeats with, “Everyone who can hear me clap twice,” to catch the attention of the rest of the room.
  •  Make it fun: Echo claps can turn listening into a game. Tell your students that anytime you clap out a rhythm, they should clap it back. It will become habitual. When you’re in tap shoes, try it with your feet.

Kathleen McGuire is a former dancer. She also writes for Dance Magazine and Pointe.

Photo by Matthew Hebert, courtesy of Jaune Buisson

Show Comments ()
Photo by TC, courtesy of Guillette

Healing through movement has proven to be a powerful salve for pain, trauma and even disease. In an effort to explore her own grief, dancer and writer Suzanne Guillette created a piece titled Moving, for You: A Tribute to Empathy. The project, which initially honored a collection of other people's written personal stories of grief and loss, evolved into a short film of Guillette's improvisational movement. As one story contributor Lindsay McKinnon described it, "Suzie is 'singing over bones' and allowing those painful places to live and breathe, dance and be free."

Here is Guillette's journey that discovers and celebrates empathy and joy through dance.

Keep reading... Show less

Alexandra Costumes' bold apparel has been making its way onto stages across the nation and people are noticing. Why do coaches love these costumes so much? With years of experience in the dance industry, the minds behind Alexandra Costumes know what works for dancers—comfort, performance and stage-worthy style.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Via Jaime Guttenberg's memorialized Facebook page

Last week the dance community was heartbroken to learn that Jaime Guttenberg, a 14-year-old dancer, was among the 17 people killed on Valentine's Day in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Jaime trained at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL and was a member of the studio's DTX competition team. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick said this on Facebook:

You can join dancers across the nation in showing support for Jaime's family, her friends, and her dance community by wearing orange ribbons at competitions, in class, or at rehearsal this weekend. Our hearts go out to everyone who loves Jaime, and to everyone touched by the shooting in Parkland.

This article was orignally published on dancespirit.com.

Dance Teacher Tips
Ailey School co-director Tracy Inman with students from the Professional Division. Photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy of The Ailey School

Are you students stressed in class? Mixing up your music choices might help.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

Once a dancer recovers from a foot or leg injury—usually via rest and physical therapy—it's time for them to slowly reintegrate into class. They may ease in by taking barre or doing only the warm-up before working their way up to a full class, depending on how they feel and their physical therapist's advice. One of the last movements to add back into a dancer's regular practice is big jumps, since they require strength and control to take off and land safely.

But what if it didn't have to be that way? New research suggests that using jumps as part of injury recovery could actually help dancers make a stronger return to training.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Rachelle Rafailedes in L.A. Dance Project's Orpheus Highway. Photo by Erin Baiano

Watching L.A. Dance Project's Rachelle Rafailedes travel the world with mesmerizing movement quality, it's hard to believe she's ever had aspirations of anything but a professional dance career. Surprisingly, though, the Juilliard alum didn't even consider dance as a career until she was well into high school. "I just wanted to do it because I enjoyed it," she says. "I didn't realize I could do it to make a living."

Rafailedes attributes her longtime love affair with dance to the late Theatre Dance Centre teacher, Richard Moore, in Canton, Ohio. "He inspired a love for dance without pressure or high stakes. He taught with encouragement and led me to believe that there wasn't anything I couldn't do." Moore passed away in 2000 when Rafailedes was only 13. Here she shares a favorite memory and an emotional shout-out to her beloved teacher.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

When dancer and teacher Joy Ndombeson heard an elderly couple's love story, she was inspired to retell it through dance–the good and the bad. The piece titled Arnie and Brenda's Story: Love is a critique of the fairy tale about love that society sells, says Ndombseon. "The story that's unrealistic versus the real love, which is messy, hard but priceless and worth the work."

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored