How I teach anatomy through movmement

Irene Dowd’s third-year students at The Juilliard School sound more like they’re in medical school than a dance class, citing complex kinesiology terms and muscle names, like multifidus and iliocostalis. But instead of memorizing the vocabulary with index cards and textbooks, the students in Dowd’s anatomy/kinesiology class come ready to move. “Motor-learning specialists have found that we learn by doing,” says Dowd, who began teaching at Juilliard as an assistant to ideokinesis matriarch Lulu Sweigard in the late 1960s. “If you learn it [anatomy] intellectually, you forget it. You have to do it physically, and then you can start to understand what you’ve learned.”

In class, Dowd leads students in a series of warm-up exercises, and each step of the way she asks which muscles are moving, how and to what exertion level. Students often use tape to visualize the muscle groups in action: Attaching a piece of colored tape onto a peer’s lower back, for instance, shows how the lower-spine muscles might elongate or contract to accomplish a twisting motion. “It’s not always obvious what is engaging, shortening or lengthening because our bodies are three-dimensional. We’re rarely just moving from a neutral position,” she says. “That’s what makes kinesiology, or the analysis of muscle action, really exciting and challenging.”

Dowd’s students also practice a strenuous trunk-stabilizing movement sequence, which (among other benefits) helps develop hamstring strength. “We found that many of the incoming students are hypermobile, but they lack some of the strength and stamina necessary to withstand the high technical and endurance demands put on them during performance seasons,” she says. Dowd teaches freshmen the stabilization material in their first weeks of school, and its practice has helped reduce knee and stability issues.

Injury prevention, however, is just one payoff of studying anatomy. “Certainly we want to avoid injury if we can, though luck often plays into that,” Dowd says. “But even more valuable is that we can learn to be better artists. Each piece of anatomical information can inform our dancing right away. It gives us more articulation and clarity.” Anatomy, Dowd says, “opens up the possibilities.”

Here, Dowd explores the concept of outward rotation and shows how a dancer can find increased flexibility and greater ease of movement:

A faculty member of The Juilliard School since 1995, Irene Dowd holds a BA from Vassar College, studied dance and choreography at Juilliard and completed anatomy courses at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical School and Teachers College, Columbia University. In addition to her private practice for neuromuscular training, Dowd teaches at Movement Research and the master’s degree program at Hollins University/American Dance Festival. She is also a guest faculty member of Canada’s National Ballet School and Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. She is the author of Taking Root to Fly: Articles on Functional Anatomy, and she has taught anatomy and choreography at American Dance Festival; Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies; Teachers College, Columbia University; and Wesleyan University.

Originally from Columbia, Maryland, Leiland Charles is a third-year student at Juilliard.

Photo by Jim Lafferty

 

Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Arizona State University

Many parents discourage their teenagers from majoring in dance because of fear that their child will become a struggling artist in an unforgiving city, only to end their career in injury. But a dance degree can lead to other corners of the profession, such as marketing, physical therapy and arts administration. "Parents always say their children need something to fall back on," says Daniel Lewis, former dean of the dance division at New World School of the Arts. "They only see the stage time, applause and flowers. But there's choreographing, teaching, PR—the careers are endless."

Others are more concerned with disappointment. "Your daughter doesn't have to be a major ballerina with ABT to be successful," says Lewis. "If she wants to be a dancer, she'll find the work. There's a certain amount of training you have to achieve before you even get accepted into a good college, so if you have the talent, and the drive, you can make it."

As mentors, teachers can be monumentally influential on students' college decision processes. Read on to hear from three dance majors who feel grateful they chose this path—and share their words with your students!

Keep reading... Show less
To show her support for local studios, Kelly Berick requires all her students to be enrolled in an after-school program. Photo by Stephanie Csejtey, courtesy of Akron School of the Arts

When Kelly Berick began teaching high school students at Ohio's Firestone Community Learning Center within Akron Public Schools 21 years ago, she was newly engaged, newly licensed to teach K–12 dance and thrilled to land what she considered the perfect job. Her enthusiasm quickly soured, however, when after two weeks of teaching she called a local studio to introduce herself. "The owner told me her students didn't like me, didn't like what I was doing and were going to quit my program," she says. Her class of seven became a class of three.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Matthew Murphy

Jacqulyn Buglisi has a flair for drama. To encourage the students in her intermediate and advanced Graham classes at The Ailey School to open their sternums in a high release, she tells them to stretch “like a flower came out of your heart." When attempting to convey the weight of a hand gesture, she explains that they must “pull the hem of heaven from the sky." During the extensive warm-up sequence, she reminds them that this is no time for complacency: “We don't do positions. We dance the series." Despite her penchant for the Graham dramatics, Buglisi is equally quick to curb any excess of melodrama in her students. “No Swan Lake with the arms," she admonishes one whose wrists are limply crossed.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Robert Roldan and partner Taylor Sieve (courtesy of FOX)

Robert Roldan may have stolen our hearts on Season 7 of "So You Think You Can Dance"—but it seems his heart was stolen long before that by none other than Emmy Award winning choreographer, Mandy Moore.

As his first jazz teacher at Bobby's School of Performing Arts in Thousand Oaks California, Roldan says Moore taught him everything he knows about dancing. Now, as an All-Star on this season of "So You Think You Can Dance," he's applying those invaluable lessons with partner Taylor Sieve.

"What Mandy has always taught me, is that you need to feel the emotion and intention of the pieces you perform as a human before you can apply it to your dancing. Because of this, the week that Taylor and I performed Mandy's piece, I used the entire two hours of private rehearsal time we had to talk about what the piece was about and how we could connect to it as humans. I believe that doing this was ultimately more valuable than any time we could have spent cleaning details and making the piece perfect. Mandy taught me this at a young age, and I try to apply it to Taylor as much as I possibly can when I teach her. People won't connect to how high your leg is or what crazy tricks you can do. They want to feel something. And when you feel it, they feel it."

Watch Roldan on "So You Think You Can Dance" tonight on FOX.

Teachers & Role Models
Camille Rommett, left, with her mother Zena, who founded the floor-barre method. Photo courtesy of Rommett.

In 1965, Zena Rommett was asked to teach her unique Floor-Barre method at the American Ballet Center by ballet legend Robert Joffrey. Her gentle-yet-effective technique inspired countless professional dancers over the years, who became faithful followers as a supplement to their dance training. From choreographer Lar Lubovitch to Tommy Tune, Patrick Swayze and Judith Jamison, many swear by the benefits of the technique. Rommett taught it until she was 90.

The summer after Rommett's death, her daughter Camille made her debut on the faculty of our Dance Teacher Summit. She describes teaching to a packed convention room as "a very humbling experience." Despite students often telling her she sounds similar to her mother, she's learned it's not about filling her mother's shoes, but keeping her mother's legacy—and the integrity of the technique—alive.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz
Photo by Julieta Cervantes

In February 2016, we featured the women of Ragamala Dance, the Minneapolis-based bharatanatyam company founded by mother-and-daughter team Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy. (Daughter Ashwini is a dancer in the company and the troupe's publicist.) Since they appeared on our cover, they've had a busy year and a half, full of performances and exciting news. This weekend, they're featuring their mentor, Alarmél Valli, in a special performance at The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts in Minneapolis.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored