Teaching Tips

Ask Deb: Help! I Can't Maintain a Closed Fifth Position


Q: I can't straighten both legs and maintain a closed fifth position. I believe it's mostly because one leg is longer than the other one. What can I do?

A: It sounds like you have a true leg-length difference rather than a functional discrepancy. A true leg-length difference is when the length of the bones on one leg are significantly different from the other. A functional discrepancy is when the bones of the two legs are the same length but there is a postural asymmetry that is throwing your alignment off.

Let's try a simple solution first: Stand in first position facing the mirror. Slowly lower into demi-plié. Do you shift to the longer-leg side at the bottom of the plié? Now put something small—roughly one inch in thickness—under your short leg and repeat your demi-plié. Does it look more even? How does it feel? It's not unusual to get enthusiastic about how much better fifth position works when you're even.

Beyond fifth position, it's important to address spinal alignment when dealing with leg-length discrepancies. I've seen many dancers with one long leg that has created a scoliotic response in their spine. When a lift is placed under the short leg, the spine straightens out. It's lovely when you can easily balance how the weight falls through the whole body.

If it isn't a true leg-length difference, further evaluation is needed. Is there muscle tightness in the lower back or hip? Postural patterns that are affecting the spine? Find a good doctor and/or physical therapist to assess your alignment. In the dance world, balancing out the small differences can make a huge difference in your technique.

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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