Health & Body

Ask Deb: How Can I Convince Parents of the Value of Technique Class vs. Learning Choreography?

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Q: How can I help parents understand that time spent in technique class is as valuable as learning choreography for competitions?


A: Parents love to see their children onstage almost as much as students love to perform. That being said, no amount of flashy choreography is going to sustain the long-term development of a young dancer. The rewards of improving technique go beyond winning competition trophies—good form prevents injuries and influences movement quality far beyond teen years.

There's a growing body of research that shows the addition of strength and integration exercises decreases the prevalence of injuries for pre-professional and professional dancers. But what about the recreational dancer who just wants to perform? There isn't as much research available for that group, but in 2013 the Journal of Athletic Training published a study that looked at 569 injured female dancers ages 8 to 16. The most common injuries they found in this group were knee injuries, followed by back, and then foot/ankle. They found knee injuries were often connected with the knee dropping inward (valgus) in jumping, rather than staying in line with the hip and ankle. Back and foot injuries were often associated with hypermobility of the hip and ankle joints (over-turning out at the hip and pronation). These early injuries caused by poor technique can haunt a dancer for years. It's a problem when young dancers focus on flexibility and big tricks over strength.

Perhaps placing some articles on injury prevention around the waiting room or in your studio newsletter will help your parents understand why building a strong technical foundation is so important to the long-term health of their children.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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