Teaching Tips

Ask Deb: How Do I Get Students Prepped to Go Onstage?

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Q: Do you know of any strategies teachers could use to get their students confident, focused and ready to go onstage?

A: Something you can try with your students before the next performance is a power pose. It's based on research by psychologist Amy Cuddy that looks at the connections between power and body language (you can watch her whole TED Talk about it online). She found that when she placed someone in a power pose for two minutes, their testosterone levels went up, and their cortisol, a stress hormone, went down.

A power pose is open and strong, and can be done either standing or sitting down. Think of how runners cross the finish line—hands up, chest open with a smile on their face. Have your students try standing with their feet slightly apart and hands on their hips—I like to call this a Peter Pan posture. When they're in their power pose, tell them to feel confidence radiating from their heart like sunshine, to feel their energy and body expanding. Continue encouraging them to get present and strong in their energy as you keep an eye on the clock—it only takes two minutes to change their body chemistry.

Encourage them to use this technique even when they are by themselves. It's particularly powerful if a person does it in front of a mirror while telling their reflection "You've got this!" Use the power-pose trick whenever you or your students need an extra boost of confidence.

Teacher Voices
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In 2001, young Chanel, a determined, ambitious, fiery, headstrong teenager, was about to begin her sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, also known as the highly acclaimed "Fame" school. I was a great student, a promising young dancer and well-liked by my teachers and my peers. On paper, everything seemed in order. In reality, this picture-perfect image was fractured. There was a crack that I've attempted to hide, cover up and bury for nearly 20 years.

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Health & Body
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Though the #MeToo movement has spurred many dancers to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, the dance world has yet to have a full reckoning on the subject. Few institutions have made true cultural changes, and many alleged predators continue to work in the industry.

As Chanel DaSilva's story shows, young dancers are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of the power differential between teacher and student. We spoke with eight experts in dance, education and psychology about steps that dance schools could take to protect their students from sexual abuse.

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Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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