Teaching Tips

Ask Deb: How Do My Students Get Maximum Relevé?

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Q: I've been blessed with great feet and ankles, but when it comes to getting higher relevés out of my students with lesser feet, I'm stumped. Do you have any advice for achieving maximum relevé?


A: The height of a dancer's relevé depends on both the muscles that cross at their ankle joint and the mobility of their foot itself. Have your dancer sit in a chair and, one foot at a time, lift their heel into relevé. Do the toes bend to that 90-degree platform they'll need for relevé? What is the line of the ankle and foot if they sit on the ground with straight legs and point their feet? Can they flex the toes and keep the ankle elongated? These will give you an idea about the mobility of the foot and ankle. The bones need to align and move easily in response to movement. If they are able to easily go up into demi-pointe when seated and have a beautiful pointed foot in tendu, then the next logical place to look is at muscle strength.

The gastrocnemius is the main muscle that lifts dancers into relevé, but it needs to work in balance with the other foot muscles in order to not sickle or pronate. Many dancers are more concerned with flexibility than strength, when it comes to calf muscles. Research shows that strengthening the calf and foot muscles decreases the number of ankle injuries in professional ballet dancers. Twenty single-leg relevés on each leg is a good first goal to get to, both in parallel and in first position. Make sure they do it with good alignment, of course.

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
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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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