Ask the Experts: Getting Students to Apply Corrections


Q: I have a hard time getting students to apply corrections. It feels like I say the same things over and over again. What do you recommend?

A: I know that some days as teachers we feel like broken records, constantly repeating ourselves. But if you approach corrections from a positive place, your students will feed off your energy and not take these critiques as personal insults.

We have a special trick that we use at our studio, beginning when dancers are 6 and 7 years old. For corrections, our teachers use the imagery of gold. A correction is a very special gift the teacher gives you (the “gold") because she believes in your talent and ability to grow as a dancer. We tell our dancers that if they apply their corrections—if they use their gold—the teacher can give them more later, and over time they will become better and better dancers. When they're given a critique, we even have them cup their hands, as if they're receiving the gold.

It's also important to take note when students apply these corrections. When we see students making improvements, we verbally acknowledge and praise their efforts, and the whole class claps for them. This is a huge incentive for the dancers—they want to use their gold.

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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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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