Dance Teacher Tips

At A Standstill: Do Your Students Know How to Stand On Stage?

Standing on stage is as important as moving. Photo by Arthur Coopchik

When your students are onstage, every dance step matters, of course. But so does every non-dance step. The simple act of being onstage—whether standing still, walking to a position or running from one place to another—requires a constant presence. And as Kitty Carter, of Kitty Carter's Dance Factory in Dallas, Texas, points out, "walking and running are actually part of the dance. They act as transitions from step to step." So teaching your students to understand the importance of active stillness and pedestrian choreography is essential, and it will help them see the "big picture" of a performance. But it's not easy.


“Running and walking and standing still are the hardest things to learn as a dancer," says Kat Wildish, instructor of classical ballet, pointe and partnering in NYC. While pedestrian movements should be simple—they are, after all, motions everyone learned as a toddler—the difficulty lies in coming across as natural and spontaneous during a performance, rather than looking rehearsed or forced. Here are a few tips to help your students achieve that natural look.

Take a Stand

Wildish notes that in ballet, a dancer's stillness is often crucial in creating a mood. “In Swan Lake, the job of the corps de ballet members is to stand and decorate the stage," Wildish says. And to teach that, she helps students discover how standing should feel in their bones. “A lot of standing is discovering proper alignment. I bring in actual bones, like the femur, and I show students the design of it. It's not just a straight bone. It has a top to it and connects to the knee," she says. “Then I show them how to make that bone stand as straight as possible on the rest of the leg."

Proper alignment, she explains, will not only make the dancer's standing position seem more graceful and natural, but it will also help keep her balanced and centered when she's required to stand for long periods.

In the Running

Don't expect your dancers, as graceful and trained as they are, to be great at running right off the bat. “The most incredible dancers sometimes have a lot of trouble running," says Helen Hayes, co-artistic director of CrossCurrents Dance Company in DC. It is particularly difficult for students to relax their muscles enough to allow natural-looking running after they've executed technical dance phrases. To get her dancers to let go of their technique while running, Hayes puts students in pairs, places her hands on their backs in the tailbone area and gives them a gentle push. “The idea is to move through space naturally, with the pelvis taking you somewhere," she says.

Carter prefers to use visual cues, telling her dancers to think of a vacuum cleaner sucking them in as they run away from it, or to imagine themselves gliding forward through water or bouncing around the room like a pinball. These prompts allow the students to explore what their bodies are capable of, and they help them develop a vocabulary of running styles that will fit in with various types of choreography—whether ballet, jazz or modern.

That doesn't mean that dance runs should lack polish, particularly in ballet. “I ask students to point their toes, and straighten their knees without locking them as they run," Wildish says. “We work on rolling through the toes to the heel. The articulation and sensitivity of the feet is very important in ballet."

Walk the Walk

Like the old saying about walking and chewing gum at the same time, for dancers, coordinating arms and legs often makes onstage walking feel difficult. Carter says, “A lot of kids have an issue with opposition"—that is, swinging the right arm forward when the left leg strides, and vice versa. However, “we're made to walk in opposition—that's how we balance. So it's one of the first things I teach younger kids." She says focusing on the simple act of walking around the room will help students learn how to walk naturally onstage.

Wildish believes that in class, even something as basic as walking to position in center should be done with elegance and care, as if onstage, which gets students in the habit of maintaining proper carriage at all times. In the Kirov's Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, for example, “boys begin their classes by walking gracefully to their place at the barre, which teaches them to move in a princely fashion and not lumber," she says.

In addition to working on these techniques in class, have your students do research outside of the studio. “I am a big supporter of online video," says Wildish. “Just as actors do research for a role, dancers need to research aspects of their technique." Wildish says she tells her students to watch videos of ballerinas Wendy Whelan, Gillian Murphy and Diana Vishneva in particular, focusing on their pedestrian movements and stillness onstage. (Many useful videos like these are available on dancemedia.com.)

Dance is a language of movement, and walking, running and stillness add variety to the story you're telling. “You use pedestrian movement to help punctuate your dance sentences," says Hayes. “And it's important because it's the bridge between people who never dance and people who dance at the highest level. It's the thing that we all have in common."

Show Comments ()
Photo by Collette Mruk, courtesy of Goodwin

One of the most beautiful and challenging aspects of the art of dance is its constant evolution. Dancers push their bodies relentlessly to master their craft, and with this increase in output, the risks to their bodies are higher than ever before. Dancers are athletes. Period. Yet while other sports have scientifically tested standards of training, a gap of governance in dance has resulted in twice as many injuries from the knee down as football.

Keep reading... Show less

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Dance Teacher Tips
Business major Nick Silverio found his dance community in Arts House Dance Company, UPenn's student-run company. Photo by Kevin Wang, courtesy of Silverio

When Nick Silverio was a senior in high school, he struggled to choose between dance and more academic pursuits. "I was torn," he says. On one hand, he wanted to perform professionally—but on the other, he was interested in business and entrepreneurship. After winning acceptances to both top-tier BFA programs and academic schools, he had a choice to make. "The deciding factor was that I didn't need a formal major to be able to dance," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

Schedules, routines, parents, music and so much more—there's plenty on your plate already. Why mess with the headache of collecting orders and cash if you don't have to? MoveU can take that off of your hands entirely with their Online Stores. Create beautiful one-of-a-kind designs with their designers and watch your store come to life! How much does the set-up cost? Nothing! In fact, you earn 10% back on all orders your dancers make in that store.

How do you start? MoveU has three handy steps to help you begin!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending

Oh, dance teachers, you are a talented, organized and slightly insane bunch, and we ABSOLUTELY love you for it! Here are 12 things only dance teachers will relate to. Check 'em out!

Keep reading... Show less
Showstopper's National Finals Opening Number Performance

Showstopper has been making its impact on the dance world since 1978. Before then, dancers didn't have a stage to perform on, the opportunity to learn from peers, or a competitive outlet like most sports. Debbie Roberts recognized this missing piece in the dance community and that is how America's first and longest running dance competition, Showstopper, was born. Debbie taught dance for over 26 years and owned and operated her own dance studio for 20 years. She is now the owner and National Director of Showstopper, along side her husband, Dave Roberts. Dancer, teacher, business owner, author, and mother, Debbie has made dance her life's career.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Everyone in my dance class can get to at least 90 degrees in their développé with the correct placement, and a few of them can get to 120 degrees with the correct placement. I can only get my legs to about 45 degrees to the front and side before my teachers tell me that my placement is incorrect. How do I get my développés to consistently be at least 90 degrees and keep my placement correct?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

Dancing with your hair down is a unique skill that doesn't come naturally to all dancers. For some, hair in the face can throw everything off. It can feel like a wild animal has landed on your head, impairs your vision and occasionally smacks your face and ends up in your mouth. But despite looking to be a spontaneous choice, dancing sans hair security needs to be practiced to look natural.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored