Everything You Need to Do to Become a Faster Mover

Miami City Ballet in Heatscape, a fleet-footed work by Justin Peck. PC Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

As a teacher, Ashley Tuttle is known for her lightning-fast petit allégro combinations. But her students might be surprised to learn that speed did not come naturally to her. "When I joined American Ballet Theatre at 16, I was an adagio dancer," says Tuttle. "I had to learn to be fast."

Many dancers immediately become tense when they think about moving faster, causing their bodies to stiffen and their shoulders to creep up. As counterintuitive as it may feel, you will find more success in doing the oppo­site. "To go faster, we have to go deeper and breathe more expansively," says contemporary teacher and choreographer Kristin Sudeikis. Even if speed doesn't come naturally, you can become a faster mover by working on your physical and mental agility.


Speed Up Your Technique

Traveling Phrases: Use weight shifts to your advantage. "I think of pushing off from where I came from," says Sudeikis. "If I'm traveling quickly downstage, I think of the backbody propelling me. If I'm moving quickly to my right, I'm going to think of pushing off from my left."


Kristin Sudeikis' class at Broadway Dance Center, via Giphy

Turns: "If you have to do a fast sequence of turns, make sure your hips are getting all the way over your standing foot with no back arch," says Tuttle. If this is something you struggle with, try practicing just the push-off for quick traveling turns, like piqués and chaînés, making sure your hips arrive over your standing foot each time.


Tiler Peck in Balanchine's Who Cares? via Giphy

Jumps: For fast jumps, Tuttle recommends keeping your weight toward the front of the foot, but cautions that heels should still be on the floor when you land. Also identify whether the accent of each jump is up or down. Tuttle points out that those distinctions begin at barre, with dégagés and tendus. "When you emphasize bringing your leg into fifth, that's a different exercise than tendu with the accent out," she says.


Ashley Bouder in Balanchine's Serenade, via Giphy

Condition With Quickness in Mind

Core: "The stronger your core is, the more quickly your body will move through space as a whole," says Michelle Rodriguez, a physical therapist who works with dancers. She suggests strengthening the bottom half of your relevé to build speed and control. With the knee straight or in a slight plié, lift the heel halfway up from the floor. Try 10 repetitions on each side, barely holding on to a barre or the wall. "You'll be surprised how strong of a core that requires," she says.


via Giphy

Footwork: Precise, powerful footwork is a must, especially for tall dancers, whose feet are likely to be longer. Rodriguez recommends breaking a step down into parts and repeating each element slowly, to improve precision, and gradually increasing the speed. Or, take exercises you already know—like relevés—and incrementally speed them up. She also suggests small, fast single-leg hops. Hop forward and sideways, in sets of 10 repetitions, to improve balance and ankle stability.


via Giphy

Endurance: Moving quickly requires extra stamina, so cardio training outside of rehearsal is a must.


via Giphy


Recovery:
Fast movement is taxing on the body. "After doing any of these exercises or after rehearsals with quick choreography," says Rodriguez, "massage your calves with a ball and take time to stretch out."


via Giphy


Visualize Successful Speedwork


Pacific Northwest Ballet in Justin Peck's Year of the Rabbit, via Giphy

Sometimes, it's a mental block that gets in the way of moving faster. During her time at American Ballet Theatre, Ashley Tuttle realized that the way she had been visualizing her movement wasn't helping her performance. "I was seeing myself from the point of view of the audience, from a place of judgment," she says. "Instead, I started to visualize how I wanted to feel, focusing on my musicality." Rather than imagining all the mistakes you might make while executing fast choreography, build confidence by picturing a successful performance.

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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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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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