Dance Teacher Tips

Help Students Tackle Floorwork Smoothly and Without Fear

Benny Simon's students performing at Dance New Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of DNA

Choreographer Mandy Moore is perplexed about the way students in her convention classes transition from standing to the floor. “It's like kids turn off their brains!" she says. “Why would you take the most difficult route to the floor? Why would you ever try to do a triple back flip to get there?"


Despite its commonplace use in most styles, floorwork often proves difficult for technically trained dancers. Most problematic are the transitions—moving from a standing position to the ground, and gathering the strength required to return to vertical. Finding a resilient, easy relationship with the floor is essential; it allows dancers to increase their versatility and movement efficiency. “Without floorwork, you're limiting yourself to 50 percent of your potential," says Benny Simon of Dance New Amsterdam in New York City.

Overcoming Hesitations and Fear

The earlier students become familiar with the floor, the easier it will be to deter hesitation and fear that may develop later on. Moore is a proponent of providing acro or introduction-to-tumbling classes for the younger set. Aside from helping conquer nerves, it will build strength and knowledge of how to safely approach the ground.

When introducing the concept in technique class, start simple and be consistent. Stacy Reischman Fletcher, dance department chair at the University of Southern Mississippi, incorporates a transition to the ground into nearly every stage of her modern class. “I try to sprinkle floorwork into every combination, even if that's not the goal of the combination," she says. “Even if it's just a booty roll in the middle of tendus—it very nicely muddles the distinct separation of being on your feet versus being on the floor."

Simon, who teaches a Simonson-based modern class, agrees. “I keep things simple. Something as basic as rolling down and using your hands to push you in a different direction, to a plank position, builds upper-body strength and confidence."

It will help to be specific with your directions by breaking them down to individual body parts. “I'll cue dancers with initiation points: Right foot stays flat, as left hand moves to the side," says Simon. Furthermore, providing students with a solid knowledge of anatomy will help ensure that the steps are learned correctly. Dancers who know how to efficiently use their upper body and core strength will be most successful.

Troubleshooting

Dancers train mostly upright and put a lot of emphasis and energy into their limbs—they're often told to “pull up" during barre to find the greatest vertical length of the spine. But that can lead to a rigid descent to the ground. Getting to the floor smoothly requires malleability and a strong understanding of how the ends of the spine, head to tailbone, relate. “To help my students find that connection, I include folding, curving, twisting, twirling and tilting, even while standing, in a spine sequence," Reischman Fletcher says. “It's important to move the spine off vertical as much as you work a plié, so your students get used to it operating in different ways."

Often, the most underutilized part of a transition is the level where dancers are closest to the ground, when their weight is still primarily on their feet. “It's not about being up and then suddenly being down. It's more about going through a demi-plié and then sweeping through a big, lunging grand plié on your way to the floor—all while finding the surfaces to support you," says Reischman Fletcher. “Spirals are great for getting dancers to the floor. By the time you've completed your spiral, you're four inches from the floor, and there's no worry of slamming down."

Relating floorwork to more technical movement may help students understand how to transition to the ground. For example, in grand battement, many say that finding the hip crease will help dancers unlock the largest range of mobility from the joint. This concept exists in floorwork, too. Folding and creasing the hips helps dancers get as close to the floor as possible, without straining the hip flexor or surrounding muscles. It also ensures a smooth contact with the marley.

Regardless of the students' level, drilling the basics is the best way to encourage improvement. “Little ones need the time to think," says Moore. “They need four counts to put their bodies in the right position before they have to go to the next thing." As students advance, you can speed up the pace and add variations on the transitions to and from the ground. It can be tedious for those who would rather practice fouettés, but dedicating the time will open up several opportunities technically and otherwise. “Once dancers are asked to explore the possibilities of floorwork in technique class," says Reischman Fletcher, “it simultaneously becomes a place to imagine movement in their own work."

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Deanna Paolantonio leads a workshop. Photo courtesy of Paolantonio

Deanna Paolantonio had been interested in body positivity long before diabetes ever crossed her mind. As a Zumba and Pilates instructor who had just earned her master's degree in dance studies, she focused her research on the relationship between fitness and body image for women and young girls. Then, at age 25, just as she was accepted into the PhD program at York University in Toronto, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Robin Nasatir (center) with Peter Brown and Vicki Gunter. Photo by Christian Peacock

On a sunny Thursday morning in Berkeley, California, Robin Nasatir leads her modern class through a classic seated floor warm-up full of luscious curves and tilts to the soothing grooves of Bobby McFerrin. Though her modern style is rooted in traditional José Limón and Erick Hawkins techniques, the makeup of her class is far from conventional. Her students range in age from 30 all the way to early 80s.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: I need advice on proper classroom management for dancers in K–12—I can't get them to focus.

A: Classroom management in a K–12 setting is no different than in a studio. No matter where you teach, I recommend using a positive-reinforcement approach first. As a general rule, what you pay attention to is what you get. When a student acts out, it's generally done in order to gain attention. Rather than giving attention to them for inappropriate behavior, call out other students who are exhibiting the positive behaviors you desire. Name the good actions, and all of your students will quickly learn what it takes to be noticed.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips

For an aspiring professional dancer, an unexpected injury can feel like a death sentence to a career that hasn't even started. The recovery process following an injury can be one of the most grueling and heartbreaking experiences a performer will ever face. In times like these, dance teachers have the power to boost or weaken a dancer's morale.

With that in mind, we've compiled a list of do's and don'ts for talking to a seriously injured dancer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Last season I had three dancers on my junior team who struggled all year. They've trained with me for years, yet they keep sliding farther behind their classmates. What should I do?

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox