Protect yourself in acro class.

Ashlie Wells (left) uses a second spotter
during advanced exercises.

Early in her teaching career, Joanne Chapman struggled with regular neck pain and couldn’t figure out what was causing it. “I went to the chiropractor and he said, ‘You must be lifting something really heavy, because your second and third vertebrae are literally compressed together,’” says Chapman, who owns Joanne Chapman School of Dance in Brampton, Ontario. “And then I realized—it’s from spotting my acrobats.”

As an acrobatics teacher, your top priority is keeping your students safe. But caring for students’ bodies can come at a cost if you’re not taking equal precautions to protect your own. The heavy and repetitive action of spotting is taxing and could eventually cause injury.

Chiropractic sports practitioner Dr. Corey Lichtman, who works with acro-trained dancers and spotters in California, says most spotters complain about their neck, lower back and shoulders—all areas that are vulnerable to any form of heavy lifting. “Teachers have a tough job,” he says. “They risk their own bodies to ensure that the student is safe.”

Supporting Students’ Weight

In the same way students should warm up for class, it’s important to prepare your shoulders, arms, abdominals and legs before spotting. This helps you adopt a solid stance and work from your core, instead of your limbs. Ashlie Wells, artistic director of the Dothan School of Dance in Dothan, Alabama, stands in a wide parallel plié while assisting stationary stunts like back walkovers, so she can take the student’s weight in her legs. This also helps her move quickly in any direction a student might fall. Chapman, however, prefers to kneel on one knee, which helps her own alignment while taking the student’s weight into her arms rather than her back or neck.

Either way, try to stay as close to the student as possible, spotting from her working side. Though it positions you closer to flying limbs, staying close allows you to brace your arms near your body, where you can provide the most support with the least amount of effort. It also helps you maintain good posture, since reaching far for a student carries you off of your center of gravity.

Getting Help

During more advanced exercises, you may benefit from having a second spotter stand directly across from you. Team spotters can either mirror each other’s arm movements or assign areas of the student’s body to protect. For instance, in a walkover, one spotter might be in charge of the student’s hips while the other assists the kickoff. “If something happens mid-trick or your arm gives out, a second spotter can make up for it,” says Wells. She prefers to have three spotters in the studio at a time, so they can rotate and rest between students.

During flying exercises, Chapman twists up a large beach towel lengthwise and loops it around the student’s waist, holding the ends. This ensures that the student won’t pull away from her, so she won’t have to reach out suddenly and support weight from a vulnerable position. It also distributes the student’s weight more evenly between her arms, reducing the strain on her own body. Other props, such as mini-trampolines and wedge mats, use elevation and gravity to train students without relying solely on your strength. DT

Ashley Rivers is a dancer and writer in Boston.

Injury Prevention

Chiropractic sports practitioner Dr. Corey Lichtman says teachers should cross-train to keep muscles in balance, since spotting often overworks one side of the body and is hard on the joints. “It just comes down to taking care of your own body, so that you can take care of others,” he says. Perform these exercises three to four times a week.

Pelvic Stabilizer:

(10 reps with each leg, 2–3 sets)

Tie a resistance band circling two inches above your knees. Squat to 45 degrees in parallel. Keeping the knees bent, step a few inches directly right with your right leg. Follow slowly with your left, returning to the original position.

 

 

Squats:

(15–20 reps, 2–3 sets)

Squeeze a soccer ball or dodgeball between your thighs and perform basic squats so the knees make a 90-degree angle. This activates your adductor muscles and stabilizes the patella.

 

 

 

 

External Rotator Stabilizer:

(15–20 reps, 2–3 sets)

Tie one end of a resistance band to a barre. Standing with the barre at your right, hold the band in your left hand, hugging the elbow to your side at a 90-degree angle and your forearm in front of you, parallel to the barre. With the elbow as an axis, rotate your lower arm directly to the side before returning to your starting position.

Screen shot 2013-05-31 at 4.23.41 PM

 

Lateral Pull-Down:

(15–20 reps, 2–3 sets)

Hold both ends of a resistance band with arms overhead. Bend arms and pull down until your elbows are bent at 90 degrees. Slowly return to starting position.

Top photo courtesy of Ashlie Wells; exercise photos by Amy Kelkenberg, modeled by Maya Barad

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox