Teaching Tips
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For 10 years, Anthony Morigerato judged competitions using almost the same score sheets he got when he was a comp kid. "I thought to myself, 'Why haven't they changed at all? Why are they so general?'" As a tap dancer, Morigerato found that only one word ("feet") on the judge's sheet applied to him. "It's not useful to tell a person to go work on their arms, feet or legs. The competition should be as educational as possible," says Morigerato, executive producer and artistic director of AM Dance Productions.

The adjudication process provides crucial feedback for a dancer's development. How the critique is delivered, whether through handwritten notes, audio recordings or verbal discussion, can help artists and teachers work to improve their craft. But sometimes the feedback is limited or unhelpful, as Morigerato noted for his tap routines. How can the process be elevated so that it is most beneficial? What kinds of changes have already been made? Adjudication guidelines tend to be slightly different at each competition and convention, each with certain measures of success and drawbacks. Yet while the industry's process for providing critique might still be evolving, the dancers' need for useful and educational feedback remains constant.

Prep for Panels

A judging panel, typically composed of about three dance professionals, may be given strict guidelines for adjudication—or none at all. At Artists Simply Human Productions, all judges are on headsets and connected "ESPN style" so they can hear each other and engage in conversation during a routine. "This way is different from the traditional judging format," says Braham Logan Crane, director. "They are required to talk for at least 2 minutes and 15 seconds during a 3-minute piece, with each judge making individual suggestions." Recognizing that not every judge is an expert in all areas of dance, the panelist with the most knowledge in that genre will take the lead. "They provide ideas and concepts, not just simple corrections about how to improve the number."

At American College Dance Association (ACDA) events, adjudicators are selected in part because of their professional and educational backgrounds. But they are discouraged from knowing anything about the work being presented. "The requirement for anonymity has evolved and been refined over decades," says executive director Diane DeFries. "Adjudicators respond to seeing and hearing each work one time in the theater, without any connection to the process. It allows for the kind of feedback that's hard to get and closer to the audience experience."

Yet despite the different participation requirements of judging panels, Alex Prushinski of Star Dance Alliance emphasizes a universal need for judges to be on the same page, with similar expectations. "I would like to see a goal for the entire competition industry that all judges are informed about different genres of dance," she says. "We need the hip-hop teacher to know technical ballet and tap terms, even though everyone has a different background." Some panels are more well-rounded and adept than others when it comes to critiquing a variety of dance genres.

Feedback Formats

In response to this need for more genre-specific feedback from judges, Morigerato developed a system called CODA for Break the Floor. "Dance competitions are good at identifying the problem, but they're not so adept at offering the dancer a solution to that problem," he explains. The digital product has three components: judge training, educational video content, and data for teachers and studio owners. Judges are trained so they understand the foundational components for each genre. "Each score sheet is broken down so that even if you're not a tap dance person," he adds, "you still understand and can communicate what makes for a nice tap routine." Morigerato has worked with faculty to develop more than 1,000 instruction videos to accompany feedback from judges, so that dancers have additional tools to work on areas that need improvement.

At Youth America Grand Prix, judges may score both classical and contemporary pieces, but they use the same ballet vocabulary to identify steps and transitions in both categories. "What's also great about YAGP is that we get to see the dancers in class before or after they compete," says Anna Liceica, master teacher and competition judge. "I talk to them in class about things they should apply onstage during a variation, and after they've competed, I can help them with things they have to work on. Hopefully they take that feedback with them."

Feedback from YAGP is handwritten and personal for each contestant. Break the Floor's CODA system provides digital feedback with educational videos. Other competitions, like ones produced by ASH Productions, provide one video file per dance that includes audio feedback from three judges. "People can download it a few days after the weekend event," says Crane. "If each judge were to send out a separate critique, and a studio sends 50 dances, that would mean the teacher would have to sift through 150 videos. I don't think they would all be listened to or utilized to their full capabilities."

In-Person Discussion

Like YAGP's in-person class instruction, the opportunity for participants to engage directly with the judging panel could be an efficient and beneficial format. Artists performing at ACDA events receive six to eight minutes of feedback after their performance. "Each adjudicator has two minutes to talk, then two minutes to have a conversation amongst themselves about what one another saw," says DeFries. "There are also 50 to 100 people in the audience, so the adjudicators are also addressing these people and talking about the artform. Comments can be used by the people who were in the dance, and made the dance, and saw the dance."

Yet with nothing provided in written form or a digital format for takeaway, this kind of feedback is just as ephemeral as the performance. Dancers, teachers and choreographers could interpret the conversation differently; details or suggestions could be misheard or misremembered. But on the other hand, comments are timely and responsive. "It's hard for people to get this kind of feedback when they are developing work in an academic situation," says DeFries. "The work is being seen and reviewed in the moment, not over time by a mentor or peer group."

Judge the Performance, Not the Performer

According to ACDA's guide for adjudicators, its feedback model has strengths and limitations. "The Association recognizes that an adjudicator is seeing a dance only one time in performance, and responses come from the vantage point of an audience member, not a peer or mentor. The value of the structure," says DeFries, "is that it allows for responses free from the influence of personal involvement in the creation of the dance."

Crane agrees that the performance should be judged on the performance itself, and not influenced by what the teacher might have seen in class. "It's human nature to combine both experiences," he says. "We try to avoid having someone judge a participant in class, because if the dancer doesn't live up to that expectation in their solo, the score might reflect that."

In the end, the judging process should be a healthy experience for performers. Critiques—digital, in-person or handwritten—can be given in a way that provides useful tools for continued growth and the development of stronger future performances. Teachers can also help the process by receiving and interpreting the feedback constructively for students. "Everyone needs to remember that dance is an art and not a sport," says Prushinski. "When you put three different judges on a panel, you will have a completely different outcome. It's very subjective."

Studio Owners
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Small businesses across the U.S. are keeping careful tabs on their states' reopening schedules and making changes to their business models accordingly. As pandemic-related guidelines and timelines evolve, it's important that you have a multilayered plan for the gradual reopening of your studio—one that prioritizes your dancers' and staff's health, reassures families that it's safe to return and allows you to operate your business to the fullest extent. Keep in mind that flexibility will be key: It's possible your state may experience a spike in new cases of COVID-19, requiring your studio's plan to take a step or two backward before it moves forward again.

Here are four crucial steps to preparing your studio for a flexible, responsive and well-considered reopening.

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Health & Body
Photo courtesy of Schaeffer

Picture the knee joint as a crowded intersection in a busy city, with people and cars moving through it: up and down, from side to side. When this junction is flowing smoothly, traffic is a breeze and it is easy to get to where you need to be. But when there is an accident or stalled vehicle anywhere linked to the crossing, your route is derailed.

"The knee doesn't work in isolation," says Marissa Schaeffer, a physical therapist at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. "It is constantly affected by forces above and below."

As one of the largest joints in the body, the knee is a complicated interchange of tendons, ligaments and cartilage joining the thigh bone to the shin bone. A dancer's knee is constantly managing forces up and down the kinetic chain. The tendons connect the leg muscles to bone and help move the joint and propel dancers into the air for jumps, while the ligaments work to join the bones and provide stability. The muscles commonly known as the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well as the adductors and abductors of the hip, act on the knee from above, while the calf muscles and anterior lower-leg muscles act from below. To keep this joint healthy, adequate strength and control of these muscle groups, relative to one another, are key.

Of the many acute and chronic knee injuries that can occur, Schaeffer most frequently sees overuse injuries in the pre-professional dancers she treats—patellofemoral knee pain, for instance, and patellar tendinopathy, commonly known as jumper's knee. The bad news—that the cause of these injuries is usually the result of poor technique and inadequate conditioning—in this case is also the good news: With a focus on a proper neutral pelvis, true turnout, balancing strength between muscle groups and some specific cross-training, dance teachers can empower dancers to keep this joint healthy.

The Biggest Culprit: Turnout

"If you turn out from your hips, most dancers won't have 180-degree turnout," says Schaeffer. But in an effort to meet this near-universal demand, dancers borrow from other places. Some may use the floor to force turnout, trying to get more rotation from the tibia to make a nice line. But this misalignment in the lower leg changes the angle of stress and the way the patella is tracking. It also can cause increased torque across the knee, which stresses the tendons and ligaments that cross the joint. "And if you are in anterior pelvic tilt, which helps you force turnout, a chain reaction follows, pushing you back into hypermobility of knees," Schaeffer adds.

As a first step, Schaeffer recommends finding and using a neutral pelvis in order to ease dysfunction along the chain. This more efficient and honest turnout may in fact be "less." But the added benefits of controlling knee extension and hypermobility are value-adds in the long term. "My genuine hope is for dance teachers to recognize that 180 is not a realistic goal," she says.

Promoting Self-Care

Over time, floor work and specific choreography can cause degenerative changes to the knee joint. Schaeffer insists that dancers should always have knee pads in their dance bags. And staying ahead of your students' schedules and anticipating the rep that may be on the horizon can help you develop a specific cross-training routine to prepare. Schaeffer advises dancers to do their own research before an audition or class with a visiting professor. "You can look up a choreographer's work on YouTube," she says, "and get a sense of the demands. To protect your knees, you need adequate strength and control of the muscle groups."

Muscle flexibility and core strength are important components of any cross-training routine for healthy knees. "Be sure to foam-roll and stretch, but also keep in mind that a muscle can appear tight or less extensible because it's been overworked or it doesn't have enough strength to withstand the demands you've placed on it," she says. Also, there are a variety of reasons muscles can lack extensibility, including having poor core control. Sometimes it is as simple as adding in more squats or transverse abdominis work to an existing routine.

Ultimately, because stress to the knees can be referred from misalignments or weaknesses elsewhere in the body, the best tip Schaeffer can give is for dancers to be their own detectives: "Ask 'What was different today? Could this pain be because of a different rep, or is it due to repeating the same thing over and over?'" While she prefers compression to icing to ease a little swelling, she advises seeing a physical therapist or medical professional if knee pain lasts more than a few days or is recurrent.

Photo courtesy of Schaeffer

A more honest and efficient turnout may be less than 180 degrees.

Preventive Exercises

"You don't need more exercises," says Schaeffer. "Just make the simple exercises more heady." She favors tactile cues, allowing dancers to use their own hands on themselves to explore neutral spine in basic strength, conditioning and technique exercises. Here are two favorite ways to coach proper turnout with a neutral pelvis and an easing of stress in the knee joint.


1. Lie on one side with your knees bent, heels in line with your sitz bones.

2. With the feet touching, open your top knee to the ceiling, maintaining equal length on the side of your torso and keeping the pelvis stable.

3. Repeat to fatigue before moving to the other side.

Tip: If you have trouble keeping the hips quiet or maintaining the length of the top side of the torso, pad the underside of the torso near the low rib cage with a rolled-up tea towel or washcloth, or perform this exercise with your back against the wall.

Turnout on Rotating Discs

1. Place a piece of tape at the center of your knee (at the patella) and another one centered over the bump on the top end of your shin bone (tibial tuberosity). Check the alignment of the tape with your legs in parallel position in a mirror.

2. With a disc under each foot, practice moving into turnout, or external rotation, on the discs while maintaining the alignment of the tape. (You can set up the discs perpendicular to the mirror to do a self-check on the alignment of the tape, or ask a friend to help.)

3. Use this guide as you move through pliés and relevés in first position and variations on one leg. The tape can also be a helpful self-check while doing sautés in first position

The Whole Core

"Your pelvis is also included in the core, so if hips are shifting or rotating in the frontal and transverse planes due to weakness of the core—what I call 'sassy hip'—it can also shift stress down to the knees," says Schaeffer. If you are looking to strengthen the core to better support your knee health, don't forget to include a thin skeletal muscle on top of it all—the diaphragm—since proper use of the breath is part of a strong center."

Health & Body
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Health & Body
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