Brigitte Steinken often sets an intention for her advanced contemporary ballet class at Canyon Dance Academy in Flagstaff, Arizona. “I usually start with a somatic exercise so the students can tune into their bodies," she says. “For example, we'll lie on the floor, focus on the shoulder joint and feel how, when we move our arms, they connect to our sternum and back." She reinforces the day's main concept throughout class so it really sinks in. “I remind them what they noticed in the beginning and then check in with them after class," she says. “I ask them, 'Did anything change for you? What happened in this class? What was frustrating?'"
Steinken uses classical ballet technique as the foundation for building a contemporary vocabulary with her students. She finds that composition is a great way to cover terminology while getting students to think outside the box. “I wrote a list of the body positions and had them create an adagio combination in groups," she explains. “They could create whatever they wanted, but it needed to hit each of the body positions."
As a dance movement therapy and counseling master's candidate, she firmly believes in her students' freedom to make choices. “If a student is injured and asks me to sit out, I'm going to help them discern if they need to, but ultimately it's their call," says Steinken. “If they have layers on at the beginning of class, it's their choice, but I'm going to let them know, 'I can't see what's going on with those pants on.' I encourage students, but I'm not an enforcer." DT
AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOST: “I love a cup of tea in the afternoon. I especially enjoy Yogi herbal teas, which come with tiny quotes of wisdom."
RECOMMENDED READING: The Dancing Dialogue: Using the Communicative Power of Movement with Young Children by Suzi Tortora. “This book discusses the value of the body and the knowledge it holds—something that is so important for young dancers."
Photos: by Angie Danca, courtesy of Steinken; leggings and water bottle: by Nathan Sayers; Thinkstock