How Denise Wall Teaches Alignment

Photo by Matthew Murphy

If you watched Season 13 of "Dancing with the Stars," you may remember contestant Ricki Lake struggling to maintain correct posture. Yet the problem seemed to miraculously disappear one week, when she received a perfect score of 30 from the judges. In a post-show interview, Lake credited Virginia-based teacher Denise Wall, who had Skyped her to offer a helpful correction. The secret? Says Wall: "I taught her my T-neck."

The T-neck, as she calls it, is just one of the terms Wall has coined for a series of postural adjustments to help dancers find an anatomically correct and workable alignment. Students struggle with placement, even if they hear the same correction every class. The remedy, says Wall, is finding the precise way to make it resonate with students.

“I had one girl whose shoulders were always up when she'd go across the floor," she says, noting that no matter what the correction was, nothing seemed to fix the raised shoulders. “Finally, I said, 'Just lengthen your neck out of your shoulders!' And all of a sudden I had a giraffe on my hands. So I started saying it to everyone."

Wall's methods have grown out of 30 years of teaching, 23 of which have been at her own studio in Virginia Beach, VA. “As teachers, we often correct by giving the final result: If your shoulders are forward, we'll say, 'Put them back,'" she says. “But your student, the overachiever, will go to the other extreme, creating another set of problems."

Wall suggests giving your students imagery to enhance the way they think about alignment. This way, you're not providing a quick fix, and with a better understanding of how their body works, students will—over time—change their movement patterns.

Drawing on shapes or recognizable images is key, and Wall brings rope, balls and T-shirts to class to demonstrate her ideas. She is careful to point out that it does take time to fine-tune the imagery that sticks with students, but whatever works, works. She found the images described on the following pages to be successful with students. However, “If it takes them thinking 'strawberries' to make them do it," she says, keep those fruit images coming. “It just has to register with their brains."

Watch Wall demonstrate her "T-neck" and other imagery:

Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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