10 Things Dance Teachers Say

1. What we say: "Point your feet!"

What this really means: A beautiful pointed foot is not just about the toes. In fact, "scrunching" your toes is not a pointed foot at all! Scrunching toes can also lead to injuring a tendon in your foot. A good point, instead, lies in the instep (between your ankle and toes). Try exercises sitting down, pushing through demi pointe and then en pointe, using your entire foot. Also try standing, and thinking "pulling up through your arches" and "spreading the toes" out. This will help you feel the energy coming through your instep. Then, when you jump of lift the foot off the floor, the toes will come underneath in a beautiful point. Pointed feet exhibits a dancer's extensions and lines. It is also important for balance and strength.

2. "Rotate!"

When we say this, we are focusing on hip rotation. When students first learn ballet, they are taught "heel forward" or to "show the inside of your foot to the ceiling." Dance educators need to be aware that with beginning dancers, students tend to rotate from the knee, instead of the hip. It's important that students learn and know the difference.  Ask your students to go to the barre and place their leg on the barre. Then, ask them to put their hip or "booties" up in the air. (This usually causes giggling). Next, ask them to "correct" that. Watch for them to adjust their hip, so that their leg is extending out of the hip, which is no longer sticking up or out. This draws their attention to the hip and to the feeling of what is "wrong" and what is "right." Next, ask them to stand in the center in first position. Have them plié, and have them look to see if their knee is in line with the center of their foot (preventing over-rotation in the knee). Teach them how knees tend to want to overcompensate for us (show them what that looks like.) Also, work on quadruped bent-knee extensions (the students always find this funny, because they think of dogs peeing - just to warn you!) Have them start on their hands and knees, with their backs flat. Keeping the knee bent, extend on leg back and up. Remind them to push the sole of the foot toward the ceiling. It is important to strengthen both the exterior muscles (surrounding your hip flexors and rotator cuff) and interior muscles (through your inner thighs and groin).

3. "Don't stick your butts out!"

When we say this, we do not mean to "tuck" anything. We are looking for your neutral spine and neutral pelvis. We don't want to see an over-tucked pelvis or a hyper-extended back. Neutral spine is the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine - cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) -- are present and in good alignment. We should strive to find this position when we're sitting, walking, dancing, exercising and any other time! To help students understand this, have them over exaggerate by doing a pelvis tilt exercise. Then, tell them to "stand like they're texting their best friend." They usually will relax in their lower back, and hyper-extend the spine. Ask them to find the place in the middle of the two. This can also be done with their backs on the ground.

4. "Weight forward!" and "Stay out of your heels!"

It is easy to place all of our weight into our heels. In ballet, even at the barre, we tend to place our weight in our heels, and then we jump, hop and struggle when we no longer have the barre. Where we place our weight matters. We want to stay forward on our supporting leg, and if we get used to placing our weight in our heels, we will never find that "sweet spot" where our hips are squarely over our supporting leg and foot. This is something that dance students need to understand early on so they aren't fighting it for the rest of their lives!

5. "Dance to the tips of your fingers and toes!"

This is about energy. We don't want you to stress out and have stiff fingers (also known as "blades") and toes (scrunching), but we don't want to see lazy fingers or toes. It's about sending energy through your arms and legs, extending beyond your body's limitations. Help students understand this by telling them they have little flashlights in each finger and toe. Tell them: "You are responsible for their light beams." If their fingers are lazy their light beams will go over the place instead of in one solid direction. It helps them visualize beyond their fingers and toes. This visualization is also used with their hips. "Where are your headlights?"

Photo from: Movement Lifestyle

6. "One more time!"

We all say this, but if you're a dancer... you know dancer math! You know "one more time" = at least 5 more times. We do this because we know one fact about life: Perfect practice makes perfect! We know the more you work on something, the more familiar your body will be with the movement. We know muscle memory will kick in. Trust us; we know.

7. "Plié!"

We can all use a little more plié in our lives. It keeps our bodies safe, it helps us move, it helps us jump and land jumps, it helps us find the floor, use the floor, and move every direction. As dancers, especially when doing petit allegro, or pirouettes, we tend to "steal from our plié." We take away from it because we want to reach the final destination faster. What we forget is that the plié is helping us reach our final destination. It is our fuel to move us forward. Use it! Think of it like a bank: You have to invest in plié before you can hit the big time spending or investing.

8. "Spot!"

Very similar situation to plié, dancers underestimate the power of spotting. Created by the Italians, spotting is what helps our bodies turn around faster while keeping us in line and on direction. The one thing we hear from little dancers is, "I'm so dizzy!" I bet you are! You didn't spot! It is important to stay focused on a certain point when turning, so that our body doesn't have to guess where it's going. We have to tell our bodies where it's going. This saves time, makes everything sharper, and keeps you from getting dizzy.

9. "Don't give up!"

Things will get hard, we can promise you that. But if you stop the middle of a stretch or drop your leg during a strengthening exercise, guess what? It no longer counts. You have to push through and let your muscles react to the work you are demanding of it. If you're working on flexibility, go to your edge and hold it. Let your body adjust. If you're working on strength, extend the leg and hold it. Let the muscles grow stronger. Don't get up halfway through something. Dance is a constant process, and stopping the process stops the work.

10. "Use your brain!"

Dance is not just about movement. It simply, isn't. You are having to remember not just a phrase or barre exercise or center-floor exercise, you are having to remember the technique of the body and how to properly execute something. We are always preaching, "Think about opposition!" If your leg is extending back, where is your hip and shoulders moving? If your heard is here, where is your arm? Think opposition! Where is your energy headed? What transition leads you to the next step? Where is your foot? Rotate your hips. Neutral spine! There is so much to think about and process simultaneously while dancing.

Dancing is an active process. You hear similar things regardless of what teacher is up front, because these things matter and they are things we need to constantly be thinking. Sometimes, it's easy to forget one or the other. Or perhaps we get swept up in the movement. But these notes are important to who you are as a dancer (for your safety and for your dancing), and we'll keep saying them!

Until next time...

  1. Point your feet!
  2. Rotate!
  3. Don't stick your butts out!
  4. Stay out of your heels!
  5. Dance to the tips of your fingers and toes!
  6. One more time!
  7. Plié!
  8. Spot!
  9. Don't give up
  10. Use your brain!

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