Things I Don’t Get (Dance Training Edition)

A couple questions about typical dance training practices (a little one and a bigger one) that I’ve thought/talked about lately:

1) Why do we so often phrase corrections as body-type-specific, even when they’re not?

For instance, if you’re a shorter dancer, you’ve probably heard something like “Because you’re small, you have to make your movement even bigger.” And if you’re taller, you’ve probably heard “You need to use that length to move bigger.”

Both are basically asking you to move bigger, which could be a perfectly valid correction for anyone. Is reminding people of their height actually useful here?

Same with “You need to really point your feet, because your ankles aren’t as flexible” versus “Your need to really point your feet to use all that ankle flexibility.” If the point is just “point your feet,” is it actually relevant to point out obvious physical features?

I’m sure I’ve done this myself, maybe because it makes the correction feel more “personal” (without adding any actual personalized direction). But at a closer glance, it seems, well . . . pointless or even counterproductive to needlessly associate technique with body type. Sure some technical corrections are body type-specific, but if they’re not, why pretend they are?

2) Why do we assume that preschoolers can handle improv, but not middle-schoolers?

We put preschoolers in “creative movement” classes, because they’re not developmentally “mature” enough for structured technique and choreography. By age 7, they’re supposed to be too old and for that.

These “creative movement” exercises look suspiciously like improv classes, which usually show up in more advanced dance training–but not before high school or college, when the dancers are considered technically/artistically/intellectually/emotionally “mature” enough. And if they do have some improv experience before that, we assume that they must be an extra “mature” group of students.

Why this improv gap? I understand that there are other important aspects of training to focus on during this intermediate period, and that every school has to make some choices when it comes to allocating time.

But I have a hard time buying the “not mature enough” argument that gets thrown around a lot. Why do we trust 3-year-olds to decide how to move their bodies not 13-year-olds? Sure lots of middle-schoolers tend to be self-conscious about improvisation, but maybe that would be different if they never stopped doing it.

Note: I don’t teach on a regular basis and I do mean these as questions, not just criticisms. So if you’re a teacher (or student) who sees a good reason for doing these things, I’d love to hear and discuss it. I’m just less inclined to hold onto teaching practices without a good why.


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