Creating the perfect dance
Good dances take time. They aren’t normally created over night – the good ones that is. A good dance consists of a host of elements, including good balance between the dancer and the way the movements should look. Music is also important when used. Music isn’t always used; and knowing when to add a punch, pop, or pause takes good timing. A dancer has to have the necessary control to finish the steps, or pause the steps on cue – with or without music.
Next, we have the knowledge of the dancer, and their ability to use technical control and balance. Do they truly understand movement and the emotion it evokes? I wouldn’t confuse emotion to much with presentation. Presentation – I like to think of as a facial reaction. Emotion involves the entire body. The way the body flows in harmony with the rhythm of the music or a theme. A slow tilt of the head, or push and pull movement, etc., that reflects the overall theme of the dance – there is emotion. It involves the entire body. When you preform with emotion – you aren’t a stick figure, you actually flow. You should present something the audience will appreciate and understand.
A lot of students miss out on learning the basic structure of dance creation because they lack the basics of dance technology. If you don’t have technical training, it will be hard for a student to perform in a manner that allows the audience to appreciate what the dance is saying.
How old is too old to learn technique? How much technical training do I need to choreograph well?
Technique is something you should be working on at every age. From the time you first step onto the dance floor, you should be checking your technique daily. You never stop learning. That is one of the beautiful things about dance – you are constantly learning and growing. The world of dance changes in its forms and styles so often; there is always something for everyone.
When you perform a dance, it becomes the entire accumulation of all your technical training combined with your individual styling. The more technical training you have, the greater your range of styling will be.
You need to have a large repertoire of technical skills in order to perform well. So it would be safe to say, that the greater your technical knowledge, the greater your ability to choreograph well would also be. You have to be able to see the technique in your students.
The difficulty with choreography comes down to the technical abilities of the instructor, and the student combined. The less technical training your student has, the more work you will have to do to prepare your students. Since students all learn at different levels, you may have wide ranges in abilities you have to work with.
My suggestion to new instructors is to first do an evaluation of your students individually. Don’t rush them into learning this cool, awesome, or slick dance you just put together or found on line. Test their abilities first.
I have a list that I follow when doing evaluations, this helps me to map their advancements over a period of time. I really am more concerned with technical advancement rather than trick performances. Until a student is knowledgeable in their skills, their ability to synchronize their steps together with a team or hit a movement on cue, will be problematic.
I understand that as a teacher, you have to work with what you are given. But if you aren’t at least teaching “daily” the basis to your students, you won’t achieve your dream dance. You are only as strong as your weakest dancer – the old saying has a ring to it.
That dream dance will come when you have brought your dancers to a greater level technically, than they began with. Some dancers will take longer to get the skills down. But that doesn’t mean they won’t get them. Your job then is to make sure they continue on in an upward learning curve. Keep tracking their advancements. Don’t take it personally when they don’t progress as fast as your perfect dance. If your dance is that perfect – there will be another time “when they are ready”, “when you have made them ready”.
Good luck instructors.
Depending on where you are in your training, that will determine what types of stretching and warm ups you should be doing and how long you should do them before beginning your routines.
If you are just beginning your season, I like the following formula for stretching and warming up my students.
2 to 2 1/2 hour class
30 minutes of stretching and technique. (Remembering that technique is part of the stretch)
30 minute warm up, which can include a combination of running, cardio (running bleachers), and across the floor.
60 minutes of technical aerobic skills, and/or learning new routine.
* Running one mile is usually adequate enough a warm up.
You are not there to run, but dance.
* Running three miles is excessive and not recommended.
As students progress through the season
30 minute stretching and warmup combined
90 minutes practicing routines for competitions and performances.
Water breaks come at 60 min, 30min and 30min. The extra breaks taken at 30min intervals are due to the high aerobic intensity during the 2nd half of the training day. Students need to fuel their muscles with oxygen and water. Upper level dancers may not require or want these breaks as frequently. You can adjust times per your teams aerobic ability.
There are many styles and types of stretches that one can use. Being able to stretch properly however without damaging your muscles, tendons, or skeleton is important.
Weather you are doing left, American right, or center splits, remember you are stretching first – that means you don’t bounce. No slam splits until fully warmed up!
One thing I like to point out to my students is the proper positioning of your legs in a center split position. Your KNEES are pointed toward the ceiling. That will keep you from rotating your hips in the wrong direction. Follow your knee down to your feet. Make sure you are not sickling your feet inward or outward. When pointing your foot you should have a good bevel. Straight lines.
When you stretch side to side or leaning forward, don’t bounce. You are stretching – not bouncing. KNEES TO THE CEILING!
To properly stretch your feet I like some of the following warm ups.
1. Releves done slowly in each position, and then gradually going to releves done as FAST as you can!
2. Without taking your foot off the floor, write the alphabet with each foot.. Write things backwards and forwards. Using a ball to work your feet is also good.
3. Get a piece of surgical tubing (theraband) and wrap it around your toes. Holding the tubing firmly add tension and flex and point your foot. Pointing and flexing your foot helps develop the instep.
4 . Ankle circles are good for loosening up tight muscles. A lot of injuries occur at the ankle.
Back of legs and calfs
1. Touching your toes, and then rotating from the balls of your feet to your heals upward and down. Feeling the pull in the back of the legs and calfs.
2. Wall sits and planks. Many students prefer planks over wall sits. The planks look similar to a mountain climber position done on the floor. I will use wall sits as a disciplinary measure if need be.
3. Monster walks across the floor is another good toner stretch. Basically you do a deep lunging walk, while not allowing your back knee to NOT touch the ground.
Quads & hamstrings
Leaping, kicking, turning all require strong muscles. A good dance routine will have many transition levels as well. It is important to have strong muscles to handle the endless stooping, bending, and snap flashes. But strong muscles are only as good as a proper stretch will take them.
A very simple stretch can save you a lot of grief and pain. Holding on to a chair, or if you are well balanced, bend you knee and grab your foot behind you. While holding the stretch, make sure your knee is pointing down to the ground. The knee should also be level side- by- side with your standing leg. Reverse the stretch on the other side.
Back, sides, neck, arms and shoulders.
Find what stretches work best for you and your team. Don’t skimp on stretching.
Depending on the level of dancing you are doing, that will determine the amount of stretching and warmup you will need.
At the college/professional level you can expect your routines to be intensive. Typically at this level you will learn at least 5 main dance routines, plus minor dances. You are expected to also learn all the cheers to help with the spirit team. That means you will also learn all the dance moves that go with the cheers (cheer songs). You will pretty much be constantly learning.
You may also be required to perform with the pep band, and that will add an addition 4 to 6 hours a week to your training.
A typical warm up is a six minute mile, with stretching done before. That six minute run is to be as close to a mile as possible. To help with leg development, running bleachers can be substituted for the six minute mile. You should be able to do 20 to 40 bleacher runs ( up and back down – that counts as one).
You are required to have a set of light weights for warm ups. You need at least 1-2 pound weights for both hands and ankles.
Don’t forget you will also have to pack your own gear, which may include flags, exercise balls, and weights. Bring a car, some dorms are more than a mile away from the practice site. Did I mention it snows?
Whatever stretches you prefer to use – make sure they are done properly. Stretching is serious business. It should never be taken lightly nor done improperly. Guarding your body against injury is what stretching is all about.
Warming up your body and gaining aerobic ability over time is also very important. Warm ups, like stretching should be a gradual progression – unless it is HELL WEEK, and you better come already prepared.
When you dance on the floor, your stretching and your warmups should have helped you develop technical skills that make your lines look clean. Your body should be uplifted, balanced and controlled. You should have the proper aerobic ability to perform at your teams level.
Control, focus, and practice-practice-practice.
I began learning dance at 3 years old. At age 4 I was pulled out of classes because all I would do was sit in the floor, chew on my shirt, and cry obsessively as I watched myself and everyone else in the mirror. At age 5, I had a friend want to go to ballet and jazz dance classes with me, and the rest is history.
My instructor, Belinda Hurst (she also taught my mother ballet at the original studio out on S. Hwy 191, Moab Ut) taught the basic’s of course in all my dance classes. I learned from the Cecchetti (Italian) ballet technique method first, mixed with a little Bob Fossy jazz. By age 9 my body development was strong enough for me to advance up to point ballet. Yep! I have been on point since I was 9 years old.
I can’t imagine dance without the basic’s that were taught to me in my younger years. Now days, when I assume the duties of instructor, I really like to take the time to evaluate a dancer and check their body strengths, before choreographing a dance. Not checking body strength and ability – that’s how people get hurt. Those rules were repeated to me year after year by my ballet instructor BelindaHurst. I’ve never forgot them.
Here is a nice clip showing the proper form for moving through the ballet positions. This is how you should look. If you aren’t being taught this in ballet class – you aren’t being taught by a knowledgeable instructor.
Belinda was right in the fact that too many people want to push forward when their bodies aren’t really ready. So important! Your feet – your bones, they must all be ready.
I’ve seen dancers at high school competitions with pulled hamstrings, inner thigh and groin muscles pulled, as well as chin splits. Generally these dancers began their training in high school, with very little studio training before hand.
These types of injuries are also way too common in young dancers who attempt to do things before they are ready. Nothing is more frustrating than to see a young dancer being pushed beyond their level before they have developed the ability to do stunts without risk of injury.
There is always time to learn a new dance. But you can’t learn the technique for a new dance over night. Technique is something that you practice, over and over again. It’s through that repetitious training that you develop a beautiful form; not sloppy and gangly.
If you don’t have the proper technique you are probably just slopping it together. In the competition field you will stick out like a sore thumb to any judge, and to any seasoned dancer/parent. I give first years a little slack, but by year two – you better be making some headway.
I judged at a 3A-4A regional’s Drill Competiton in St. George Utah a while back. It is obvious which dancers were practicing technique, and which ones were not. A strong team means a dedicated coach is there to make sure they are properly trained before hitting the floor.
I have to say there was one particular team that completely ruled the show. They had everything from technique, to costume, to presentation, to the overall theme. This team also took state as well. You want your team to be that memorable.
Growing up in and around the world of dance competitions, you learn quickly what you need to do to win. At the lower age groups you might come up quickly. But as you mature, if you aren’t studying and practicing daily – you will have a hard time winning at the higher levels.
I can’t tell you how many summers I spent learning new technical tricks, turn combinations, and honing in on my gymnastics and tumbling skills. While everyone else was out having fun, chances are I was in the dance studio somewhere or looking to tumble. I practiced first – then I had fun. Still today, I’d rather be at a masters dance clinic, teaching, or judging. It’s what I like. There is really nothing wrong with that.
The basic’s are so important for young dancers to understand. Muscle memory only comes from doing something over and over again. If you learn technique as a youngster, the chances are as you mature, you will perform better. You have to stay on your toes. Remember your competition is counting on the fact that you don’t have the proper technique. Show them they are wrong.
Below are a couple nice websites for the beginner dancer who wants to start increasing their knowledge of dance. My suggestions however are to find an instructor who is knowledgeable about proper technique and stick with them. Some areas don’t have studios with properly trained instructors. Sad, I know. But it happens. If that is the case, seek out those individuals who you know do have that training and ask them if they will do one-on-one instruction. Attend camps and clinics out of the area if your budget will allow it.
Your feet and legs are the only set you get in life. If you mess them up when you are a kid, you might not get another chance.
Technique – It is the formula for success. Growing up I danced side-by-side with many good dancers; I could list names all day long – but you all know who you are. You were the girls who cared about technique and what the team looked like in the end.
I also danced with a few who couldn’t turn or leap – to save their bacon. There were a number of girls who tried out each year for the team and never made it. Some are still in denial. Others can laugh about it, and enjoy the moments we all shared. I worked with training a number of lefty’s. They had double the load by having to move in a direction unfamiliar to them. But they did it! Why don’t others who are not directionally challenged manage to learn proper technique?
As an instructor what can you do when you can’t get them to learn anymore? Or even try? Do you hide them in the mix? Rearrange choreography? Maybe you do hide them, but after a while, you learn that you can’t keep dummying down the dance to fit in one individual, or a pair. At some point an instructor or director has to take the necessary actions and cut a member from the team. Parents don’t like that. Neither do the dancers. Neither do coaches.
I know of dancers who still hold grudges because of a cut. Others take it quite gracefully. A small handful take it to extremes and actually violate the very trust that is needed to learn in a dance environment. They use deception and manipulation to get their way. SNAP…..
There is your dilemma. How to have a successful well trained team, and keep everyone happy. The bottom line is, you can’t keep everyone happy. You aren’t there to make them happy. You are there to train them how to be successful dancers. If you are going to be successful you are going to have to make cuts, and you WILL have to deal with that small handful of the disgruntled.
A lot of problems can be avoided at try-outs. If a dancer isn’t on their game, just don’t pick them. Better to have a small number of good dancers, than a large number of gangly dancers that can’t turn or leap, or can’t recognize 5,6,7,8.
I understand that it is extremely hard to work with a school team that doesn’t studio train on the side. Training, is not an hour or two a week, with a little practice before or after school. That isn’t training for competition. That is what is called recreational dancing. I think I’ve said this before somewhere, “that is why soloists are born”.
If you are a competition instructor or director you should demand quality. Parents too, after all you are putting your money on the line thinking your child will be ready to perform, and do well. When a parent goes to a performance and sees their child for the first time for the season, what will be the overall effect? What lasting memory are they going to come away with? Are they thinking “Oh my gosh” or are they thinking “they held their own”?
I have a ton of images showing the many different types of dancers that I performed with. A camera catches a lot of things. We are ALL on film doing our worst and our best. I would be tarred and feather and kicked off the planet if I ever let some of them out. No worries, feathers aren’t too tasty – I understand.
Technique snap-shots. Money back – guarantee, a photo says a lot. SNAP…. It is a grading scale for instructors and directors. It tells the story better than anything ever can. If not money, then honor later in life. Never should a performers honors be over shadowed by a want-a-bee dancer or instructor. SNAP….\
You can pack your pages with images on facebook, and youtube, and twitter sites. You can try to keep them as positive as you can, but at some point, those images will come under review. Even your good ones. Every flaw, every point, every little directional turn that someone messed up on year-in, year-out, will be reviewed.
Critics are everywhere. Generally it is the least amongst us who take aim at those they perceive to be above them. Jealously? You bet. They can’t control the past, or the future. All they can do is stir the moment. As members of my own household would say, “if you see a pot of crazy, it is best not to stir it”.
There is always a lot of people trying out for the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance. I watched a couple of my friends in SLC try out a couple years ago. I have to say I’m guilty of wanting to watch them fall on their better ends. I told them I needed a good laugh. They had no real dance back ground other than recreational and a little drill. They had been pushed by their parents and “money motivated directors” all their lives. They never even performed a solo once in their dance history. Now they were going to try out for SYTYCD. I could of saved them a heart ache, but it was just too much fun not too. I’m guilty!
Together we laughed about it afterwards, and we are still friends – but I will never let them live it down. I think if you are going to try out for something at this level you really need to have a good sense of humor.
They tried to con me into it. It may have been fun to try out for SYTYCD. But that meant quitting school if I even got lucky to make a cut. I’m too ambitious in other directions. Those who know me, know I’m a competitor by heart, but I also know my limits, and expectations. Besides I get to watch my friends make fools of themselves. It was one of those college moments.
A Jazz kick line would be a much better choice if I was going to try out again for anything. That or follow in the foot steps of one of my mentors Amanda VanAsdole (former Denver Bronco Cheerleader). I would probably put in a few months of hard core training to get myself into shape first too ( Solo mode). I wouldn’t expect it to be easy. I wouldn’t expect SYTYCD to be easy either.
Teaching and judging is more a reality that I can live with. But then again, who knows. As an instructor I’m pretty keen on students learning proper technique. There needs to be a number of us die hards around who are going stick with it and train future students on how to get out of poe dunk, and actually try out for college teams or professional organizations. You aren’t going to learn technique by watching SYTYCD, you are going to have to get out there and learn the steps, take the classes, and try out.
It’s okay to dance at a recreational level. Thousands do it all the time, and they have just as much fun as the movie stars. So don’t be discouraged by it all. Some people really will land a career in the dance field. For others recreation gets them on a bus and to a game. Each person has their own goals. Follow your own.