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A Prescription for Students Who’ve Skipped the Basics

Posted Feb 01 2010 5:20am

Without a good overall (curriculum) plan, teachers may find themselves skipping around or getting ahead of their students’ skill level. The tell-tale symptom that this has occurred: You find yourself drilling the same movement over and over and over without much improvement.

If you are working with a group and finding that the students have missed some important information along the way, it is not too late to get back to basics and back on track. You can do so without making the students feel like they’ve been demoted to Dance 101. The approach to practicing the skill they are trying to master may just have to be a bit more creative than repeat, repeat, repeat, a process that only leads to frustration or injury.

Let’s say you are working on pirouettes. There isn’t any other way to practice a pirouette than to just do it… or is there? Well, in essence that is true but the prescription for faulty pirouettes is not to do fifty more of them. Instead, the teacher must get a bit sneaky: crush up the medicine and sneak it in with the rest of the students’ food. Here’s the process:

  1. What’s in a pirouette? Break the movement down into components
  2. Some will be obvious: A properly turned out retiré passé. Others may be more underlying: The use of the core to avoid spiraling in the pirouette. Make a physical, or at least mental, list of these components.

  3. Examine where in a class these elements can be practiced
  4. Add a balance in retiré to the end of one or more exercises in both barre and center; Have students do “log rolls” across the floor to create awareness of rotating without a spiral in the body. Find places to sprinkle your list of pirouette essentials throughout the entire class… throughout the week… throughout the term.

  5. When it comes time to practice pirouettes, look for quality not quantity. Address how the movement feels and look for imagery to apply whenever possible – be creative.
  6. Rise from a plié into a space that, like a jello mold, is shaped exactly like the your body is or should be in the turn; Imagine a string connecting the lifted knee to the opposite shoulder, as the knee leads the turn around, the opposite shoulder comes along.

Photo courtesy D Sharon Pruitt

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Sometimes in class the best practice is in fact just performing the skill. However, without a good working knowledge of a skill’s properties a dancer is doomed to repeating the same mistakes. Consider it preventative medicine to begin with a plan for how you’ll build toward more advanced steps and movements with students. Look for ways to work or improve the basics before asking students to “leap.” If you aren’t sure where to start I’ve outlined some of my ideas on developing curriculum and lesson planning in other posts.

Share your prescriptions in the comments!

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