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Issues in dance training

This is an excerpt from Motor Learning and Control for Dance by Donna Krasnow & Mary Virginia Wilmerding.

Knowledge of the sensory modalities gives dance educators and dancers a wealth of information about crafting dance training and practice. When teachers understand how motor control is strongly influenced by the extensive incoming sensory data, they can design and implement specific approaches to various skills. This section presents several examples, but teachers and dancers are encouraged to be creative and thoughtful in devising their own approaches.

Enhancing Use of the Senses

While the use of visual, auditory, and vestibular systems often occurs at the nonconscious level, researchers believe that people can develop cues and instruction to enhance the use of these systems. For example, dance teachers can discuss the concept of spatial awareness as part of training. Although open spaces and studios are less defined spatially than a stage with wings, dancers should learn to judge and modify stride length in preparation for various performance spaces. Teachers can encourage an awareness of the distance dancers travel in a given combination and how to adjust stride length to either increase or decrease traveling work. This skill is particularly important for dancers who present the same choreography in a variety of performance spaces. Similarly, teachers can encourage dancers to become aware of the subtle sounds of other dancers breathing to enhance group timing. Synchronization of breath timing can be especially helpful when working with no music, or with music that does not have a clear rhythmic beat, such as some contemporary scores. Finally, enlisting improvisations that encourage the head to be off the vertical in dynamic and traveling material can allow dancers to attend to unusual balancing situations. Bringing conscious attention to nonconscious sensory information can aid dancers in a fuller use of their sensory modalities in their dance practice.

Visual System

Several aspects of vision can be considered as part of training dancers. Peripheral vision is extremely important to dancers. They must be aware of the dancers and objects around them as well as precisely where they are in the performance space. If dancers regularly take class or practice without considering these elements, the transition to performance is difficult and can be overwhelming. Teachers can remind dancers to consider these aspects and become aware of the dancers around them even in simple center work combinations. The constant use of mirrors gives the impression that dancers are seeing the dancers around them, but it is illusory. Focus with mirrors uses central vision, and it actually weakens or reduces peripheral vision. At least some of the classes should be done with the mirrors covered or the dancers positioned to face a different direction.

While most dances use music for temporal cueing, dancers can also be trained to be sensitive to relying on visual prompts. Teachers and choreographers can remind dancers to see what is happening in the choreography at a specific point in the music, and sometimes choreographers want changes to occur using visual cues in the absence of musical cues. This strategy requires that dancers are seeing what is happening around them, attending to the surrounding environment, and at the same time concentrating on their own dancing.

Lifts that are done while one or both dancers are traveling in space are quite difficult. The dancers must integrate lifting techniques with the ability to determine time to contact. In other words, the two partners must calculate the exact point in space and time that they will meet to do the lift. Most beginners stop when they come together and then execute the lift. Experienced dancers make a smooth transition from the traveling steps into the lift. In training traveling lifts, the lift portion should be practiced first, then the traveling steps preceding the lift can be added as a second component.

Dancers enhance the vestibular and proprioceptive systems when the head is not upright and vision is compromised.
Dancers enhance the vestibular and proprioceptive systems when the head is not upright and vision is compromised.

Learn more about Motor Control and Learning for Dance.

More Excerpts From Motor Learning and Control for Dance