As teachers, we are the instrument that examines and questions each and every student in order to find and develop their inherent gifts; gifts that are converted in to usable skills hopefully allowing for each student to realise their dreams; whether dance based or not. Our students’ successes no matter how big or small are a reflection of our teaching abilities. We teach because we want to make people better. Our goals are our students goals. And being judged by the output of other people is an extremely daunting aspect of teaching. Because there is an element of uncertainty that at any moment that person will consciously or unconsciously stop applying the lessons we teach and fail the task at hand. Failure isn’t a bad thing. But, if it is consistent enough it may be seen as a reflection of our teaching, whether it is or isn’t.
One of the biggest predictors of success in a dancer is how well they apply corrections. Their stability, consistency and skill depend on it. Now what if I told you that it is our (teachers’) ability to give those corrections in a meaningful way that will determine whether a student receives that correction. That in order to have the intended outcome of actual change we must parlay our knowledge in a manner that will resonate with each individual dancer by educating them on their own facility.
It is amazing how often we believe we are helping our students but in reality we are doing absolutely nothing for them. Our intentions are so pure but it’s the delivery that is, in reality, frustrating our students and stopping them from enjoying the process. Because lets be honest, we all could teach, dance and learn for a lifetime and still never truly stop growing as dancers and as people. Thousands of “point your toes” and “stretch your knees” said during any given class. Is it helping? Will it make them actually point and stretch the way we want them too? The answer is an overwhelming no.
With many years and many opportunities I have learned how to help others learn. This is not an easy task. And, unfortunately, you cannot take a seminar or download a book in order to develop this skill. The first step to knowing how to teach to the individual is by teaching a wide array of unique people, with unique problems, that require unique solutions that will render unique outcomes. So, my first recommendation to being able to give a good correction is to expose yourself to as many different teaching situations as you can. And FYI, the really strong competition team is not the place to start. Try teaching 3 years olds after watching them all start crying in the lobby on the first day of class. Teach teenagers from a country town where very few if any training possibilities exist. Teach in a culture that believes a bad performance is based on voodoo magic. Explore classes for children with disabilities. Assist a class in a country where you do not speak the language. Learn to inspire students who are not physically fit enough to get off their knees without help. Teach a sick child who just had their arm amputated from cancer to embrace who they are and what they have to offer this world. I have had the privilege of being in all of these situations and many, many more. Try to give your knowledge to everyone you can in order to understand how different people, with different needs, respond to different teaching techniques. These children will teach you more about yourself then you could ever imagine and it will truly start you on the road to being a purposeful educator.
Now that you feel comfortable teaching beginners, it’s time to let you in on a little secret: children often figure most of it out themselves if you give them the right environment. I wonder how many of you looked at the page and thought “is this girl for real?” Yeah, I am. I’m not saying to show up to class and say “ok, jete..and go.” What I am saying is that every step you teach will have a multitude of things wrong with it the first time your students try it. So simply let them try it. By “letting them try it” without corrections you are teaching them that trying something new can be a moment of self discovery instead of something you get right or wrong. Once the students are comfortable with the step, preparation or movement I give them 3 tries before I give any corrections. It is amazing how they figure out some very important techniques simply by being given the chance to listen to their own bodies. This is so crucial when developing a mindset that is motivation driven instead of fear based.
It is amazing what a fearless group of students can achieve. Being fearless means that they will attempt skills with maximum effort. Only when a student is performing their steps with 100% of their energy can you truly begin to correct them. Why is this the case? Because the steps never reach their full potential and the corrections thus become another form of re-teaching. Let’s think about a pirouette and how the results of that pirouette and their corrections will change based on effort. Before they begin pirouettes they learn how to balance, find their retire, rise on a straight leg, spot, arm placement, hip placement, alignment, appropriate use of the floor and the direction to send their energy. Think of any one of those technical components on a dancer who is giving their all as opposed to a dancer who is not trying. If the retire, for example, reaches its full potential you will be able to correct them on things like speed of the leg or educate them on reading their body based on the direction they fall in. However, on a student who is not trying, what is most likely going to be your first correction? You guessed it; find your retire. And there you are, re-teaching instead of correcting. So to avoid this very frustrating situation of re-teaching, teachers make sure you have prepared your students mentally to give their all every single class.
Great! Your students are showing up week after week giving you their all. The next step in the correction process is to help them realise the importance of returning week to week with the previous teachings. I do this in several ways:
1) Introduce choreographed warm-ups. By having a choreographed warm-up, each student can come in to class with an aspect of “knowing”. The power of “knowing” means you can confidently and intelligently build on it so that “knowing” becomes all encompassing. What do I man by that? Well, if the student doesn’t have to consistently look up or think about what is coming next then their mental energy can be focused on absorbing corrections. And with a choreographed warm-up there is consistent opportunity to apply those corrections in the exact same way, thus making them habit and thus actually correcting the student in a meaningful way. Because as I always say, you are only as good as your warm-up.
2) Choose no more than 3 corrections and work on those as a class. I feel like teachers often feel the need to prove how much they know by pointing out every tiny little thing they see wrong in a dancer. At no point can a human absorb, apply and correct their technical errors by being bombarded with a multitude of corrections at one time. And since it is hard to remember as a teacher what each individual is working on all the time, I choose 3 very important and widely seen technical mistakes and work on them as a team. This way you build all your dancers up to the same standard and allow them to truly master each aspect of their dance journey.
3) Don’t let it slide no matter how frustrated you get. As teachers, we all reach a point where we feel some students just aren’t getting it. So often teachers simply move on and say they will address it later. But, since I feel that this skill is so important I make sure that is felt by everyone in my classes. Even if one person is getting something wrong, we all stop and try again. This process is done until everyone gets it right. And as the more capable students in that situation get frustrated I often tell them that this is equally as valuable for them as it is for the person who is still trying to get it. How? Well firstly, they are seeing first hand my commitment to repetition, its importance and how much it helps. Then they begin to understand how their bodes respond to learning new things and how quickly they are able to produce the intended results. And most importantly they see that dance is mostly a team sport that requires everyone to be in touch with each other and their learning processes.
4) Visualisation is key. I really don’t love the idea of physically practicing at home. Unless they are a professional with a solid technical foundation, students are more likely to create bad habits rather than good ones while devoid of watchful instruction. So, what I do do is teach the students how to visualise their intended outcomes, routines or exercises. It is amazing how even in their head students will make the same mistakes they would physically; so visualising the correction means you are mentally studying it in order to be able to recall it when needed. Recall becomes a component of self correction, which I am sure I could write a book on.
The only way to truly move forward in dance is to make sure you carry the lessons of the past, apply them and never forget them.
It is so incredible how good I feel knowing students are remembering their lessons from week to week. Now, the hands on, individual based corrections are ready to be received. At this point its important to decide whether the student requires a correction or needs further basic training. This is a critical component that will determine your effectiveness as a teacher. If a teacher sees a student in a jete and their front leg is low, initially many might think to correct them on their leg. But how is telling them their leg is low really helping? Unfortunately it is not. Let’s look at the actual corrections that will raise that leg:
- Lengthening the hamstrings
- If the student arches forward in their split on the floor, then a teacher will have to correct the alignment of the body in the split to allow for the leg to be lifted in the air.
- Understanding the concept of lifting the thigh and pointing the knee in the direction the dancer would like to extend the leg.
- Possible lack of plie which is preventing the student from jumping high enough.
- If they are sending their energy out instead of up then they need to be retaught touch points and how to direct their energy to the desired touch points.
As we can see, none of these corrections involve lifting the front jete leg higher. So this step really is the problem solving step teachers need to include, if they haven’t already, to ensure they are solving the correction problem instead of saying meaningless words that do not translate in to actual change.
I have a 3 class rule. If a student cannot achieve a useable skill in 3 classes than they are simply not ready and I need to go back to the multitude of progressions I have taught and understand where they are going wrong. My definition of a useable skill is a skill that can be performed 5 times in a row, technically correct and to various tempos. So to avoid injury, frustration and bad habits please stop teaching skills that they are clearly not ready for.
There are so many things I can share regarding this topic so I will leave it at that for today. It is important to learn when it is too much or not enough. That students can receive training that will elevate them as long as you have elevated their minds first. Do not be afraid to be honest. Embrace all of their quirks. Remember that every class you teach should teach you something back.
LIVE LOVE DANCE