Technique – Dance Advantage Solutions For All Stages Of Your Dance Life Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:00:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tips To Improve Your Split Leaps Mon, 29 Feb 2016 15:30:09 +0000 What better day to work on improving your "split leaps" than Leap Day? Here are 10 tips to help dancers soar every day of the year.]]>

Happy Leap Day!

IMAGE Dancer Ashley Whitehead leaping on the docks of Coal Harbour, Vancouver, B.C. on a sunny day. IMAGE
©Photo courtesy Jim Markland Rowbotham | Dancer: Ashley Whitehead, Coal Harbour, Vancouver, B.C.


There’s no better day of the year (or at least every fourth year) to work on improving your “split leaps,” like grand jeté and saut de chat. So prepare to propel yourself to new heights with these 10 essential pointers:


Build momentum in your preparation. Your preparatory steps (like a run, glissade, or chassé) should be light and lifted.

Take flight with a strong push from plié. Heel, ball, toe is super important for power and for and a pretty pointe.

Split quick and and split hard. Timing is everything in a good leap, the legs should shoot out at almost the same time.

Get your torso over your hips. Leaning too far forward reduces your height but leaning too far back holds you back.

Know what you want your leap to look like. Should it burst or dart or float effortlessly? You need to be able to picture what your jeté or saut de chat will look like mid-air so that you can adjust and direct your flow of energy accordingly.

Take a deep breath. Doing so at the peak of your arc can make it seem like you’re soaring.

Don’t tense up. Your arms especially should travel smoothly and softly through specific positions (usually from a classical 1st) rather than go stiff or flail around.

Stretch. If you can’t achieve a split on the ground, it’s unlikely you’ll achieve it in the air.

But don’t stretch too much. Flexibility is important but there’s more to it. You need strength and lots of control too. Good core strength and alignment is critical.

Stay lifted on the landing. Avoid collapsing on touchdown. All together now… core and alignment!


Switch it up

Ok, so what about switch leaps? The same tips apply really but here are a few more specific to a jeté that changes legs mid-air:

Focus more on the “second” split. The first leg is thrown relatively low (especially when you’re first learning) – the second split is the one with all the power.

It’s all in the timing. Your working leg has to move fast to get from the front to back. Practice the switch with a just hop first. When you’ve got the timing add the battement of the second leg. Remember, when the leg is extended front, your second leg is still under you and you’re in the air, as the leg switches the hopping leg thrusts up, hitting the split at the same time as the initiating leg.


We hope these tips will help you soar every day of the year! Do you have more leaping advice?

Share it in the comments!


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Contemporary Dance Technique: Spiral Roll Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:30:56 +0000 Spiral rolls are a smooth and safe way to get to the floor in contemporary dance technique. In our post, this roll to the floor is broken down with a list of fundamentals to practice and common mistakes to avoid.]]>

There are hundreds of ways to “fall” (i.e. get to the floor) in modern or contemporary dance techniques and choreography. One of the most basic and frequently performed, however, is a controlled spiral to the floor.

"spiral" by Martin Fisch is licensed CC BY SA 2.0
“spiral” by Martin Fisch is licensed CC BY SA 2.0

I teach this spiral, tuck and roll movement all the time in my own modern dance classes because even first-time dancers pick it up quickly with proper introduction and because it is a “safe” and controlled way to quickly and smoothly get to the floor.

Oddly, I’ve found its explanation has been neglected online… until now! For beginners or those new to floor work in dance, I’ll break down and help you troubleshoot this spiraling roll to the floor.

The Spiral Roll

To keep things simple, I call the movement I’m about to explain a “spiral roll”. Contemporary dance terminology is often inconsistent so if this movement has an alternative name in your corner of the dance world, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

A spiral roll…

  • Begins with a lunge to the front or side.
  • This is followed by a spiral of the torso initiating from the pelvis…
  • That causes the back (non-lunging) leg to “tuck,” or rotate inward and fold…
  • Which brings the dancer to the floor in a seated roll over the posterior (backside) pelvis or sacrum…
  • During which the head and knees come close together and the legs “unwind”…
  • And allow the dancer to continue in any number of ways, including to spiral upward in another rotation or simply stand with weight on the opposite foot.

For beginners practicing this roll, I often use the ascending spiral to set my students up to repeat another lunge, spiral, and roll. This can be done over and over across the floor if the dancer completes one more rotation as s/he stands and then leads with the same lunging leg each time. When crossing from the other side, I have students lead with the other leg. Here’s a quick montage of a student demonstrating spiral roll repetitions:



In the class exercise by Lorienne Beals below, you can get a good look at the inward rotation of the back leg that folds the legs. The spiral action in this example does not continue – the dancer just rises to a standing position.



Fundamentals First

As with almost any dance step, this one can be broken down to its most fundamental movements and practiced for better understanding.

There are students who innately understand the spiral roll even if they’ve never seen or done it before. If you are struggling with any part of the spiral roll feel free to try the following elemental movements on your own or with guidance from your teacher:

Spiraling the torso

Seated – A familiar way to practice spiraling is with a seated twist. We see variations of such spirals often in yoga practice. Twists, or spirals are a great addition to any warm-up.

half twist yoga

Lying down – Human beings first practice spiraling lying down. Infants, yet unable to walk but whose vision and grasp have greatly improved since birth, begin to reach for nearby objects. Their head turns toward the eyes, the opposite fingers reach toward the object, and suddenly a baby rolls over for the first of many times. These contralateral spiraling movements are reproduced in Bartenieff’s fundamental exercises and are very useful to the modern dancer.

Standing – The standing spiral is most directly related to the spiral roll. In a wide second position, starting with one hip, begin a spiraling motion that twists the torso sequentially through to the cervical spine and includes the visual focus. The initiating hip causes the same leg to inwardly rotate. Observing this feeling of spiral while stationary will be key in helping dancers understand the direction and initiation of the roll.

Head-Tail Connection

The relationship between the distal ends of the spine is also elemental in this roll. Dancers can learn to establish this connection by practicing flexion and extension of the spine.

On the knees – Some teachers use animal imagery to help children fine their head-tail connection. Looking at the belly button while arching the back might be a cat or a camel. Sinking the belly button toward the floor while the head and tail reach to the sky could be a puppy or a cow.

 (c) rognar Stock Photography

(c) rognar Stock Photography

Standing  –  Dancers can also practice this head-tail connection while standing.

Common mistakes

As I’ve noted, for some students the mechanics of this roll come easily. For others, there are common mistakes made when a beginner tries a spiral roll for the first time. Below are the ones I see most frequently.

Landing on the knee. As you fold the legs under you, avoid coming down on the knee as you would in a kneel. Instead, aim for the side of knee/lower thigh. How to correct it: Practice the standing spiral and remember that feeling of crossing in the upper, inner thighs.

Spiraling to the toes. Beginners sometimes start their twist in the upper body instead of initiating with the hip. The legs do not fold correctly and the dancer crouches and tries to spin on the toes instead of bringing the pelvis to the floor. How to correct it: Practice the standing spiral and focus on the hip initiation. Do it each time with a wider stance that brings you closer to the ground – you’ll see, you don’t need to involve the feet.

Keeping the spine erect.  Many beginners understand the spiral that gets them to the floor but they forget to curve the spine. The spiral roll flows more smoothly if you create a ball-like shape with your body.  How to correct it: Practice bringing the head and the tail closer together as soon the spiral and folding of the legs begins – don’t wait until you are already sitting on the floor to think about the spine.

Not following through. Transitioning from this roll can be the most challenging part for beginners. Don’t “pull the plug” as soon as the roll is complete. How to correct it: Follow through with the momentum and direction you’ve established from the beginning to flow into whatever is next. Once you’ve got the spiral roll itself, practice it with special focus on how you unfold – if possible, continue the spiral or rotation and concentrate on uncoiling the spine.


Hopefully this breakdown helps you master the spiral roll. If you missed it, we’ve also covered another fundamental contemporary dance movement, the spinal roll-down, as well as other steps and basic technique.

What are some others you’d like to see broken down?

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Our Top Ten Pirouette Tips Tue, 04 Nov 2014 18:47:25 +0000 We believe there is no such thing as too much turning advice. Here are even more ways to perfect your pirouettes.]]>

There’s no such thing as too much advice when it comes to turning and pirouettes.

That’s probably why we’ve given you plenty of pirouette tips in the past.

Still looking for more ways to polish your ballet pirouettes? Try these technique tips.

©Will Brenner Photography "Visualize a pirouette that is perfection"
©Will Brenner Photography
“Visualize a pirouette that is perfection”

An Ounce of Preparation

A lot of the prep work for pirouettes happens long before you even try one. Strengthen your core, balance on one leg, build stronger ankles and feet for a quality relevé, and learn to maintain your turnout and center during barre exercises.

Nix Nervousness

Reign in any tendency to panic just before lift-off. Visualize a pirouette that is perfection and have confidence in all that preparation you’ve done.

Hip Down, Legs Stretched

A lifted hip will throw off your pirouette, as will a bent supporting leg. Many dancers think of lifting the thigh to the retiré position. Instead, think of lifting your foot to the knee to keep the hip down. Meanwhile, make sure your standing knee is completely straightened.

Drill, Don’t Twist

As you turn, think of drilling your supporting leg into the floor like a screw. Do not twist through the torso, though. The shoulders should stay stacked directly over the hips.

Make it Look Easy

There are things you can physically do to give your turns an effortless quality. Be sure to lift your foot quickly to the retiré position, and rise immediately to a high relevé but, take some time to fully close the arms into first position. Also exhale as you turn.

Whip it Good

Spotting the head is super important to your turns. The whip of the head and focus of the eyes which precedes the body, helps to prevent dizziness. [Years of training plays a part too.] Plus, your head is dense (that’s not a joke about your intelligence) and can add force to multiple turns.

Have a Ball

The ribs and arms in first position have a strong connection in a good pirouette. Think of wrapping your arms around a large beach ball and giving it a little squeeze as you turn. This tends to activate the back muscles, bring the ribs into proper alignment, and gives energy to the arms.

Relax and Float

Tension is the enemy of turning so don’t confuse strength with tension. You’ll want to gather and energetically launch a store of energy as you begin your pirouette but once you’ve released the turn, the goal is to relax and float around.

Land with a Little Lift

Just before finishing your turn, lift just a little. bit. more. Do not lift your shoulders. This kind of lift is an inward and upward lengthening of the torso that will give a graceful finish to your pirouette.

Pirouettes on Repeat

Pirouettes aren’t perfected by dreaming about them. Mastery and artistry comes with repetition, so practice these turns daily.

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Alignment: Love Your Legs Tue, 09 Sep 2014 13:54:14 +0000 Last time, contributor, Laurel Foley helped us take a trip around the torso. This post covers leg alignment basics to help you improve technique, dance more efficiently and prevent injury.]]>

“Knees over your your toes”

“Lift your arch”

“Turn out from the hip”

“Don’t curl your toes when you pointe.”

These are corrections we often hear only in ballet class, but these key principles of alignment will help prevent dancers from getting injured in any class.

Many times dancers dismiss the alignment of their legs when learning new choreography, or tackling a new style of dance. While they might not get injured right away, sloppy leg work will drastically increase injury risk. On the other hand, properly aligned legs will keep them dancing longer and stronger.


When correcting alignment it is best to begin with the hips. To assess proper positioning of the hips, have the dancer stand in a shallow first position and look at where the hip bones (more specifically the anterior superior iliac spine) are in relationship to the pubic bone. Ideally, the hip bones and pubic bone are in the same frontal plane.

(See my earlier article, A Trip Around the Torso.)

Anterior tilt of pelvis
Anterior tilt

This “neutral” position is the safest to work from. If the hip bones are forward of the pubic bone the hips are in an anterior tilt. Usually, in this position, the dancers’ lower back is arched. If the pubic bone is forward of the hip bones then the hips are in a posterior tilt, or “tucked under.” In classes where external rotation of the legs is required, all of the rotation must come from the hip joint. There should be no turn out at the knee or ankle joints. Whatever the amount of turn out needed the neutral position of the hip must be maintained.


A great place to check the knee alignment is during plies. When the dancer bends her/his knee, the knee cap should be pointing the same direction the toes. If it is not, then instruct the dancer to bring the toes in until they match the direction of the knee cap.

I know that many dancers want to be hyperextended at the knee, and I’ll admit it does make a beautiful line. It is, unfortunately, an incredibly unstable and dangerous position accentuating internal rotation at the knee joint. When a knee straightens and locks into position, the femur rotates slightly on the tibia. Hyperextended knees rock deeper into that locked position, accentuating the internal rotation of the leg and straining the ligaments.

Hyperextension at the knee can also pull the hips into an anterior tilt, which will in turn, put the low back at risk for injury. Encourage dancers to work from a “true straight” position, where the knees are straight, but not bent back into hyperextension.

To find this position, have the dancer sit on the floor, with their legs extended out in front of the torso. First cue the dancer to straighten their legs and see if they can get their heels off the floor, this is a hyperextended position. Next have them soften the knees until the heels rest on the floor. This is a “true straight” position.

Trying to work in a true straight is very challenging and the dancer will feel wobbly for a while, but it is worth the work to have strong legs.


Sickling on Demi Pointe
A sickled demi pointe

While standing with the foot flat on the floor, cue dancers to lift their arches. This helps release the locking mechanism in back of the knees and will help find a strong position for the knees to rest in. On relevé, weight should be centered over the first two toes. Beginning dancers, and dancers with a shallow pointe often place more weight on the pinky toes. Encourage them to put more weight on their big toes. This will help strengthen the muscles on the outside of the ankle, and guard against ankle sprain.

All toes should be straight, and lengthened out on the floor. Working with your toes straight not only encourages proper articulation, but also helps develop a healthy pointe, so that if the student begins pointe work they are not plagued with blisters.

After proper alignment of the leg and torso have been established, bring the dancers weight forward over their toes. This is a slight hinge at the ankle, with all of the alignment principles remaining in tact. Heels should not lift up off the ground in a standing position, unless the dancer is executing a step that requires it.

One of my teachers in college, Rochelle Zide-Booth, used to tell us that our foot was attached to the floor by two nails on the ball of the foot, and a thumbtack at the heel. In this position the dancer is ready to relevé, leap, flap, or pirouette with minimal injury risk.

Laurel FoleyLaurel Foley has been dancing for over 20 years, she earned her BA in Dance Pedagogy from Butler University. She currently teaches ballet and children’s dance at Style Dance Academy in Franklin, IN and is enrolled in the BASI Pilates teacher training program

Multiple Pirouettes – Slow Motion Reveals A Favorite “Cheat” Tue, 01 Jul 2014 14:15:42 +0000 Want to know the secret "cheat" all the greats use to perform multiple pirouettes? Nathan Prevost shares this and more great tips in his first guest post at Dance Advantage.]]>

As a young scholarship student at the San Francisco Ballet, I and the other boys would have late night pirouette contests:

Put your dollars in the pot, put either a piece of cardboard or newspaper under your ballet shoe so the Marley floor wouldn’t grip so hard and turn ’til you hit the floor…

We were allowed one hop but no heel drops. Winner take all.

I never won.

Performing Multiple PirouettesI did however get one hell of a pirouette education as far as what worked and what didn’t.

At least 3 of those boys went on to dance with ABT, NYC Ballet, Mexican National Ballet, you name it.

I haven’t done so badly myself.

My personal best was 11 pirouettes and I could always easily achieve  5 to 7 on stage depending on the conditions, and this was before we had video reference to help out.

Here’s the deal: every dancer’s body is different, some are tall, some small, some have a nagging foot problem, some have 4 pounds of pony tail to contend with. What every dancer needs to find is what works for them and their particular body type/shape etc. there is not only one way to turn!

Practice makes… The desire to practice more so I can get it right!

My Favorite “Cheat”

Within the “confines” of the aesthetics and injury prevention aspects of technique we can discover tiny tricks, “cheats” if you will, to make our physical form get around 1, 2, maybe even 3 or 4 more times. My favorite “cheat” that I have been using for years is to add my extra turns at the beginning of my turn sequence instead of trying to squeeze them out at the end.

Here’s why:

If you use enough force for 14 pirouettes at the very beginning of your turns, hit a static position for your turns and try to control that and make it look good, you will always look tight, muscle bound, awkward and you will almost invariably have to hop or adjust your supporting foot to accommodate that extra force.

So #1, try and have a clear idea as to how many turns you are trying for.

Let’s say it’s six for the sake of the lesson. Use enough force for six pirouettes (again this is where practice comes in handy) the average dancer can handle the physical stress of the force for six pirouettes without losing it.

Then, simply take two or three rotations to get into your first pirouette…

3 plus 6 will always be 9.

Odd concept, I know, but watch all the greats: Baryshnikov, Bujones, Acosta, Bolle, Gouneo. Down the line they all do the same thing, they don’t achieve their proper pirouette position until sometime in their fifth, sixth or seventh rotation.

Finally, find what trick works for YOUR body type to finish cleanly and you’ve got something.

Weights and Sound Effects

A great training aid I’ve used for years is holding some kind of weight in your hands as you are turning (water bottle, soda can, baseball mitt etc.) it’s easier to feel the momentum and understand the difference between turning or spinning and actually pirouetting.

The sound effect will change for you too: if you are spinning you’ll feel like its a ‘whzwhzwhz’ or ‘bipbipbip’ kind of feeling.

When pirouetting in the true sense it feels more like a ‘FOOM FOOM FOOOM’ or ‘WHHOOSH WHOOSH WHOOSH’ .

You’ll know it when you get it.

Nathan Prevost - dancer, choreographer, teacherNathan Prevost Has been a dance professional for more than 35 years, teaching, choreographing, performing, producing and directing. Nathan has appeared in more than 30 films, numerous T.V. Shows, dozens of commercials and music videos, has danced with 5 ballet or contemporary companies and toured the world with Paula Abdul, Reba McIntyre and others. He is based in Hollywood Ca. And teaches at the legendary Hama Dance center. He is the owner of and was co-founder of Dancers’ Alliance, (  Nathan is also a certified golf teaching professional, cinematographer, set designer and builder, lighting designer, gaffer, steadicam operator and in his luckiest moments a husband to his beautiful wife Magda.

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Alignment: A Trip Around The Torso Tue, 10 Jun 2014 14:15:58 +0000 Proper alignment of the body is at the base of all good dance technique. Take this trip around the torso as a refresher for you or your dance students on how to assess and correct placement.]]>

Beneath the layers of all dance styles and aesthetic is a dancer’s technique and alignment. Without that base, dancers are at risk for injury. As dance teachers, you instruct and correct dancers on proper alignment to keep your dance students healthy.

Photo of a dancer from the back, stretching at the barre
©Ashlée Perreault

If you need a refresher or would like to direct your dance students to a convenient, straightforward guide to alignment, come along on this trip around the torso:

Alignment of the Pelvis

When correcting torso alignment I begin with the hips. To assess proper positioning of the hips, have the dancer stand in first position and look at where the dancers hip bones (more specifically the anterior superior iliac spine) are in relationship to the pubic bone.

Aligned PelvisIdeally, the hip bones and pubic bone are in the same frontal plane. This “neutral” position is the safest to work from. If the hip bones are forward of the pubic bone, the hips are in an anterior tilt. Usually, in this position, the dancers lower back is arched or swayed, affecting turnout and leg alignment. If the pubic bone is forward of the hip bones the hips are in a posterior tilt, or “tucked under.” Frequently, if the dancer has scoliosis, the hips are tilted laterally (from side to side).

Alignment of the Head and Spine

Thoracic Spine AnatomyThe spine has several natural curves that help the body absorb shock and allow movement in a wide range of motion. Never strive for a completely flat back; instead, help your dancers find their individual best spinal position.

When observing your students from the side, first check that their hips are in a neutral position. Then, adjust the position of the spine from the top down. Ears should be in line with the shoulders, and shoulders are over the greater trochanter of the femur (top of the thigh bone). The resulting spinal position may be slightly curved, but these are the natural curves your dancer needs to be safe.

Most students get into bad postural habits during their daily lives that carry over into dance classes. Spending several hours hunched over a computer will train a student’s body to rest in a hunchbacked position. Remind students to carry their dance posture into their daily lives so that they are practicing good habits all day long.

More on the spine and its alignment in The Stem of Aplomb series.

Supporting Alignment with the Abdominals

There are four layers to the abdominal wall. The most superficial is the rectus abdominus, or 6-pack. This is responsible for trunk flexion (bending the body forward). Next are the obliques, the muscles that twist the body at the waist. These also help with trunk flexion.

The deepest layer is the transverse abdominus. This is the muscle that “holds your lunch in” as I like to say. The transverse is also responsible for creating the intra-abdominal pressure that supports your spine.

Although each layer of the abdominal wall has it’s own specific task, it is most effective to use all of the layers together. For instance, during a circular port de bras, the abdominal muscles working to move the body are the obliques and rectus abdominis. However, if you neglect to use your transverse, then you will lose the desirable lifted look. You give the impression of flopping or rolling your torso around rather than gliding it effortlessly in a circular motion.

This is why it is so important that we remind our students to support with their core throughout class.

Alignment of the Rib Cage and Shoulders

It is important that we keep the front of the rib cage “knit together” so that it’s movements do not compromise the position of the spine. Allow adjustments for breath and the movement of the spine. However, the rib cage should follow the movement of the spine, not lead the movement of the spine.

Remind students to open their collarbones and glide their shoulders down. This places the shoulder joint in an open position that allows for movement of the arms in a wide range of motion without affecting the carriage of the shoulders, ribcage, or spine. This placement of the shoulders, and resulting dissociation of the arms from the body, is crucial to proper arm carriage and use.

Although the following guidelines apply to all dancers and all forms of dance, take into account that all bodies are different.

Individual flexibility, muscle imbalances, and physical habits contribute to how a dancer holds his/her body and applies corrections. Some dancers will be able to fix things right away and others may spend months stretching and conditioning in order to be able to make the smallest of adjustments.

Laurel FoleyLaurel Foley has been dancing for over 20 years, she earned her BA in Dance Pedagogy from Butler University. She currently teaches ballet and children’s dance at Style Dance Academy in Franklin, IN and is enrolled in the BASI Pilates teacher training program

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Imitate What You See On YouTube… The Right Way Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:05:07 +0000 Stop! Before you try that new dance move you saw on YouTube or SYTYCD. How can you imitate what you see more safely? Guest, Laurel Foley, breaks it down for us.]]>

Have you ever been tempted to try out some of the choreography from So You Think You Can Dance? What about a new step you saw on Youtube? You should. 

Keep your technique when copying new dance movesThe only problem with tackling something from Youtube, or another video source, is you are learning by sight (as opposed to being teacher-guided through movements) and increase your risk for injury. Many times we as dancers focus on completing the movement, but we don’t always remember to apply the principles of proper technique, and without proper technique… well, your dancing career will be short.

Sustainability comes through applied technique. 

I recommend a simple process for tackling new dance steps. First, break the puzzle into pieces, then apply the proper technique, last, put the puzzle back together.

Breaking the Choreography Puzzle into Pieces

Watch the video a few times and become familiar with the general idea of the step. Are we jumping? Rolling? Turning? All of the above?

After you have the general idea, break it down further into recognizable pieces. Find the sautés, rond de jambes, retirés etc. The pieces may not look like something straight out of a technique class, but you’ll be able to find similarities. The rond de jambe might be turned in, or the sauté might end in a roll to the floor.

Now mark it a couple of times to get the general feel into your body.

Apply Good Dance Technique

Once you have a sequence of recognizable pieces go “back to class.” You know what a good rond de jambe looks and feels like, and you know that in executing one you should be supporting with your abdominal wall, lifting up out of the supporting leg, pointing your foot and lengthening through the knee.

Apply your class knowledge to all of the pieces in this manner. Correct each piece as you come to it. It’s a great idea to get your iPhone out and record yourself, at the very least have a friend with a critical eye watch you. Are you doing anything that will hurt your body? Double check your alignment and core support.

Anytime we try something new, we contact muscles in new sequences. You need to make sure that you aren’t hurting yourself or building bad habits in your body early in the learning process, before you have done it fifty times and demonstrated for all of your BFF’s at school.

Put it all Together

Once that you have a set of beautiful, technically sound pieces, put them back together. If the sequence is not perfect right away, that’s ok. Better to work on a step or phrase of choreography for a few weeks and be able to execute it safely and beautifully, than force your body to stumble through it right away and sprain your ankle in the process.

There is no shame in putting time and effort into new choreography. It shows dedication. You might get the first movements together and spend a week or two working through the middle of the sequence, then you can do the whole thing.

We live in a wonderful world where everyone has video capabilities in their pocket. We can share new choreography with the world instantly, perpetuating both our art and our creative process in a way that is light years beyond anything our ancestors could have done.

Methods of recording movement were almost non-existent until moving pictures entered the scene in the late 1880’s, so choreography had to be passed on directly from master to student.

While easier, faster sharing allows our generation to keep dance alive and thriving, keep in mind, not everyone on Youtube is perfect; shocking I know.

If you see someone executing a really cool step without sound technique, don’t go “jumping off that bridge.” You know better.

He or she might be getting through the sequence, but they’re going to injure themselves eventually. Let’s not do that.

Sustainability comes through applied technique.

Laurel FoleyLaurel Foley has been dancing for over 20 years, she earned her BA in Dance Pedagogy from Butler University. She currently teaches ballet and children’s dance at Style Dance Academy in Franklin, IN and is enrolled in the BASI Pilates teacher training program

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Contemporary Dance Technique: The Spinal Roll-Down Tue, 08 Apr 2014 17:52:06 +0000 Though it's a fundamental part of most contemporary dance warm-ups, the basic roll-down of the spine doesn't get a ton of attention in the how-to department. We address the common mistakes dancers make and how to fix them.]]>

Rolling down the spine is typically one of the first movements you do in a contemporary dance class. 

Dancers like this move. It “chases away the crunchiness.” Anything that comes before even a plié in your warm-up deserves a little attention, right? We think so, too!

Photo: Do the Pilates Roll Down
Photo courtesy WikiHow. Original post: Do the Pilates Roll-Down Exercise

Rolling Down the Spine

The Roll Down is a gradual, forward (or sagittal) flexing of the spine. It’s a preferred warm-up exercise, not only for dancers, but actors and vocalists as well because it gently encourages blood flow and helps to release tension in the whole body.

The Roll-Down is also not as easy as it looks!

Here, we’ll take it bit by bit, giving you pointers and common pitfalls of this fundamental movement.

Break-down of the Roll-Down

The roll-down is often performed in parallel positions but can be practiced with turnout of the legs also.

Either way, begin in a well-aligned stance with your weight evenly distributed over the feet.

Beginning with the head, which will drop forward with your chin toward the chest, start flexing the spine “one vertebrae at a time”.

Sequentially release the shoulders forward, followed by the upper and middle back.

As the head lowers toward the ground, the hips will gradually release to counterbalance the hanging torso and allow the dancer to stretch the back of the legs and lumbar spine (lower back).

This movement can be reversed to bring you back to an upright stance with either a plié or straight legs. (The latter places some strain on the lower back and may be more difficult for beginning or less-flexible dancers).

The head will be the last thing to return to its original placement.

Common Mistakes When Rolling Down


Dancers new to this movement are most likely to tense their arms, neck, and bottom, but even more experienced dancers sometimes need to be reminded to use only the muscles they need and none of the ones they don’t.

How to fix it:

Sometimes it helps to wiggle, bounce, or “rag-doll” a little before starting your roll-down to remind the body to relax.

I often cue my students with imagery during the movement. A favorite:

“Pretend there is sand pouring from your fingertips, the top of your head, your tailbone forming little mountains of sand between your feet and in front of your toes.”

Before they rise, I may use the sand image again, encouraging them to draw little circles and swirls with sand still pouring from these locations.

Sometimes I visit with a student as they roll down the spine, lightly jostling their arms or reminding them to let go of the head, but you can do these things for yourself, too.

Remember to support the movement with your core (center: abdominal muscles, back, pelvic floor). More on this in a moment.

Releasing Hips Too Early

During a roll-down, the hips and pelvis should stay pretty much where they started for as long as possible.

A common mistake is to almost immediately activate the hip flexors as the upper body bends forward. Though the head and shoulders may be rounded forward, this creates a flattened lower back with little spine articulation.

That doesn’t mean you should clench the buttocks to keep the pelvis securely in place, though. This habit is often a source of tension both around the hips, and in the neck and shoulders.

What to do instead:

Remember to support the movement with your core. Do I sound like a broken record? Phyically, core engagement is what you need to do to keep the pelvis aligned while the torso peels away from vertical.

Mentally, it may help to visualize the tailbone pointing down between the heels rather than to the wall behind, as it would in a flat back.

I also think of “rooting” myself straight down into the ground as my torso grows upward and hangs over like the vines of a weeping willow tree. This image gives a nice sense of opposing, vertical forces.

Excess Shifting of Weight

The habit of transferring most of your body weight over the heels is very often related to the early backward shift of the pelvis. In this case, it may help to imagine (or to place) a wall close behind you – not directly behind, as this does not allow for any counterbalance. This brings me to….

The mistake some dancers make: keeping their weight too far forward over the toes.

Be careful of overcompensating when your teacher says “stay out of your heels.” Pushing your weight too far forward may result in crunching or gripping with your toes (a habit that can cause overuse or chronic injuries in the plantar muscles or fascia (sole, or arch) of the foot.

Ideally, your weight will be evenly distributed over the tripod of the foot.

Not Engaging the Core

If you haven’t figured this out by now, I’ll tell you again. It is crucial that the roll-down movement has core support.

Lack of core support is often why other parts of the body tense and is a very common mistake in this and other movements because the concept of engaging the core is built from first, awareness, then practice… lots of practice.

Visualizing the Roll-Down

Dancers respond well to imagery – use your imagination to support the mechanics and quality of your movements.

If you are a young or inexperienced dancer, you may tend to focus more on the way a movement looks. A spinal roll-down may just look like a forward bending of the body. If you focus only on the bending over part, you are missing some important elements in this fundamental movement and you could be getting corrected a lot.

Next time you roll down the spine in a standing position, try to “see” the curling of a strip of paper as you roll a pencil down its length. Imagine how it curls in on itself as the lower portion hangs downward.

Try out the sand images above.

Feel fingers inching down your back from vertebrae to vertebrae as you slowly release the body forward.

Picture the way a fountain of water flows gracefully upward before cascading back to the earth.

What other images are helpful to you?

The spinal roll-down is dramatically under-covered in online how-to. Maybe it’s thought of as too basic, but this warm-up movement is more complex than it appears. It engages all kinds of muscles and encourages a dance student’s awareness of body mechanics. I’ve seen plenty of poorly executed roll-downs in my time as a teacher, so I hope this article has helped you.

If it has, leave a comment below.

Don’t be shy! Add  your questions, too. We’d love to hear from you.

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7 Pointers for Your First Partnering Experiences Tue, 18 Jun 2013 15:00:57 +0000 Elizabeth Sullivan of The Dancer's Toolkit prepares you for summer intensives and what may be your first partnering experience with great tips including how to communicate effectively with your partner and how to ask questions of your teachers.]]>

Partnering was my most favorite part of being a professional ballet dancer.

Partnering and Lifts - Boston Ballet Company
Photo by Tula Monstah

I loved working closely with my partners and feeling the progress in our ability to work together. The feeling of complete synchronicity onstage was sublime and having someone to interact with emotionally and dramatically was more fun for me than dancing alone- that interaction relaxed me, which helped my dancing.

But this came after years of experience with some truly great partners. My first few experiences in summer intensives were far from that: I didn’t know what I was doing, my partners didn’t know what they were doing, and the result was often a combination of embarrassment, confusion, and chaos. Not exactly a recipe for ultimate success!

But partnering gets easier than it seems in the beginning and this post aims to help both men and women go into the partnering experience with a clear idea of how to get the most out of it. The first thing to note is that it takes years of experience for men to become good partners, and for women to become easy to partner. So don’t be in a rush for perfection. Instead, approach partnering as a long-term project that will improve over time until one day, it seems almost like second nature.

Until then, here are a few tips that can help prepare you for the experience of partnering this summer:

Be Friendly

Introduce yourself to your partner and shake hands. This takes some of the awkwardness out of the experience. Both women and men are nervous about partnering- no one likes not knowing what to do or why! It’s okay to smile or laugh when things don’t go well and it can help put your partner at ease. You’re there to learn, so take a deep breath and put your pride behind you.

50% Technique & 50% Communication

Learning to communicate effectively with your partner is 50% of any successful partnership. When something doesn’t work, don’t blame your partner. Even if you think it’s his/her fault, blame results in frustrated or hurt feelings that help no one. Instead, start with a description of what you felt: “I felt like I was falling to the left” or “I felt too far away.” Then ask questions: “Did you feel that too?” or “Why do you think that happened?” Notice how the description starts with “I” statements- this is an important part of not placing blame on your partner. (As opposed to “You didn’t keep me on my leg” or “You were too far away.”) Once you both agree on what’s happening, you can start problem solving from an objective (and not emotional) perspective.

I was partnered in my first job by a really outstanding principal dancer who taught me about this way of communicating and it turned out to be one of the most important things I learned from him. By distancing myself emotionally, I was able to focus on solving the problem. As a result, I was an easy person to partner and I got paired up with all kinds of dancers. (P.S. Being a dancer that everyone wants to partner means you have more opportunities to dance!)


Small accidents happen a lot with young partners: a stray knee, a misguided grab. If you hurt your partner, be sure to apologize and make sure he/she is okay. Again, stay away from accusing statements, even if you think your partner was at fault.

Know the Combination

Gentlemen: if your teacher hasn’t been clear about hand placement, ask before the combination starts. Be sure you understand intellectually what you’re being asked to do. It might take your hands time to fully execute on that message, but if you aren’t even sure about it, then you’re bound to have a problem.

Ladies: Same thing: there is nothing more awful than not jumping when your partner thinks you’re going to or whipping your leg out of passé when he’s not expecting it. Be sure you understand the combination before you start so that no one gets hurt.

Ask Questions

Your teacher(s) will be ready for all of your questions about how to fix problems and tweak small issues. If you consistently have a problem with something, ask your teacher to watch. Rather than saying, “He/she is having trouble” try “We are having trouble.” When you’re in a partnership, you are working together, so until you both get it, neither of you do. In the beginning, with two partners who are inexperienced, sometimes you can’t problem solve alone- you’ll need the valuable input of a teacher.

Boston Ballet Company - partnering in the studio
Photo by Tula Monstah

Partner Everyone; Be Partnered by Everyone

Although certain body types and heights are more obvious matches than others, it’s a good idea to let yourself partner and be partnered by many different people rather than just one. Each partner I worked with taught me something different and had unique insight into how we worked together, even the ones who were considered “too short” for me. Eventually, your teachers will pair you up, so you might as well learn from as many people as you can before that happens!

Practice, Practice, Practice!

Partnering is one of those things you have to do in order to improve and summer intensives offer a great opportunity to practice a lot. Find someone you work well with, and keep trying out the combinations in class. Unless you are doing big lifts, which are tiring and require rests, keep attempting the promenades, pirouettes, and other less taxing combinations until you both feel comfortable. I remember rarely standing still during a partnering class: I was always trying things with whoever was game and wanted to practice.

Have fun!

If any of this has been helpful to you, we would love to hear about it!

Elizabeth Sullivan - The Dancer's ToolkitElizabeth is a former professional ballet dancer who danced with the Cleveland and Boston Ballet Companies. She is the Founder & Director of The Dancer’s Toolkit, a company dedicated to supporting young dancers in achieving their personal and artistic goals while maintaining optimal physical and mental health. She works with dance students both privately and in dance schools in and around NYC. Visit Elizabeth’s blog at

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What To Do When Your Teachers Don’t Agree Thu, 02 May 2013 13:45:59 +0000 When two teachers' methods conflict, what's a ballet student to do? Angeline gives some advice on how to deal and explains why this sometimes happens. She also makes 5 key statements that are universal for anyone learning a skill.]]>
It can be a complicated scenario when one teacher tells you to do something one way and another teacher disagrees and wants you to do it completely differently.
Which one is right?  Who do you listen to?

This article will give you some pointers on what do to in this situation, and explain why this happens in the first place.

© Mark Olich
© Mark Olich

There Are Many Kinds of ‘Right’ in Ballet

It is easy to think that ballet is an absolute, with ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ being the only two options.  Yet, this is not quite the case…

1/ The Major Ballet Schools:

There are 5 major ‘Schools’ of ballet; the French School, the Italian School (Cecchetti), the Russian School (Vaganova), the Danish School (Bournonville), and the English School.  Each of these Schools can be considered different ‘methods of ballet’, each with their own (equally correct) rules about technique and style.

Many rules are the same across all the major Schools, but there are also some big differences. Because of this, depending on the training your teachers have received, they may use very different vocabulary from each other, or like movements performed in very different ways.

In addition to the 5 major schools, also worth listing for this discussion is the American ‘Balanchine’ style of ballet, as introduced by the great choreographer George Balanchine. Whilst not strictly a different method or ‘School’, the Balanchine style is a particularly distinctive, and is prevalent in America.

2/ Ballet is an Art:

Ballet is not exclusively a physical exertion, it is an art form.  Because of this, different individual teachers (and indeed dancers, choreographers, critics and other experts) often hold their own (sometimes opposing) opinions on the aesthetic/stylistic components of dance; from how a step is executed, to the style of port de bras, to how you hold your hands.

For example, English ballerinas are often criticised by their American or Russian counterparts for their dancing being too reserved, yet many who champion the English style feel American and Russian ballet is often too flamboyant and ‘showy’ – it is all a matter of cultural influence and personal taste.

Crucially, as with all artistic debates, there is no right or wrong, there are only different opinions.

3/ Individual Interpretation:

Every teacher is shaped by their own training and experience, and their own personal abilities and personality.  Their teaching style will be influenced by the experiences they had as dance students, and their observations of other teachers.  Their understanding of correct technique and their opinions on teaching practices and methodology will have been formed from a conglomeration and amalgamation of everything they have learned throughout their career.  Because of this, in a way, there are as many different types of ballet as teachers teaching it.

© Gene Schiavone
© Gene Schiavone

What To Do: Vocational Dance School

Part of training to be a professional dancer is to learn to be versatile and flexible – to be able to comfortably and safely jump from one style of ballet to another.  Not only is this crucial to any freelance dancer, but also ballet company members who may, in a day, have to rehearse anything from ‘Swan Lake’, to ‘Elite Syncopations’ or even ‘Chroma’.

For the most part then I would suggest to any pre-professional dance student to accept, even embrace the differences, and learn everything you can from each of your teachers. Perhaps ask them which School’s methodology they follow, as this can be useful information for later in your career, and can help you separate out the different variations in your mind.

Overall, simply try to remember the preferences and expectations of your different teachers, and adapt accordingly for each class; keeping an open mind, and learning everything you can.

© Mark Olich
© Mark Olich

What To Do: Private Dance School

Like the vocational dance student, you also have the option to simply accept different teachers’ expectations and adapt accordingly to each class.  However, depending on your situation, you might choose another course of action.

What if your teachers are from different Schools?

If your teachers use different terminology for the basics, such as arm positions, directional numbering, or arabesques, then it is a good bet that your teachers are from different Schools.  If this is the case it might be worth asking your teachers which School they are from, and if that is why they prefer a step done ‘like this’ when your other teacher prefers it ‘like that’; this way you can confirm whether the variations are related to their School, or personal preferences.

To most students I would recommend trying to master multiple methods if you have the opportunity, as this can be both an enjoyable challenge and a great learning experience.

However, if you are finding learning more than one method at the same time is somehow detrimental to your overall progress, I recommend you talk to your teachers about it.

What if you don’t know why they have different expectations?

There are potentially hundreds of reasons why you might be asked to do something differently in different classes, some examples including:

  • You are studying for two different Grades, and the differences are written into the Syllabus,
  • The classes are supposed to be in different styles (Classical, Romantic, Neoclassical, Contemporary etc.),
  • The movement itself can be performed in different ways depending on the music/choreography/mood of the piece,
  • Your teachers have both been taught differently how to correctly execute a movement.

If you are unsure why your teachers have different opinions, the easiest option may be to simply ask them.

Also, remember that teachers working at the same school may be unaware they are teaching different things, and sometimes it can be good for differences to be pointed out and discussed so that your teachers can decide together what to do.

Remember: Even professional experts sometimes disagree with each other, in all fields of life.

© Mark Olich
© Mark Olich
What if you prefer one teacher’s way of doing things vs the other?

If you are told to do something in one class, and you think it has improved your work, it makes sense to keep hold of it and do it like that every time, in all your classes.  You may find that your other teacher completely agrees and just hadn’t gotten around to teaching you ‘that bit’ yet.

If, on the other hand, you are in the second teacher’s class and they do not approve of the changes you have made, it can be tricky to know what to do.

If the debate is over an aesthetic issue (the style of a movement, or how you use your eyeline etc.), it might be easiest to just swap between styles from class to class, presuming you are happy to do so, again learning what you can from each.

However, if the debate is over an issue with technique, it may be helpful to ask both teachers to further explain their method, and why it is the ‘better’ option.

Armed with this information you can best choose your next course of action:

  • To continue to swap how you dance between classes.
  • To discontinue study with one of your teachers.
  • To request further information / do some research before making a decision.

There really is no correct answer to this.

Your choice should take into consideration whether or not your teachers are in disagreement about a fundamental element of classical technique e.g. use of turn-out, or posture, and whether it is causing conflict in your physical development.

© Gene Schiavone | Dancer: Yekaterina Kondaurova
© Gene Schiavone | Dancer: Yekaterina Kondaurova

You should consider how you felt about your teachers different explanations and opinions – don’t be afraid of using your own judgement, and forming your own opinions.  Did you feel satisfied by your teachers’ explanations?  Did they make sense?

Your decision should also be reflective of how strongly you feel about the situation.  After all, while it can be useful to question and think about your teachers methods and opinions, there is no need for drastic action (such as confronting a teacher, or leaving a class), if you are happy to continue as you are.

It may be wise to talk to your parents before deciding what to do.

Long-range Learning

No matter what stage you are in your career, or how old you are, here are 5 key pieces of advice for all dancers:

1.  When looking at videos, photos and performances by other dancers, remember how broad-ranging ‘ballet’ is, with all its variations, before offering judgment.

2.  Remember that your teachers are human beings, with their own idiosyncrasies.  Remember that they too can make mistakes, but that you can learn from those just as much as everything else they bestow on you.

3.  Always be respectful, but at the same time don’t be afraid to ask questions, or to challenge something you do not agree with.

4.  Absorb the best from all your teachers, but don’t be afraid to discard anything that doesn’t work in favor of something you have learned from another teacher.  Take only the best forwards with you through your career.

5.  Always keep an open mind; be prepared to change your mind in light of new evidence, and stay always open to new information.

Have you run into discrepancies in your training?
How have you dealt with it?
How have your teachers handled it?

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Use What You’ve Got On Hand: Towel Exercises To Strengthen Feet Tue, 28 Aug 2012 16:19:28 +0000 Author and dancer, Nikki White shares foot strengthening exercises that are useful for any dancer but especially for students who are preparing for pointe work. She also talks about "pointing with your whole body". Watch the video and tell us what you think!]]>

Nikki White has published the first in a series of children’s books teaching dance and movement in fun and creative ways.  Prima the Ballerina books inspire dancers of every age to get their bodies moving, and their imaginations going. The books can also be used as a teachers guide for pre-ballet and creative movement classes.

Today, Nikki is sharing a video that’s useful for any dancer but especially for students who are preparing for pointe work. Enjoy!

I’m always asked about feet strengthening exercises, particularly with pointe work in mind.

Nikki White, author and dancer
Nikki White, author and dancer

We tend to focus on our larger, more superficial muscles (extrinsic muscles) and forget about our smaller, deeper muscles (intrinsic muscles).

Our feet are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments! So even though this exercise may not look like much, it is extremely valuable.

When you are doing an adagio in center and you’re trying to find balance on your standing leg, your foot is making all these tiny movements and adjustments to keep you from falling over.

The same thing is happening when you’re on pointe, it’s not just your foot and calf keeping you up there. All those tiny proprioceptive muscles are firing and switching off and on trying to support your weight and maintain your balance.

Now, even though the towel exercises in this video I’m sharing are focused just on the feet, at the end, I touch on pointing your feet with your whole body.

When I haven’t had my pointe shoes on in a while and I take class on pointe, my entire body is tired afterwards- not just my feet. It’s the same way when you jump with your whole body and lift your hips instead of trying to do it all with just your legs. Everything is working together and you’ll find that even in your hardest movements, if you take the focus out of one area and ask your whole body to be engaged it will be easier to do and more coordinated.

We strengthen these tiny muscles so that when they’re asked to be part of the whole picture, you won’t even have to think about them, they will know how and have the strength to fire on their own!

Watch Nikki’s towelriffic video:

YouTube Video
Watch this video on YouTube.

Nikki WhiteNikki White is a Montana native and has performed as a principal dancer with professional ballet companies such as Smuin Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Sacramento Ballet, and Diablo Ballet. Nikki and her husband Ethan were on Paula Abdul’s CBS show ‘Live to Dance’ and were one of the top 3 finalists. They’ve recently been competing in Ballroom Competitions in the Exhibition division and were the winners at the California Star Ball, and the US Open Swing Competition. Nikki is also an actress, she has done commercials with Sony and Dell, modeled and performed for MAC cosmetics, starred in the play ‘RANT!’ at the Santa Monica Playhouse, and is currently acting, dancing & choreographing for film. Please visit for more information about her book. To see more of Nikki please visit

More on the feet and strengthening them:

What are some other ways to use a towel for strengthening?
Do you have other favorite household items that help you in dance?
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Warming Up to Engage: Three Options to Get Your Dancers Moving Thu, 09 Aug 2012 13:30:28 +0000 The role of warm-up progresses as our understanding of dance changes. This is true whether our role is that of a student or a teacher. For many young dancers, warm-up is something to be endured before set free to really “dance” in the subsequent segments of class.  For my students, it is what they are [...]]]>
Photo by William P. Gottlieb

The role of warm-up progresses as our understanding of dance changes. This is true whether our role is that of a student or a teacher.

For many young dancers, warm-up is something to be endured before set free to really “dance” in the subsequent segments of class.  For my students, it is what they are referring to when they ask if next year we’ll do “different stuff.”

I try to patiently explain, again and again, that “the stuff” stays the same but how we work with it will be different.

This past year I began at a K-8 magnet school where there had been quite a bit of turn-over in instruction. In revitalizing the dance program I found myself needing to introduce students to learning movement authentically, learning movement quickly, and dancing it without simply imitating it.

As a result, my warm-up featured two main elements: the quick study of new material and unpredictable sequencing of familiar conceptual phrases.

Warm-Up 1.0:  The Quick Study/Themed Movement Concepts

This is essentially follow-the-leader format I have most experienced in jazz classes. When teaching K-12, however, with 30-45 minute classes that quickly reduce to 20-35 minutes of actual instruction, time is of the essence.

Technique is explained in small, digestible pieces that can be applied to most of the movement. In this way, I tend to use warm-up as a warm-up for analyzing choreography in addition to training the body.

Portions of warm-up become familiar but are usually executed in varying sequences and interspersed with improvised movement or new movement threads. This allows students to focus on technical elements but also requires they stay tuned because they don’t necessarily know what is coming next.

Sample lesson:

Let’s think about the types of ways we can shift weight. Some include: from straight leg to straight leg, through plié, in and out of plié, in and out of plié with an elevation, from bent leg to straight, from straight leg to bent, from the right side to the left side, from bottom half of the body to the top, and so on….

I am going to lead you through a warm-up.  Your job is to be thinking about how your weight is shifting.

Here are some ways to think about this as you dance:

  • How would you describe these sensations?
  • Which types of weight shift come naturally to you?
  • Which weight shifts are challenging for you? Why?

Refining the conversation over the next few classes:

  • What does it mean to complete a weight shift?
  • How can you improve our dancing by thinking of where your weight is and where it needs to go instead of only finding shapes?
  • Where do you tend to over- or under-shift?  In which direction are you falling out of a turn (forward, left,….) Out of a jump?
  • How can we add weight shift to make choreography more interesting and/or challenging?
  • How might shifting weight “incorrectly” or “unnaturally” change the way the phrase feels/looks?

In addition, you can touch on “core subject” lessons within your dance class:

  • Add weight shifts to one half or 50% of this movement phrase.
  • How much force might you need to shift to the floor or into the air?
  • Choose one type of weight shift to add repeatedly and to serve as a motif.
  • Treat stage directions as directions on a compass. Map your movement phrase before next class.
  • If you had to assign a story to the dance you’ve created by applying weight shifts to this phrase, what would the story be?

Warm-up 2.0 The Exercises

Here is the warm-up more commonly experienced in ballet and modern classes. It involves teaching the exercise, explaining the technical attributes, and a more specific use of terminology.

Now that my students are better prepared to see details and apply them to their dancing, I add this layer of training to compliment and build on what was set up with the warm-up already described.

Sample lesson:

Class 1: Let’s list what you know about weight shifts. Now that you are on a roll, let’s have a quick practical review all together. Today’s class will focus on shifting weight in order to move. Period. It might be a small shift. Your job is to pay attention to the details. Here’s what should be happening as we shift weight to move one leg,…

Class 2: Last class we discussed the need to shift weight in order to move. Now let’s focus on shifting from straight legs through plié.

Class 3: We’ve already discussed shifting weight as a principle, from straight legs and through plié. Let’s explore it in and out of plié, including elevations.

Class 4: Here is a review of weight shift as we continue to explore. Today we’ll add fall and recovery, balancing, and more.

Class 5: Review/Pop-quiz

In reality, this progression would cover many more classes with opportunity to really teach/discuss/master the concepts as well as introduce terminology in a meaningful way.

Warm-Up 3.0

Let us really be intentional, however, in warming up what is required for our daily class and not always relying on daily barre to cover all bases.

By this, I mean that if the main lesson of the day is examining spatial relationship among performers, a technical warm-up may be starting the journey in the wrong direction.

Sample lesson:

Let’s begin class by walking in any direction you like. Listen to my commands as I adjust the movement that we are exploring, the directions we are exploring, and the speed at which we are moving.  Keep your eyes lifted and your bodies safe.

Now I will divide you into groups. When directed, each group will enter and exit the space at random with movement such as walking, running, jumping, and moments of stillness.  Listen to my voice for the movement commands and other directions.

An exercise such as this gets the class working as a whole and prepares their eyes and bodies to be aware of details that a traditional approach to warming up may not set them up to do as well.

This exercise, too, can build on the concept of weight shift as the dancers are now prepared to explore how the force of their weight shifts, and the directions of weight shifts, impact how their movement is perceived and assessed for meaning.

Now they have a reason to “dance” the warm-up regardless of which version is presented. It gives them concrete reasons as to why warm-up is not to be endured but expressed clearly, neatly, and with intention.

For more ideas on how to add variety to your classes, check out Maria’s article, 5 Ideas That Will Make You Feel Like Less of a Teaching Robot.

How are you warming up for the upcoming year?

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Should I Spring or Press to Relevé in a Ballet Pirouette? Thu, 30 Jun 2011 13:30:14 +0000 If you press, the upper body and center of gravity (CoG) needs to move over the leg, and if you spring, the supporting leg meets your CoG in the middle. Which do you prefer? In this post Lauren Warnecke explores the benefits and mechanics of both to provoke thought and conversation.]]>

IMAGE A blurred figure is captured in a pirouette. IMAGEI don’t claim to be an expert on pirouettes.

In fact, they are my nemesis.

I’ve been progressing through the Cecchetti teacher’s program, and now that the group has moved on to Grade III we are finally doing pirouettes.  I’d love to say that this makes me happy, but quite honestly I dread the day when I’m standing in front of those examiners, in my pink tights, and asked to demonstrate a proper pirouette.

The happy end to this story, however, is that by re-learning to turn in this format, there is a lot of room to scrutinize why I’ve always had so much trouble with the dreaded pirouette.

It’s come up during our classes that different techniques and teachers have different ideas on how to prepare and “take-off” in a pirouette, and much like my fascination with cou-de-pied, I wonder what and why those differences are, and how to integrate them effectively in my dancing and the training of students.  There are dozens of tiny intricacies in performing a pirouette that can’t all be covered in one post, so this particular article starts at the very bottom: with the foot.

There are two “camps”, so to speak, when it comes to the use of the supporting foot in a pirouette.

Springing to demi-pointe or pointe allows you to “snap” the foot underneath you and place the supporting foot directly under your center of gravity.

Conversely, pressing to relèvé allows the dancer to keep a stable base of support because the foot does not move from its original position.  However, in order to effectively balance requires that the dancer shift her center of gravity over the supporting foot. Angel Corella demonstrates this approach (quite well, I might add) in this video for American Ballet Theatre’s online dictionary.

So, Should I spring or press to relèvé in a pirouette?

IMAGE A dancer in mid-pirouette. IMAGE
courtesy of The Cecchetti Council of America

Either way, your weight must change slightly when performing a pirouette because you are moving from a position on two legs to a position on one leg.  If you press, the upper body and center of gravity (CoG) needs to move over the leg, and if you spring, the supporting leg meets your CoG in the middle.

Proponents of springing claim that dancers who press to relèvé never truly feel their weight underneath them, that they are “climbing” onto the leg, or that there is not enough elevation required to perform the turn on pointe.  On the other hand, it can be easy to point out a dancer who springs a little too much and is essentially jumping onto her pointe shoe.  Turns can easily get out of control in this case, not to mention the wear and tear it can place on the joints.

Really, the choice is up to you…

There are benefits to both approaches, and it can be interesting to experiment to see what works best for you.  In some cases, it may be helpful to consider using different approaches for different types of pirouettes.  For example, when turning en dehors from fifth position, it can be helpful to spring the foot under the center of gravity to assist in pulling the weight underneath you.  On the other hand, pressing to relèvé when turning en dedans from fourth pushes your weight more forward over the front leg.

Ultimately, if you are pirouette-ing successfully (like Alys Shee in this video), it doesn’t really matter whether you spring or press.  In other words, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

YouTube Video
Watch this video on YouTube.

Other pirouette problems?

For more tips on improving pirouettes, visit Nichelle’s articles from the archives:

What say you?!? Spring or Press?

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Bowed Legs, Tibial Torsion, and Side Splits Sat, 18 Jun 2011 13:50:33 +0000 A reader wonders wonders how bowed legs might be affecting her second position and side split. She describes a related problem with knee and ankle alignment, leading to my response which focuses on tibial torsion. I provide a useful group of links and tips for working with this rotational deformity. Plus we talk about turn-out and side splits too!]]>

IMAGE Question mark and its shadow IMAGEA reader asks:

“…the thing I’ve always really struggled with was alignment of my hips, knees ankles, especially in second position.

Recently I was told that I was bow legged and now I’m wondering if this is causing the problems. For years when I was told to turn out from the hips, I really thought I was… but actually my feet are turned out when my knees are parallel. My second position has always been ridiculously tight, I do find it hard to plie and stay balanced. I would love to be able to do side splits but I read somewhere on the internet that bow legs can mean the hips are narrower making it harder to turn out?

I’d really appreciate your thoughts on how I can adapt my technique to deal with my wonky legs, and how this might affect a side split.

Nichelle responds:

Please remember that without seeing you, it’s impossible to offer fully accurate advice. It’s always best to talk to your teachers and, in this case, see a physical therapist, physician, or physiologist for precise assessment of your hips and knees. Given these issues, if you plan to continue in dance or are experiencing any pain, working with a PT or other professional is essential.

Tibial Torsion

IMAGE Internal and External TIbial Torsion IMAGE
‘Feet turned out, knees parallel’ sounds like you aredescribing a condition called external tibial torsion. It’s not uncommon for those with bowed legs to also have tibial torsion because of the over-correction you may be trying to make to put your feet flat on the ground.

Not all teachers will recognize tibial torsion when they see it, let alone know how to work with you in class. The dilemma for someone with tibial torsion lies in the “knees over toes” instruction. With tibial torsion the knees are structurally not aligned over the toes so if you try to follow this frequent teacher advice, you’ll be straining and setting yourself up for injury.

If tibial torsion is indeed your diagnosis (please see a professional to have this assessed), it’s important to take special care in plie, landings from jumps, etc. to avoid over-supination or pronation of the tarsus/ankle (it is crucial that you distribute your weight evenly over the 3 points of the foot); AND work to understand, use, and maintain turnout from the hips (not the knees); AND maintain good alignment (posture) at all times.

More Information on Tibial Torsion and Bowed Legs:

At Art Intercepts:

Lauren describes these conditions as they relate to dance, links to the potential injuries that can result, and sites sources for further research.

At The Body Series:

Deb Vogel specializes in just this type of question and concern.
Dancing Smart Newsletter – Bowed Legs Q&A
Video – What is tibial torsion?

Video – Analyze This! Training Your Eye:
YouTube Video
Watch this video on YouTube.

Side Splits

IMAGE Straddle split Photo © Tracy Wicklund -- IMAGE
Photo © Tracy Wicklund —

Turning to the question about side splits, I’m assuming you are talking about sitting with legs open like a book in a straddle.

Actually this position does not require a lot of turnout.

I know that may seem odd. But, even gymnasts who can sit with their legs in a straight line are not necessarily demonstrating their ability to outwardly rotate (turn-out) the legs. They are demonstrating extreme flexibility of the groin and inner thigh muscles but their knees are generally facing upward to the ceiling. If the legs were fully turned out, the knees would tilt toward the back wall in the straddle.

In consulting with columnist Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts regarding your question, she oh, so rightly, points out that you should get a fair assessment of your knees, hips, and other structural issues by a PT before working on or training for splits.

lMAGE Side split stretch using wall IMAGEGiven the go-ahead, you can increase the flexibility of the groin & inner thigh muscles with daily, gentle stretching. You might do this on your back with legs open. I wouldn’t recommend the ‘frog’ position (on your stomach) for you given your problems with torsion.

Every body is different, but with patience and attention you’ll be able to improve flexibility in this area.

What are your experiences with tibial torsion?

Do you have an alternative suggestion for this reader?

Add your comments below!

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The Achilles Tendon: Dancer Injury and Prevention Thu, 26 May 2011 13:35:25 +0000 Achilles was infallible except for the small injury to his heel that killed him. Dancers, too, are prone to injury and stress of the Achilles tendon if they don't do a few important things. Achilles tendonitis is the big one but it doesn't have to be forever. Dancers must take great care and follow the proper steps to prevent flare-ups and further injury.]]>
Of body parts in the dance world, the Achilles tendon is perhaps one of the more infamous.
What’s in a name?

IMAGE Photograph of the statue of Death of Achilles. Taken in the Achillion Gardens, Corfu IMAGE

Achilles was a figure of Greek Mythology refuted as an infallible hero of the Trojan War – infallible, of course, except for the small injury to his heel that killed him.  Consequently, the term “Achilles Heel” is used to describe the greatest weakness of an individual, and the small tendon connecting the calf muscle (triceps surae) to the heel bone (calcaneus) is called the Achilles tendon.

Tendons are the fibrous, elastic  structures at the end of each skeletal muscle.

Their job is to connect muscles to bones, and to store elastic energy (that is then converted into mechanical forces acting on the bone, enabling movement to occur).


IMAGE Graphic of an inflamed Achilles tendon. IMAGEInjury to any tendon is universally referred to as tendonopathy.

The most commonly injured tendons in dancers are the Achilles tendon, peroneal tendons, posterior tibial tendons and Flexor hallucis longus (FHL).

Dancing places frequent stress on the Achilles tendon.  Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed due to overuse, excessive pronation,  bowlegs, tight Achilles tendons, or abnormally shaped heel bones (Hodgkins, Kennedy & O’Loughlin, 2008).

The likelihood of developing Achilles tendonitis increases if you use improper technique (Motta-Valencia, 2006).

Forcing your turnout causes the foot to pronate placing further stress on the Achilles tendon (Kadel, 2006).

Failure to press the heels into the ground following jumps, or to rise completely to full 3/4 toe in relevé, shortens the tendon and puts the dancer at further risk for tendonitis and/or rupture of the tendon (Kadel, 2006).

How can I prevent tendonitis?

First and foremost, be diligent in your technique.  Dancers with improper technique are more likely to develop injuries, including Achilles tendonitis.  Be sure to press the heels down while jumping and use proper alignment of the foot in turnout and jump landings.

As I stated in my recent post on knee injuries, environmental factors can greatly contribute to your chance of sustaining an injury.  Hard, unsprung floors, raked stages, and cold temperatures are all risk factors for Achilles tendonitis.  Futhermore, shoes and/or ribbons that are too tight place unwanted stress on the tendon and can exacerbate tendonitis.

If I have Achilles tendonitis, does it go away?

Well, that’s kind of a trick question…

Tendonitis (tendinitis is also an accepted spelling) is an acute inflammation of the tendon, and it can go away with proper treatment (generally including rest, ice, strapping the tendon and anti-inflammatory drugs).  Tendonitis can and will go away if you take the proper steps to treat it, and prevent it from recurring.

As I mentioned above, some dancers will be predisposed to tendonitis because of their anatomy (e.g. short tendons, bowlegs, malformed calcaneous, etc.).  It is exceedingly important that these dancers take the proper steps to prevent flare-ups.

Repeated occurrences of tendonitis can lead to a chronic and more serious condition called tendonosis. Tendonosis can develop if acute bouts of tendonitis are not treated properly or the dancer does not take adequate time to rest.  If tendonitis progresses to tendonosis,  persistent inflammation leads to degeneration and the formation of nodules on the tendon and the dancer is at an increased risk of rupturing the tendon (You may recall dancer, Alex Wong’s injury in 2010, brought to the world’s attention via the televised So You Think You Can Dance).

Further tips for preventing Achilles tendonopathy:

  • Mind your technique. (Coming through, loud and clear?) Be diligent in pressing your heels down when landing from jumps, returning from grand plié.  Don’t force turnout or over-pronate.
  • Make sure your shoes fit properly and aren’t pinching the back of your heel
  • Sew elastic into pointe shoe ribbons at the point where they cross the back of the leg and tie shoes less tight, relieving pressure placed on the tendon (Kadel, 2006).  Bloch and Bunheads are now manufacturing “tendonitis ribbons” with elastic already sewn in.
  • Warm-up! Warm muscles and tendons are less likely to become inflammed and injured under repeated stress
  • Increase your flexibility by performing a calf stretch (when properly warmed-up or after class), or using an angled stretch box, and prevent shortening of the tendon by always rising to your highest relèvé. More ways to stretch the achilles tendon are found here.
Many dancers have struggled with Achilles tendonitis at some point during their careers (including me).

Do you have a story you can share?


Beers, M. H. (2003). The merck manual of medical information, second home      edition. Pocket Books, 424-425.

Fernandez-Palazzi, F., Rivas, S. & Mujica, P. (1990). Achilles tendonitis in ballet dancers. Clin Orthop Relat Res 257, 257-261.

Hodgkins, C. W., Kennedy, J. G. & O’Loughlin, P. F. (2008). Tendon injuries in dance. Clin Sports Med 27, 278-288.

Kadel, N. J. (2006). Foot and ankle injuries in dance. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of America 17, 813-826.

Motta-Valencia, K. (2006). Dance-related injury. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America 17, 697-723.

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