Editor’s note: this series by Karen is targeted specifically to competition dancers and those that work with them, although certainly many others may benefit from the information within!
by Karen Musey
It is a great joy and privilege to be able to encourage and give feedback to each new generation of dancers. It is exciting to see the fantastic talent and passion on stage, and every dancer’s growth over this season definitely needs to be celebrated!
In this digital age, it is becoming the norm to see younger and younger children seeming to grasp difficult tricks/concepts/technique quickly. I think we sometimes forget that learning to be a dancer is, and always will be, a process that takes time and effort. It’s not a one size fits all experience or path.
During a judging season, a dancer who has heard the same corrections repeated multiple times can feel frustrated and defeated. This is a great time to check in with them. If they feel that they are accomplishing what is being asked but they are not achieving the desired result, what can you do to shift their understanding of how they are working through the movement?
It can be helpful for students to put on a “teacher” or “detective” lens and start looking for clues for what looks and feels right (or not). This will help them train their eye and their corrections will improve faster – and better yet – they will start to self correct.
Let’s go over a “classic correction” and discuss some ways you can encourage your students to interpret it in a new way:
One of the first steps that any dancer learns, the plié usually begins the first exercise of any ballet class. Most dancers have done more pliés in their lives than probably any other step, and yet are often surprised that they are required to continue to finesse what appears to be such a basic step.
Why might there be consistent requests from teachers and judges that dancer plié more?
If a dancer is not moving with enough plié we might see or hear –
… an unsteady and tensed prep for turns and jumps
… wobbly ankles and knees or placement
… choppy transitions or movements that lack connectivity
… the dancer looking rushed trying to complete the choreography
… loud landings
… excessive tension held elsewhere in the body
… the dancer is not finding enough levels in the movement
When a dancer is moving with a great plié – we are likely to see –
… transition steps that look effortless and there is continuity into new movement
… a greater intensity of dynamic and feeling which is translated into moving quickly and using all parts of the stage
… the dancer looks grounded and can easily transition or transfer their weight
… a release of excessive tension in the dancer’s body
… major ballon (time spent in the air) in jumps
… consistent turning steps and clear technical positions in allegro work
How can we create a greater focus on plié in class?
Texture. We can play with different speed, rhythms and texture with plié in class. A slow, continuous, four count plié that has a melting quality will feel very different than a quick and light two count plié that has a bouncing quality. A dancer who understands the physicality of each will understand the reason why one might be better served than the other depending on the movement or circumstance.
Core Strength. To feel comfortable working in a deeper plié, dancers need to develop their core strength to easily maintain their posture. Once the dancer is connected to their core, they will have an easier and more enjoyable time working through transition steps with ease. They will also be more likely to take risks in how much they travel through the space and play with level changes.
Feel Their Feet On The Floor. The more a dancer can feel an even weight distribution between their feet, the more they will pay attention to the connection they feel from their core through their leg. The dancer who pliés while feeling their feet spread and open on the floor will have a different connection to their entire leg line through plié than the dancer who is gripping their toes. The dancer that can open their feet will also become more aware of how they are using them in other transitioning movements through plié.
Finding Opposition. A plié is a movement that expands in all directions, but many dancers think a plié simply goes down. If the dancer has an understanding of the contrasting directions of a plié, they will find more length throughout their entire body to support their movement. By finding more length, they will be able to feel their lines differently and find more release and grounding.
These ideas and ways of “detecting the details” of steps can be very effective in advancing a dancer’s understanding of their education and progress. This idea can be finessed with working through the feet, weight change and balance, rhythm / musicality and working with the upper body.
Any way you can engage your dancers in a new discussion will spark a greater love and eagerness towards finessing their art of dance. Good luck sleuthing!
Contributor Karen Musey is a dynamic Canadian born, New York based performer, teacher and dance adjudicator. Her training includes study at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division, The Banff Centre, EDGE PAC (LA), Upright Citizen’s Brigade, The Barrow Group, Kimball Studio, Canada’s National Voice Intensive, Comic Strip Live and more.
Karen Musey judges national and regional dance competitions and festivals across the United States and Canada. She was a Director/Choreographer Observership Candidate during the 2011/12 season with Stage Directors and Choreographers Union and has served as a rehearsal director and dance captain for KOBA Family Entertainment. Karen Musey is an ABT® Certified Teacher, who has successfully completed the ABT® Teacher Training Intensive in Pre-Primary through Level 5 of the ABT® National Training Curriculum. She is a U.S. Member of the International Dance Council CID, recognized by UNESCO.
Performing highlights – PHISH at Madison Square Garden; World Premiere of the Canadian Opera Company’s Das Rheingold (Wagner Ring Cycle); National Artist Program Gala for the 2003 Canada Winter Games; for HRH Queen Elizabeth II during the Golden Jubliee Tour; Chicago (Rainbow Stage); comedy short Foreign Exchange (72 Hour Asian American Film Shootout); music videos for The Guards and Malynda Hale; international tours and performances with The Young Americans, J.A.R. Productions and KOBA Family Entertainment; stand up and sketch comedy around New York; Bravo! documentaries, films and more. She is currently co-writing a play. www.karenmusey.com