Sometimes technique can seem a little boring, or maybe even pointless. Why spend more than half a class at barre or warm up before getting to the “interesting” combinations? Why do some studios require ballet technique classes in order to participate in competition, jazz, or other “unrelated” teams/companies? What is the number one way to prevent dance injuries? The answer to all these questions lies in the basics of dance technique and its importance to all dancers.
Technique does not refer to having a “perfect” or 180 – degree turn out. It does not mean that each bâtiment à la seconde grazes your ear. While good technique may lead to these attributes, it is not the goal of good technique. Having good technique involves learning and working with your body’s unique capabilities to maximize your full potential as a dancer.
Turnout is one of the primary areas where technique plays a large role. Each dancer has a certain amount of turnout, and learning to use that turnout appropriately is the key to both longevity and quality of movement. There are many professional dancers who never achieve 180-degrees of turnout, or anywhere near that level, yet lead highly successful dance careers. The most important aspect is working hard to maximize each dancer’s turnout out, but without “cranking” or forcing their turnout beyond their body’s unique anatomical abilities. Most teachers use a “knees over toes” (knees over the 1st and 2nd toe) rule of thumb to ensure their dancers are not over working their turnout. Forcing turnout leads to dance injuries in the foot, ankle, knee, hip, and back, which, in turn, have the potential to shorten a dance career.
Another area of technique is core control. This is not always the term used in dance class, but you’ve heard it in different ways. Dancers are told to “pull up” or “not sink” into their hips. These terms refer to controlling the core, or the area encompassing your hip, stomach, and back muscles. Many dance teachers refer to this as your “center” – and for good reason! This area is the center of your body, your turning focus, and your balancing point. Without strength and control of your core, or center, your dance movements will lose a mature and grounded quality. Additionally, it will be more difficult to perform higher level choreography that requires increased strength. Of course, lack of core strength can also lead to dance injuries and create a longer recovery time from an injury.
Breathing may not inherently seem like an aspect of technique, but working with your breath in dance brings your technique together. Many health practitioners include the breathing muscles with the core. This is because the primary muscles that control your breath are located in your stomach and chest. Once you have pulled up, turned out, stomach and chest in, shoulders down, arms out, head turned, somehow you are now supposed to dance! Breath control can help release some of this tension and allow the muscles to move through the space, rather than gripping or forcing the movement. Dance is a balance between strength and elegance, control and release, power and grace. Learning, controlling, releasing, and using your breath helps bridge these dynamics in your movement.
Dancers who use proper technique will find themselves not only advancing in classes, companies, and roles, but will also decrease their risk of dance injury. As many dancers train with new teachers and studios for summer intensives, it is crucial to remember your technique basics and expand your training horizons. But above all, technique is about giving you the building blocks to enjoy your art form, so work hard and have fun!
by: Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport, M.D.