We live in a world where everything has to be done instantly so it is not strange that the dance students of today expect that their technique will miraculously materialize in such a way that without time or effort they will be able to dance on TV programs such as “So You Think You Can Dance”. They are pressured by television and competitions to do as many tricks as possible as if that was the most important and only road to success. Studios and teachers also feel the pressure to produce dancers who can give their audiences enough flash and dash to keep them satisfied. However, when you take away this sometimes flimsy façade you are left with dancers who, if the truth be known, have very little idea of their technique and virtually no basic technique. So, why is this a problem? After all they can do multiple turns, leap through the air and roll on the floor very effectively.
But it is a problem, because without a thorough knowledge of their basic technique at all levels and in all genres of dance these dancers are most certainly in a good position to succumb to injury and will be extremely disappointed if they have a desire to become professional dancers because that lack of technique will almost always come back to haunt them.
For those dancers who have no desire to become a professional we are still putting them in a position to get hurt by giving them steps in their choreography that they do not have the technique to support. Without giving them that solid foundation that only comes through repetition of the basics they will never have the security of knowing that they can always make their technique work for them. They will always have that stressed out feeling of uncertainty that could be eliminated with a better foundation.
Going back to basics does not have to be boring – in fact it can be a challenge! What an accomplishment when a student is able to do a beautifully placed single pirouette and has the control to hold the position before landing. I would rather see that any day than to see a dancer throwing themselves into a triple that is out of control and all over the place. The control is something to be applauded and will give the student such confidence. So many dance students do not understand that the pirouette begins and finishes on the releve and that it is the form and purity of the technique that will elevate them always.
Helping your students to understand how their bodies work and how to get the most out of them will really improve their working habits. Encourage them to discover the anatomy of the foot, the leg and the back. It can make a huge difference to the student and once they have the right mindset even the basics will be fun!
It really is up to us as teachers to instill in our students the importance of not only learning the basics but constantly revisiting them to continue to strengthen and become more accomplished as dancers. Somehow we have to find ways to help them to understand that they will be able to do all of the tricks but with a technique that allows them to express themselves through movement that has the control and finesse of the very best dancers in the world. Of course working through the basics does take time and plenty of effort – just to get the feet working consistently so that all of the movements look finished, the fingers to stretch in the port de bras and the body to be able to use those well controlled isolations to give their dancing angles and dimensions.
In closing, find ways to reward that work so that the dancers will not find it tedious. We need to produce dancers who will remain healthy for as long as they want to dance and for the others the opportunity to keep dancing recreationally so that they can continue to enjoy the wonderful way you feel when your body responds to the music and your spirit soars.