Teachers always give their students a warm up no matter what style of dance you are teaching but the question is, are the students really utilizing your warm up exercises to prepare their bodies for the work that comes after? I had to ask myself this question the other day when I observed some of my students barely going through the motions of doing my Lyrical warm up. I, like most others have spent years devising an appropriate warm up to condition my students for the class but also to give them the best chance possible to remain injury free. However, as in many things in life it is true that we only get out of something what we put into it. Clearly the students that were basically marking the warm up just didn’t want to work that hard but I needed to get to the root of the problem in order to help these dancers fully realize the disservice they were doing to their bodies.
I decided that I would sit everyone in the class down so that we could discover what the issues were. I asked the students why they had been making so little effort. Were they tired or sick? Perhaps they had injuries that I had not been made aware of? Now, I’m not talking here about students who take one or two classes a week. These dancers take five and six days a week. I explained to my students that I was not angry or offended that they were not fully using the warm up but that I simply wanted to find out if they had a good reason. Of course, initially they denied that they were not working as hard as the others but after a while they did admit that perhaps they could have done more. Some of them actually fully believed that they were going full tilt but the fact of the matter was that by not really doing the warm up to the fullest extent of their capabilities. They were really opening up the possibility of being injured once we started to work on some of the more demanding technique.
We had a good talk and what I came away with was that some were slightly lazy, some tired and some just simply zoned out because they felt they knew the exercises and so didn’t feel that they needed to think about them. I never do any of my warm ups without switching things around to keep the dancers on their toes but evidently I needed to do more. I explained to all the dancers that not only does the warm up at the beginning of any class prepare the body to dance but it is also vital for the brain to function clearly. Of course none of this can happen without focus and this was really where the problem lay.
Students nowadays have so many outside pressures, between the enormous amounts of homework, the push to pass numerous tests, the day to day drama increased by the use of social media and just life in general! It is no wonder that they have difficulty focusing on anything by the time that they get to dance classes. So I decided why not try something a little different to help my dancers to enable their minds to focus with clarity?
The next week when they came into class I had some soothing New Age music playing and I asked them to grab a mat and sit down. Then for five minutes I gave them simple, but effective, breathing exercises combined with some very easy and subtle movement lying on their backs and relaxing. After doing this for five minutes I asked them to slowly get up and take some really deep breaths lifting their arms overhead and then relaxing them down to their sides. We then went into the warm up and what a difference! Everyone seemed more focused and “with it!” After class I asked the students how they had felt and they all told me that they loved it that it had energized them and made them forget about all the other “stuff” for those minutes.
We always encourage our students to think of the studio as a sanctuary from everything else that is going on in their lives but I realized that they did not always know how to remove themselves from all the chaos surrounding them and I was happy that we had found a solution to the problem of not focusing on the warm up. It is certainly worth taking a few minutes at the beginning of class to help my students to have the right mindset for what they are doing in dance and I have started to do something similar in my other classes too. It is just so great to see my students feeling more relaxed and receptive to what we are teaching them each week.