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the next generation of Dance as Art

In the summer, i'm often fortunate to have some small classes with students who are open minded about exploring a dance concept throughout a class and in one of these the focus that evolved was about the concept of the supporting leg and how active it really is when used correctly.  Over a couple of blog posts, I'm going to give some of the exercises I used to help students connect with their standing sides during class.

This series of exercises is done on a foam roller. The foam roller used is a normal / medium density and the dimensions are 6 inches in diameter and 36 inches in length.

Finding Equilibrium

The student lays along the length of the roller - please make sure his/her head is supported by the roller and not hanging off of the edge.                                

Their feet are about as wide as their sits bone (for the narrowest) to inline with the hip sockets (for the widest).  The wider the base of support, the less challenge the balance component is.  Their hands can be on the ground for this first exercise. The challenge is to feel the balance of the weight across the pads of the big toes, little toes and heels.  Have the students maintain their balance without major movements (micro corrections at the feet and ankles are to be expected).  Watch the pelvis and correct students if you see them tucking under (flattening their lower back to the roller), a neutral line will translate more to what is happening in a standing position.

Once they are able to maintain stability there, encourage them to lift one hand at a time towards the ceiling.   Have the students focus on what changes they feel throughout their bodies as their hands lift.  Then think about which corrections they need to make to maintain the correct position.  One of the areas to draw their attention and focus to is the asymmetries that might be occurring:  Is one foot rolling more or less than the other?  Is one leg trying to open the knee outwards to counterbalance?  Are the feet still the same distance apart or have they shifted sideways or forward?  Look at the toes and let students know if you see clawing or knuckling in the toes, etc.

From this position, make the challenge more dynamic.  Start to execute a simple port des bras series that is even on both sides.  Hands going from a rounded first position in front of the sternum, up overhead to 3rd or 5th (depending on the terminology you use), opening to 2nd and lowering down to a preparatory position by the sides of the thighs.  Also take those movements in the reverse.   Start the movements at a very slow speed and hold each position for 8 - 16 counts to allow the students to regain balance and control.  

Next decrease the hold time and then move to a quicker pace.

Once that is comfortable (or manageable), move to asymmetrical movements, either holding one arm in place (1st is the easiest) and doing the port de bras with the other arm.  

Watch for signs of asymmetry in the body as the movements increase in speed or complexity.  Here is an example of compensation in the legs.   Also remember to check the pelvis area, since one of the first places people like to compensate is by tucking under.

The next level of challenge is to take one foot off of the floor, start by placing both hands back on the floor, and without

shifting the leg that will become the supporting leg, lift one leg into a parallel attitude.  Keep both hands on the floor and do some simple foot articulations with the gesture side - point and flex and ankle circles in both directions.  Return that foot to the floor and repeat with the opposite side.  Have the students pay attention to any adjustments they are finding they need and again compare their right and left sides.

Once both sides have been successfully completed, bring the starting leg back up to parallel attitude, turn the attitude out and back to parallel at the hip.  Have the students focus on the compensations as mentioned before.

For the last challenge in this series, have the students maintain the single leg stance and bring both hands off of the floor.  Once balance can be maintained, the goal is to bring the students through the movements described in the previous exercises, with the suggestion of retrograding the order.  So start with the turn in / out of the hip, point/flex of the feet, ankle circles, then the port des bras.

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