My dance background

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As I peruse the Irish dance message boards, I inevitably run across questions that pertain to how the body works, how specific steps are performed, how to do toe stands, how to gain more turn-out, how to recover from injuries, etc, etc, etc… At the beginning of my involvement in this dance sub-culture, I would offer my opinion and try to pass on information that was correct, helpful, and above all would not add further injury or fuel to the rampant ignorance.

Ooohh, is this another rant? No, not really.

Brief resume: I was initially trained as a classical ballerina. At 16, I had to make a choice – quit school to pursue ballet or go to college. I was raised knowing that I was going to college, so when my choice was made, I was invisible in class. A sad time for me. Had a great guidance counselor who discovered I could get a degree in dance, so off I went to college to be a dancing doctor (I am not kidding). After a couple of years, I made a choice to pursue the dance only, get my Master’s degree and be a university dance professor. I got my first full-time university position when I was 25 in Memphis. Started my dance company there with my partner Judith Tribo Wombwell when I was 27.

I taught many things during my university career, but my loves were teaching modern dance and dance science/the science of movement. Each informed the other. What we learned in technique class, we took apart in kinesiology. The bio mechanics and physics of movement that we explored in kinesiology were put to use in technique class. Watching my students soar with this information was such a fantastic thing. I was always excited about class. I believe that I lived to teach.

I was on disability for a while after I got sick in 2000 and was unable to teach, but it never occurred to me that I would ever stop teaching. I just needed time to recover. I finally went back and continued doing what I had always done, but before long, I had to face the fact that my illness had made many changes at very fundamental levels. I retired.

I was still invited to be a master teacher at various workshops. I did a few, but there were obstacles to continuing even in that vein that I found insurmountable because of the particular way that I wanted to teach students. I could not perform that way any more, so I stopped accepting the invitations (except for the occasional one for my BIL’s Stage Combat workshops).

As I said above, I used to try to answer anatomy and technique questions posted on the various message boards, but I finally stopped doing that because for every correct answer given by me or someone else, there were 10 ridiculous ones. I retreated once it became clear to me that so many TCs did not actually know much about how the body works which meant that they and their students were responsible for the silliness that was (and still is) being posted on the boards as fact. I stopped really even reading the questions when I started reading “fairy tales” about how to do the many steps that have been borrowed from ballet.

Tonight on the main Voy board, a mother got on to ask for help in addressing her daughter’s hip rotation problem. I thought about it and decided not to tell her what to do but gave her a suggestion about where to go for help. So far, that seems to be the gist of the replies. But there were a couple that contained some “ideas” that brought on the twitching tics: “hip rotation with foot turnout” & “hips cannot achieve turn out so it has to come from ankles and knees.” Erg…

One poster was obviously well-educated in correct movement training and started her longish post by writing, “As far as I can tell, 10 years into it, ID teachers generally appear to know very little about anatomy, physiology, kinetics and how to move and train to avoid injury. As much as I respect my DDs current teacher, the general approach they mostly seem to have is based on what they learned from their teachers and is focused on the art and how it looks…not the science and how it is best done…” This is also how I see it. Yes, the art form is extremely important, but better awareness of the dancing instrument (the body) and how it actually works would only elevate the art.

When the teachers at my daughters’ first ID school found out about my background, they used me as a source of information. They went on to change some things and seemed to seek out workshops for themselves that furthered their education in these matters. And many times they sent students to me to talk about posture, jump elevation, turns, etc. They always told me what my kids needed help on and the lucky little monsters were always so appreciative when I would work with them at home!!!!

We are with a new school now, and the teacher is a very smart young woman. I have not asked her about her actual anatomy knowledge base, but I have also not heard or seen anything incorrect. She is a very good teacher. I have not told our new TC about my background. I am content to be the divas’ mom and the dressmaker. But I do watch and give the divas those lovely corrections they love so much.

I have thought about posting links to informative dance technique, anatomy and kinesiology sites…but I have not done it. Tonight, I thought about writing about the anatomy of the hip and the exercises that can be done to identify and strengthen the six deep external rotators. But that thought turned into this post.

Maybe I do not want to write about these things because I cannot see the people who ask these questions. There are so many, many factors that affect posture, incorrect muscle use, and injuries, and there is no way at all to take stock of these things fully without having the body in front of you. All who answer these questions on the boards as if they have the definitive answer should perhaps keep that in mind.

Susan has told me many times that I need to write about faulty dance postures that affect the way ID dresses fit, how incorrect alignment, over-developed muscles, and faulty notions of what good dance posture is can screw up the hang of the best made dress! She and I have discussed this at great length as we figure out fitting issues. But, although I am drawn to the idea of starting to write about these things, especially since we dressmakers have to deal with this all the time, I have yet to do it. I really am not sure why.

But after this thought process, maybe I will start working on it. It interests me because it is for a different audience. It is not for young movers who may misunderstand and incorrectly use what I write. I do not want to be responsible for dancers injuring themselves. But, we dressmakers are used to looking at dancers and making the dresses look right on each one. Maybe understanding what is causing a particular body lump will help us fit them that much better.

A bit more about my past dancer/teacher life here and here.

More kinesiology here: Dance Kinesiology

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Colleen M/hpyswr
    Jul 29, 2007 @ 23:42:00

    Love this post!!!! I wish I could have one hour with you and your expertise!! Well maybe two…one with my daughter, and the other just to talk body mechanics and dress fitting. I highly respect our tc, he is also a dance professor, he does all of the good things you mention. I’m just not sure how well it gets through to an 11 (just turned) year old. She has a hyper-extended back, (it runs in the family, only we all called it sway back). He speaks of proper body alignment, and balancing the top half of the body over the bottom half. All of that in two minutes…hard for me to digest, let alone her. I’d love some of the things you hint at…maybe another blog like our dressmaking one but for technique???? Colleen M.

  2. Caroline
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 00:55:00

    Hi Ann, Please do share your knowledge. You might feel there is no way to fight the waves of ignorance rolling towards you, but there are listeners out there. I am one. I need the info to repair the damage I have done to myself already. I hurt ankles, knees and hips, and now my lower back. I love my teacher, but she never had this info when she was dancing. All I know that if I am doing something wrong, I need to be corrected. I *want* to be corrected. Just like as in making dresses, the information should be available. where would we be without celtic flame, eh?
    Please help me, if not personally, to find the correct information I need to protect my body so I can dance till I die. I want to become a teacher *with* knowledge of the body, so I can help others too. Writing about this will be a great idea!

  3. Knitting Maniac
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 06:43:00

    You continue to amaze me. There is so much I don’t know about you, and so much that I can’t wait to learn!

  4. webmaster
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 09:03:00

    You would have LOVED watching the Colin Dunne workshops this week as he attempted to put proper form back into all of the “feis heads” who had the stiff, deliberately over-crossed posture they’ve “learned” from this sport. It was so much about the art and the body in Irish dance, and not the injurious technique that is “taught” to so many.

  5. picperfic
    Jul 30, 2007 @ 11:52:00

    you truly are an amazing woman Ann. So much knowledge that really needs sharing. Mind you, I totally understand your need to keep quiet at the dance school regarding your abilities. Just help your girls to shine through, mind you that might just cause too many questions to be asked…

  6. Rebecca
    Jul 31, 2007 @ 08:23:00


    Would you consider doing a workshop for the dressmakers at 2008 NANs? The information you’re carrying around in that head of yours is amazing. Not only would body alignment help with dancing, but I’m energized by how it could help dressmaking too. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Trackback: Dance Kinesiology posts « Taoknitter
  8. Christina
    Dec 18, 2011 @ 08:16:37

    As a professional dancer and teacher I am so happy to have found this information. I did not let my 10 year old go en pointe this year even though her large, reputable school felt she is ready. After much research, (excellent paper by Dr. David Weiss of IADMS) I will allow it next year. I want her to have had some proper training before she tries it in ID. At our last Oireachtas, I saw bent knees and overworked thighs in addition to the crunched over toes on many of the older girls I have actively been trying to find information on how toe work should be taught, but there really isn’t much out there.
    Are the bent knees dangerous? They don’t really spend much time up there.

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