Teacher Responsibility

On one Irish dance message board, there is a posting and discussion about toe stands…the usual one about the teacher simply putting toe stands into a child’s dance because she is 12 now…the usual one asking how they are done…on a message board……can you see where I am going with this?

Why hasn’t the teacher prepared the student for toes stands? Why hasn’t the TEACHER PROPERLY TRAINED THE STUDENT SO THAT THE PARENT DOES NOT HAVE TO GO ON A MESSAGE BOARD TO ASK FOR TECHNICAL INSTRUCTION???!!!!

Someone suggested reading On your toes and another answered: “Thank you SO MUCH for the “Taoknitter” site-my daughter is starting toe stands too-this info is invaluable for saving her feet! Amazing how many kids do it in an injury prone way…” Gratifying to read that…but there are 2 issues that this answer brings up.

1) Notice her statement about “how many kids do it in an injury prone way…” Where does the onus lay in that statement? On the kids. Where should the onus lay? On the teachers.

2) The mind set of this and the other posters is that it is ok that the dancer must figure out how to do toe stands on her own. It is ok that mom is on the boards asking for help…and other folks are being helpful. But no one has pointed out that the TC has failed the student. It seems to be ok that the students are left to their own devices. Why?

Makes me sick to my stomach.

Is this mind set unique to ID? No. Is this behavior unique to ID teachers? No, as illustrated by this interesting comment that came in on “Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…”.

From Anonymous:

“It’s interesting that the post providing a link to your kinesiology posts has been removed AGAIN from the TCRG voy forum.

When I was in high school (several decades ago), I hated gym class. Actually, I always hated gym class and any form of body-movement activities. It was always presented to me as a form of punishment (“You are so awkward, so I’ve signed you up for tap dancing…”)

One particular gym class is still very memorable. The teacher (name and face long forgotten) had hauled out the “gymnastics” equipment. There was a set of uneven bars. We all stood there looking at it wearing our bright red, IRONED, cotton “gym suits”. She explained that in a few weeks we would be graded on a routine and some itsy-bitsy little girl went up to the bars to demonstrate. First thing she did was haul herself up around the lower bar feet-first. Now I could sort of do it the other way – straight arm up and then let gravity do it’s work and around you go. But this way? It was a mystery. “How do you do that?” I asked the girls who could. They didn’t know, they just did it. The rest of us (most of the class) just stood around and stared. We were told to do it.

We did not have the upper body strength to pull into the bar (not that we even knew that was what we had to do). Did the teacher ever have us do any conditioning exercises for this activity? No. When we couldn’t do it, she just told us TO do it and don’t be lazy. I didn’t get an “A” in gym and just hated it even more.

Here’s my point. Any of you TCRGs out there reading this: It is all well and good if you can recognize the steps and moves and know whether they are executed well, but if you can’t help a student get to the point where they CAN dance those steps, you aren’t worth any more than my long-forgotten gym teacher. Reminding a student to turn out or get up high on their toes is not the least bit helpful to the dancer who can’t. The good teacher needs to be able to sort the CAN’Ts from the WON’Ts. The can’t-do-it-yet dancers need background strengthening work and encouragement that they will someday be able to dance the way you want. The won’t-do-it-yet dancers are the ones that benefit from the “reminders” because they can do the move, but aren’t doing it consistently. Nagging a CAN’T only makes them feel worse.”

This way of teaching, this neglectful technique, is wrong, lazy, ineffective, counter-productive, ignorant and even dangerous. Why do people accept it?

Demand more. Demand and expect that your teachers know their craft, that they KNOW HOW TO TEACH!!! Change the mind set that teachers are gods that cannot be questioned. Question them all!!! The good ones will smile and and answer every question, even if it is to say, “I do not know the answer to that right now, but I will when next I see you.” The bad ones get mad…and then behave badly.

I like to think that there are more good teachers (of all kinds) out there than there are bad ones. We just hear more about the bad ones because the good ones do not send you off to the message boards to get answers.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

Dance Teacher Education

I had forgotten that a comment on one of the kinesiology posts had sparked a few thoughts for me:

Beth M. said…
Ann, I was glad to see your post on uneducated dance teachers. I have been “rehab”-ing Irish dance injuries through pilates for the last 3 years. I had made a similar comment about An Com adding anatomy and physiology to the TC exam on Brooke’s blog; however, in thinking over the last few weeks I came to the following conclusion: CLRG’s role in certifying new instructors is only in administering an exam (both written and practical) to persons wishing to become certified Irish dance instructors. Those wishing to become teachers are left to learn the material on their own (through videos) or with the help of an existing certified TCRG (a TC does have to recommend them for the exam). Would uneducated teachers then help to create more uneducated teachers? Where would they get the correct knowledge? How can this be changed?

This comment was posted about the time I was researching the TCRG exam and writing “Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…” . Her last 3 questions are important ones not just for ID teachers but for all dance teachers. The lack of anatomical and kinesiological knowledge in the dance field as a whole is not new information. Where/how can a dance teacher learn this information?

Your best bet is to see what is offered at your local college. If there is a dance department, see what body knowledge classes they offer. If they offer none or there is no dance program, check out the Physical Education department. Unless it is solely a health management program, it would be highly unusual if the PE department did not have sports kinesiology or injury prevention & rehabilitation. Sometimes folks get fancy with the names, so call if you can’t decipher their course titles. Even though classes in the PE department will not be designed to look at movement from the dance point of view, the concepts are exactly the same. Perhaps your teacher will be game to help you translate the info for use in dance. One of the sports kines classes that I took was taught by this 6’3″ muscle-bound ex-football player…whose passion was lyrical ballroom dancing! He was thrilled to have a dancer in his class!

Now, suppose you have nothing at your local college or you cannot afford a college course? Can you do it on your own? Yes. This book, Dance Kinesiology by Sally Sevey Fitt can teach you just about everything you need to know. Take it page by page…stand up and learn how the information in the book pertains to your own body…use the book to learn how your own body works.

Am I talking about memorizing the book? No. You can memorize all the bones and joints and muscles if you want. It is in there. But what is also in there, the most important thing in there, is the framework for evaluating all movement. You will learn about the planes of movement and how gravity dictates movement. You will learn about joint classifications and the planes the joints are meant to move in. You will learn how the muscles move bones, how the pulleys affect the levers. Then you will have a framework for looking at a dancer’s movement, and this will help you to then zero in on specific movement issues which means even if you do not have all of the necessary info in your head to fix the problem right then and there, you will know what information you are looking for when you go back to the books.

Does your kinesiology training need to be specific to the dance/movement form you are engaged in? No. Movement of the human body is non-denominational! Rotation of the leg in the hip socket is the same in ballet as it is in fencing. The position of the pelvis affects movement the same way in Irish dancing as it does in tae kwon do. Hyper-pronation of the feet causes just as much pain for a runner as it does for a modern dancer. From lifting and throwing my male partner one year, I developed the same thrower’s arm pain as a baseball pitcher. This is why a sports kinesiology class can be just as valuable as a dance kinesiology class…the concepts are the same.

Reminds me…I was recruited for the track team at school when I was about 13 after I threw myself over the high bar during PE class. I stood up after hitting the mat, and both the girls and boys coaches were staring at me. The male coach told me to, “Do that again.” So I ran at the bar and threw myself over. When asked how I got over the bar with such height, I just shrugged…I was 13! What did I know!? I became a high jumper…and I hated track. I remember feeling so exposed during meets as coaches used to line up their boys to watch me…and then they’d discuss what they saw. After that season, I just went back to being a ballerina…having boys and men line up to watch me throw myself over a bar was unnerving! At least in a theatre those staring at you are in the dark!!! (Eeww…maybe it is all creepy…)

Now I can look back at that and see how my training as a ballerina made me a good high jumper. I was strong, yes, but it was also about the specific placement of my pelvis as I launched myself through space…the same placement I used to launch myself through the air in ballet class. The physics was the same.

It has come to my attention that my blog posts are being perceived by some as specific attacks on ID teachers. Except for the occasional specifically focused rant, that is not my intention. Irish dance is the dance form that my 3 divas are involved in so that is where my attention is currently focused. But, if I had had a blog years ago, I would have been taking modern dance, ballet, and jazz specifically to task, also. I did take them to task in my university courses as year after year students came in with bizarre ideas about how the body worked and the injuries to prove that they were bound and determined to make the body work that way!

Knowledge of how the body actually works is not as scarce in dance teachers as it once was. Generally, dancers and teachers who get college dance degrees are more educated in body knowledge because most dance degree programs have some sort of body knowledge courses these days. There are ballet and jazz degree programs, but most college dance programs are modern (at least in the US), but again it is not about the specific dance technique. I know there is now an Irish Dance Degree in Ireland (yay!), though I do not know what the curriculum is like. But, historically, the tradition of dance teacher training has been about passing the information, correct or not, from teacher to student in the dance studio. When I first started teaching at 14, my classes were exact replicas of my teacher’s! It is how it works.

But dance is not an ethereal, esoteric experience in the ether…we work with real substance – the human body. And there are rules of anatomy and physics that dictate how that human body works. Just because my dance teacher told me that the muscles under my leg would lift my leg high did not make it so!!! My leg finally went high the day I discovered that the muscles on the front did the very real lifting work! My chronic injuries, my students’ chronic injuries all disappeared as we learned the realities of moving the human body, of moving our own unique human bodies.

I am not dictating here HOW one should teach a specific technique. I am crusading for safe teaching no matter the form. Why does that piss some people off?

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

To start educating yourself, try here.

"Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…"

There have been interesting conversations happening about what Irish dance teachers should know in terms of body mechanics and kinesiology. There are strong feelings on both sides of that fence. Links to this blog have been posted a couple of times on the TCRG exam board…but they were removed because dance kinesiology and even the discussion of whether or not ID teachers should know this information is not currently relevant to taking the ID teaching exam. Fair enough.

I was interested in what is required to pass the TCRG (teaching) exam. This is from the syllabus at http://www.tcrgexam.9k.com/:

The examination consists of six sections as follows:-
(a) practical test in stepdancing
(b) written ceili dancing test
(c) practical test in teaching ceili dancing
(d) practical test in teaching stepdancing
(e) written music test
(f) oral Irish language test (optional if candidate lives outside Ireland).

The syllabus also includes detailed information on each section of the exam: TCRG Exam components

Very, very thorough and intense examination process. When certified, TCRGs are rather incredible resources for Irish dance history…by the very act of certification, the Irish dance historical survival is ensured. Fantastic.

So what about addressing the current situation in which contemporary ID teachers are leading ID forward by continuing to introduce innovative steps into Irish dance which is making it more athletic and changing it from being simply a folk dance form, as many folks call Irish dance?

That being said, I looked up the definition of folk dance. Wikipedia says this:

Folk dance is a term used to describe a large number of dances, mostly of European origin, that tend to share the following attributes:

1) They were originally danced in about the 19th century or earlier (or are, in any case, not currently
copyrighted);

2) Their performance is dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation;
3) They were danced by common people and not exclusively by aristocracy;

4) They have been developed spontaneously and there is no governing body that has final say over what “the dance” is or who is authorized to teach it. This also means that no one has the final say over the definition of folk dance or the minimum age for such dances.
 

Some other definitions also state clearly that folk dance forms have evolved without the benefit of a choreographer… I think this is another way of saying that folk dances “develop spontaneously.”(For more great definitions and resources, click here.)

 

So does Irish dance qualify as a folk dance?

Of course it does. Irish dance encompasses ceili dancing, set dancing, and sean nós as well as step dancing. The first three forms definitely satisfy the criteria above…except for the “governing body” part, but I will get to that in a moment. Irish dance does have a rather long history of dancing masters who developed their own steps…I read somewhere that these dancing masters had their “territories,” areas where only they taught dance and others were not welcome. I have also read that sometimes dancing masters were kidnapped to teach in new areas…gotta love the Irish! So, although there is this idea that folk dance “develops spontaneously” (sounds like the myth of the fruit fly!), except for the improvisational forms (i.e. sean nós) someone, somewhere “choreographed” the dances, even if it was by committee over a long period of time or, as with the Irish, the dancing masters who helped spread the tradition.

Now, this “governing body” idea… I looked up a few things to see if other folk dance forms have programs to certify teachers. Yes they do exist, though I did not find any that were as big and organized as the CLRG (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha). But it does seem as if folk dance certifying bodies are all interested in preserving their own dance form’s history, just as CLRG is.

This is a wonderful thing, of course, but it makes me smile because of its irony. There is a peculiar characteristic of the Irish (not that it does not exist in other cultures, but being Irish meself, this has familial implications as well)…if I had to describe ONE trait that seems to be genetic in the Irish, it is our contentious individual independence. “You wanna tell me what to do? Go suck a lemon!!!” When was the one time that Ireland was unified under one leader? The early 11th century under Brian Boru, and that only lasted about 12 years! But, threaten me, challenge me, and then my brothers and sisters will stand right behind me…we’ll unify!! My father always talked about how my siblings and I would fight and tease each other mercilessly, but as soon as one of us was in need, the wagons would circle, no questions asked. Being fractious is an Irish trait, for better and for worse.

And yet, we have had CLRG since 1930. It was established by the Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) which itself was created in 1893 to preserve the Irish language. And I am guessing that the motivation behind this was to unite against those who would deprive the Irish of their culture… circle the wagons as the oppressed are wont to do. And Irish dance has flourished.

So, the folk dance angle…yes, I see most of ID as fitting into the folk dance category, even if we do have a “governing body” (can’t do EVERYTHING like everyone else!). But, is Irish step-dancing still classified as folk dance? Is step dancing “dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation,” as stated above? No, innovation now seems to be the order of the day.

I have not been able to find that the CLRG states that Irish dance is a folk art, yet folks argue that CLRG is only there to certify the teachers on their historical knowledge of this folk dance form. One cannot compete at feiseanna unless one’s teacher is certified by the CLRG. (I know there are other ID organizations…)

But Irish step dancing is no longer folk dance. Innovations are happening at an ever-increasing rate. Fantastic. No problem. But, as any dance form evolves, so should the teachers. The first section of the TCRG exam is a “practical test in stepdancing” followed later by a “practical test in teaching stepdancing.” If what is being tested is the historical knowledge of what are considered to be the traditional steps, why are teachers not restricted to using only traditional steps in their choreography for competitions? If having the teacher certification is so important, and they are not restricted in this manner, then who is governing the step innovations, making sure that teachers know how to teach them? In order to get the certification, don’t teachers have to demonstrate that they themselves know and can perform the traditional steps? So why do they not have to know and be able to perform all of the new steps that are now being used in solo Irish dancing? Is that not within the purview of the CLRG?

I do not fault the CLRG for the state of things, but since it is such a strong presence in ID, is it not now time to step up to the plate and address the very serious issue of their certified teachers knowing how to safely and correctly teach students how to perform the new steps, the tricks that have been borrowed from other dance forms? There are many ID teachers who have taken it upon themselves to be educated in anatomy and kinesiology, but what about those who haven’t, those who say that since the CLRG does not require it they do not need to know it?

This is from the exam syllabus:

14. Rince Aonair: Stepdancing Teaching Test

…Amongst the qualities taken into account in assessing a candidate’s capabilities in this section are:-
(1) Instruction (should be clear, concise and suitable for those under instruction);
(2) Clarity and audibility of instructions;
(3) Ability to demonstrate and break down steps;
(4) Selection of suitable steps;
(5) Manner of handling dancers;
(6) Identification and correction of faults.

The CLRG DOES want to know that a teacher can identify and correct faults…but since only certain traditional steps are identified on the syllabus, those are the only steps the exam candidates worry about.

Since the CLRG already has a teaching evaluation as part of the exam, can they not start to include some of the harder steps (toe stands, changement, entrechat, etc…) that have made their way into mainstream ID into this evaluation along with rocks, cross keys, trebles, etc? CLRG did make a ruling against toe stands for dancers under 12. To me, that means that the organization has acknowledged that toe stands have made it into mainstream ID. Is CLRG evaluating their teacher candidates on their ability to correctly evaluate whether or not their students are ready to execute toe stands and then how to teach them safely?

Now, this does not address the issue of dance teachers being fully educated in human movement, but it would be a start. Adding another component in this area would be quite an enterprise and one that CLRG may not want to take on. Perhaps in the future a class in kinesiology or injury prevention & rehabilitation will be required in order to take the exam. That is simple enough.

Here’s my plea:

Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha,
Irish dance is changing, and you have a significant place in this growth as either a support for innovation or as a brake to keep ID traditional. Your certified teachers, the wonderful repositories of Irish dance history, are moving forward as many believe they should. They trust you. You have created an excellent exam…if innovation is to be encouraged, please think about including other elements to be tested in the step dancing portions. Please consider requiring a class in kinesiology, or anatomy, or injury prevention & rehabilitation before a candidate can take the TCRG exam. Please add your authoritative voice to this discussion.

Sincerely,

me

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.

Dance Kinesiology and the Art of Dance

Kinesiology is the study of human movement. It is the study of how the human body is put together and its mechanics. It is the study of the bones and muscles and the physics of motion. (There is also something else called Applied Kinesiology…but that is a crunchy-granola, “dysfunctional energy pathways” approach that I do not believe in.) Kinesiology encompasses biomechanics which is “the field of study which makes use of the laws of physics and engineering concepts to describe motion of body segments, and the forces [both internal and external] which act upon them during activity.”AIMBE

Dance Kinesiology is the same study of factual human movement within the context of the complex art of dance movement.

My story: My first exposure to the fact that science might have a place in dance, was when Patrice Whiteside came to substitute for my ballet teacher Tricia Kaye (the founder of KD Dids) when I was about 15. In a few short days, I got more practical advice about how to use my body than I had in my entire life. Patrice was responsible for me becoming one of those students who asked why and how…drove some of my teachers nuts. But at 15 it occurred to me that if it can be DONE, there is an explanation for HOW. I wanted to know HOW and was usually very frustrated by the lack of information (and patience!) that my teachers could offer.

My first formal kinesiology class – sports kinesiology – was as an undergraduate dancer at The University of California at Riverside. Although I am sure that Sally Sevey Fitt was well on her way to becoming THE dance kinesiology guru (there is NO info on her specifically that I can find), the field of dance kinesiology had not been widely established when I went to college. Our department chair, though, felt there was value in her dancers learning about the science of movement, and we girly dancers had to join the shocked jocks in a physical education lecture course. My fellow students hated every minute of learning about swinging a bat, throwing a ball, running, moving in the various planes, but I was enthralled. I had the ability to translate this info into dance, and I was hooked. Here were the reasons, the whys and wherefores of human movement no matter the movement style or form. This was not about any specific movement technique, this was biomechanics. My dancing and my teaching changed immediately as I regarded movement as not a style but as manipulation of my bones by my muscles through space, with and against gravity. Sounds dry, I know….but I was in heaven! I finally had a framework for everything I was doing and teaching.

My kinesiology studies went on through the years as I studied everything I could get my hands on. I took a few more sports kinesiology courses because there were no dance kinesiology course being taught anywhere that I could find except at the University of Utah with Ms. Fitt. I was on my own. But, I did encounter so many other experts in other body therapies and techniques, all of whom became integral parts of my developing framework for understanding human movement: Alexander Technique, Feldenkreis, Neuro-muscular Re-alignment, Labanalysis, Labanotation, Dance Therapy, Body Mapping, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation, Physical Therapy, etc. It all fit in. I had started collecting books on sports kinesiology, anatomy, biomechanics, stretching, injury prevention and rehabilitation, movement analysis, etc. And then I discovered Sally Sevey Fitt’s book, Dance Kinesiology. There it all was! In black and white! Everything I had discovered on my own was true!! It became my bible.

So, when I got my first university position when I was 25, I wanted to teach dance kinesiology. It complemented my studio dance courses. My students soared, and I was the happiest teacher on the planet.

What value does the study of dance kinesiology hold? It teaches dancers about their bodies: how they are constructed, how they are meant to move, how they are NOT meant to move, how movement is produced and/or restricted, how to use gravity. Is it a complex field of study? Yes and no. There are so many “things” to be learned, yes, but the basic concepts, once mastered, give a dancer a framework for evaluating and analyzing any and all movement challenges.

The body is the dancer’s instrument…how can it truly be used to its full potential if it is not understood? Over the years, I have encountered arguments that all resemble this one: one does not need to know how a car is constructed to drive it. Give me a break…does your driving teacher tell you that you can drive really fast by pushing on the brake? This is illogical, right? Well, the body functions in an extremely logical manner, and dance teachers should know the logic! Instead, dancers are routinely told to do things that essentially work against actual body mechanics, against the logic of body construction. A few of my favorites are: “Squeeze your butt muscles to turn out your legs!”, “Lift your arms using your (middle) back muscles!”, “Tuck your pelvis!”, “Lift your leg from underneath!”, and in Irish dance, “Knees forward, toes out!” Even if the students do not know dance kinesiology, it should be a GIVEN that a dance teacher does. Then, a dance student would be getting nothing but correct information.

Sometime in my graduate studies I encountered the discussion about the art of dance vs. the science of dance. I remember not understanding why there was a discussion at all. Understanding my body meant that I could dance my best which meant that the “art” of the dance was clearly illustrated. If a body is performing at its peak, would not the art be best served?

Rather than going off on my own rant about how science and art are not at odds, here is an excerpt from a wonderful article I found once:

‘“Science helps us to understand, to make sense, of the world in which we live. It helps us to understand ourselves. So does art,” Andrade says. “Scientists ask questions, design experiments, make observations, and try to develop answers or understanding of the questions asked. So do artists.”

It’s hard to break a stereotype, however. Scientists and artists, many believe, have as much in common as Dilbert and Salvador Dali.

Engineers, represented in the popular comic strip, are thought of as “left-brained,” meaning they are unemotional, mathematical, exact, and logical. Artists, such as the Spanish painter, have the reputation as being “right-brained,” or creative, spontaneous – even impractical.

“Not quite,” says Andrade, who is driven to debunk the myth. “Scientists and engineers are also very creative – generally the more creative, the more mathematical, logical, and highly experimental.”

Artists often begin a work with a creative vision, undoubtedly stemming from the right hemisphere of the brain, which governs creativity. But the act itself of drawing, painting or composing is a step-by-step process requiring memorizing patterns of logical thought processed by the left hemisphere, the side of physics. Conversely, just as artistry is augmented by input from the left-brain hemisphere sequence, scientific thought depends upon right-sided inspiration, says author Leonard Shlain.’

The rest of the article is well worth the read: What Leonardo Knew

There is another section that reads: McDermott’s own math professors chided him for taking art classes. And his sculpting instructors questioned his decision to spend less time honing his art to crack math texts.”

This was my experience in high school and college. My favorite encounter with a rare teacher in graduate school who got a kick out of my diverse studies went like this:

(This was a math class I took for fun with pre-med students, and the teacher said this loudly for the benefit of the class.) “So, Ann…I see you got ANOTHER A on this test…” Here I began blushing furiously and painfully.

“What’s your major again?”

“Dance,” I whispered, wanting to disappear.

“What? Say it louder!”

“DANCE!”

“Yep, that’s what I thought!” she said as she looked around the class and began a mini-lecture on how many students were failing this required class.

I was mortified…but got over it as she smiled and winked at me. I realized she was not making fun of me, and we had a great conversation after class. She was fascinated by my interests.

Over the years, I began to understand how my right and left brains complemented and supported each other. Fascinating stuff. I took the collaboration of the parts of my brain for granted. It has helped me understand my children and their learning styles.

And only solidified my standing on the art vs science argument…there isn’t one.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

Alignment response

In response to my alignment posts ( Chapter 1, Chapter 2), an internet friend wrote: Thank you. Very informative and positive. Do you think a child, say 8-10 years old (I choose that age because that’s when many serious programs admit students) could understand this type of material? Is it possible to prevent misalignment instead of just correcting it?I guess, like you said, it comes back to the language we use. A kid might not be interested in the anatomy, but they could learn to respond to the language that promotes correct alignment. Hmm. What do you think?

Yes, yes, yes!

Young kids probably would find the anatomy info as I present it dry and uninteresting, but they do most definitely respond to good teaching. And good teaching would include this info in a way that a child would find interesting. Since they respond to the mis-informed, ignorant and bad teaching, I should think they would only flourish with a knowledgeable teacher…and knowledgeable dance teachers do exist!! I know that my posts seem to only be about fixing problems already in existence…those are the questions I get, those are my reactions to the dancers I see around me too often.

And, since you brought this up, I have realized that basically all of my dance teaching career has been working with older dancers (meaning, not beginners), dancers aged 18 to 72 (yes 72!) who came to me with training. I have never thought about this before!

As a background for my thoughts on teaching, I should say that I come from a family of teachers…my mother and three sisters are all teachers at the elementary and junior high level. My father even did some teaching. Teaching is a way of life for my family. I did teach kids dance and even spent time as a substitute teacher in my hometown…but each experience taught me that I did not have the patience and the creativity that is necessary to teach kids. I found it really frustrating trying to get a 7 year-old to understand the implications of bad behavior and bad posture on their future life plans!!!! I found my niche in college teaching while I was still an undergrad. Teaching people with whom I could have a conversation beyond “Where’s Mommy?” put me in heaven.

But do not get me wrong…without elementary, middle, junior high, and high school teachers, I would never have had a job. I am truly, truly in awe of those teachers. Coming from my family, I know the time, the dedication, the education, the creativity and commitment that it takes to be a good teacher, to prepare children for THE REST OF THEIR LIVES!!! It is truly disgusting that teachers are not the highest paid people on the planet!

At my 20th high school reunion, a long-lost friend actually said to me that although he loved being a (non-university) teacher, he knew it was not as important as what I was doing at the university level. I was floored! I actually made him blush when, first, I told him that he was sadly mistaken about his importance and then, second, went on about how without all of the other teachers that kids have before they ever get to college, I would have nothing to work with! I considered my teaching to be an endeavor that relied most heavily on ALL of the teaching that came before. HE was most important, not me. What a way of thinking!

All good teachers, those who work with children ages 0 to 18…you are heroes. And I thank you.

So, back to my perspective on dance training…I did teach beginners on occasion, but that was not my forte because, quite simply, I would become bored. Not very noble, but there it is. What turned my crank was working with students who had the background and the wherewithal to chew something up with me. I was the perfect graduate professor…tell me what you got, let me rip it up, and then let’s put it all back together so that we are both the better for it. Grand stuff!

And that is what informs what I write here…my experience as a teacher of folks with dance backgrounds. We took things apart and put them back together. We were mechanics…the car was limping along, so we had to fix it.

So, do I think that children can be taught well and correctly from the very beginning? Most definitely YES! I think the real question is, do enough teachers exist who can teach well and correctly? I do not know.

By writing about it, my hope is that enough folks will start thinking about all of this and start to change things for the better so that one day the ignorant dance teacher in any form will be the exception rather than the rule. Unfortunately, it is still the rule when it does not have to be. The information is out there…those who train the human body should understand the human body. The responsibility lies with the teacher to educate her- or himself. If they do not do it, then it lies with the moms and the dads and the dancers themselves.

Does that answer your question Peggy? Sort of?

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

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