Dancers of all kinds are always looking for more ways to improve their technique, from ballet dancers hoping to get just one more pirouette, to tap dancers who work tirelessly to execute the perfect wings. In this article, we will focus on dance technique as it relates to ballet and jazz dance, but these suggestions will undoubtedly help all kinds of dancers!
In order to improve your dance technique, you should focus on your core strength, continue to stretch daily, and importantly for many dancers, stay in ballet class!
While ballet isn’t the end-all be-all of dance techniques, it certainly does help to know and practice the basics to improve in styles like contemporary and jazz.
#1 – Focus on Core Strength
When you hear about the “core”, what do you think of? I think of an apple core; the very center of an apple that supports its structure and allows the apple to balance upright. We can think of our bodies as a bit like apples.
Our core, when strong and taken care of, supports our body and allows us to move in all sorts of ways. When we neglect our core, we can still move, but maybe not as efficient. As dancers, our goal is to utilize our bodies in smart ways to achieve the best results possible. Core strength is an important part of good dance technique, and when we don’t have a strong core, our dance technique suffers.
For dancers looking to improve their technique, core strength means more than just doing crunches and sit ups every day. Developing a strong core includes exercising the muscles in your back, as well as your lower abs, your side abs, and believe it or not – your glutes!
One of my favorite core strength exercises that can help dancers who are looking to up their technique game is the Supine Toe Tap. From our friends in the Pilates world, the Supine Toe Tap is great for beginners to target the core.
To begin – lie flat on your back and raise your feet off the floor, creating a 90 degree angle with your knees. Your hands are flat on the floor with palms down.
Then, contracting the muscles in your torso, slowly lower one foot down in front of you (keeping knees bent and your back flat) and tap the floor. Raise the foot back up and repeat on the other side. Continue this sequence for 8-12 reps.
#2 – Don’t Forget to Stretch
Dancers who stretch regularly find that they can achieve some steps more easily in certain dance techniques. A grand jeté, for example, with both legs extended in a split, cannot be easily achieved without prior concentrated stretching of the hamstrings, hip flexors and quadriceps.
When we stretch regularly (and properly!) our muscles relax and lengthen. Dancers these days can benefit from both static and dynamic stretching, with static stretching meaning sitting in a position like a butterfly or a split and holding it, while dynamic stretching involves moving through a stretch, like lunges or rélevés on a stair step.
Creating a daily stretching routine can benefit your dance technique in a huge way! Not only will it keep your muscles active on days you don’t take dance classes, but it will create muscle memory to help your body stay consistent when dancing.
There is also a proper technique to stretching, just like there is proper technique to doing a dance step. Some things to remember when stretching include weight placement, posture, and muscle engagement.
Proper weight placement in a lunge, for example, means centering yourself instead of putting all your weight in the front leg. Good posture in a straddle stretch includes creating a long neck, sitting on your sitz bones and not slouching. Finally, muscle engagement refers to being aware of and using the correct muscles to support the stretch you’re performing.
Stretching only works correctly when you actively engage one muscle (the quadriceps, for example) while stretching the opposite muscle (the hamstring).
#3 – Stay in Ballet!
If you’ve never heard this suggestion in regards to improving your dance technique, you might have been living under a rock! As a dance educator and dance competition judge for over a decade, it is always very apparent from the moment a dancer walks on stage if they take ballet. From their posture, to their gait, to the carriage of their upper body, a dancer who takes ballet class regularly will most often have good technique in not only ballet, but jazz, lyrical and contemporary dance.
Ballet class, with its focus on repetition, order, and sequencing, creates good technique in dancers who attend regularly and really apply the corrections they are given. Simple corrections in ballet class, like lengthening the neck in a tendu or extending the fingertips in a port de bras sound like little things, but they are the basis of good technique. If we all went schlumping around at the barre with poor posture and noodle arms, we certainly wouldn’t have gorgeous pirouettes or soaring jetés across the floor!
Dancers often complain that ballet is boring and repetitive, but the very best dancers out there are the ones who train regularly in ballet. Even though jazz and contemporary are the hot styles right now, the way to finesse your work in those classes is to attend ballet. If you find ballet to be boring, seek out teachers and classes that make it fun! Ask your teacher for a pop music ballet class, or create your own playlist for practicing at home.
Luckily these strategies to improve your dance technique can be implemented both at home and at the studio, giving you a double-whammy opportunity to better yourself! Happy dancing!
Check out this article for more tips on Ballet – Ballet Tips for Tendu