If you teach ballet, how to improve ballet technique is usually one of the most important things on your agenda. Your well trained eye should easily pick up on incorrect ballet technique and incorrect muscle use. This should be like second nature to you, especially if you have been doing this a while.
The trick is to pick up all these errors in technique speedily and they need to be corrected before the muscle memory turns these movements into bad habits.
How to Improve Ballet Technique
Here are some tips and techniques to help teachers to work with their students to help them improve their ballet technique. Although technique is a vast subject, here are a few ideas that you can start on.
Before we start, know that there are two areas of the brain involved in using muscles to create physical movement:
- The Pre-Motor Section of the brain is where the action is carefully, with concentration, thought out as it is performed. This is where the movement is controlled while initial learning takes place. This is where the dancer consciously plans the movement.
- The Motor Section of the brain is where the skill goes once the person can perform it quickly and smoothly. This is where the skill comes forward automatically, without thought, after the muscle response is learned in the Pre-Motor section. The motor section happens automatically. It is what we call a “habit.” It usually takes about twelve weeks for the skill to get here from the Pre-Motor area.
When, as a teacher you see incorrect technique being repeated by a student, this means that the wrong habit has been formed, and it has already become a habit. As you know habits are har to break.
It usually takes from six to twelve weeks to change this, as knowing what is correct is only the beginning, but actually correcting the fault takes concentration when performing the step. Unfortunately, no amount of concentration will instantly and permanently correct the error and it takes time, so don’t get too impatient with your students teachers.
How To Encourage Correct Muscle Use Overall
Try working and strengthening your pupils work by working them in parallel first. Just about any movement in ballet can be done parallel. Once they have mastered the movement in parallel, try the feet at a 90 degree turnout. Once they have this right then move your dancers to their personal best turned out positions.
A good example of this would be to teach your pupils pirouettes parallel first before attempting them turned out, or doing sautes with the feet parallel, before turning them out from the hips.
Make sure to put some parallel work into each class, as this type of work provides a secure foundation for good technique and will strengthen the work for when the dancer has to work turned out.
A good idea is to incorporate some parallel work in your warm up or cool down.
How To Encourage Good Technique in Elevated Steps
The correct use of the lower leg muscles are what make a dancer jump gracefully, smoothly and without any strain.
In many cases you will see your dancers land with their heels up. Sometimes this could be caused by short Achilles Tendons, but this is quite rare. More often than not the muscles on the front of the shins (anterior tibialis) that flex the ankle are weak. Exercises that flex the ankle will help to strengthen this muscle and help lessen the tendency of the heels to pop up when landing from a jump.
Encouraging the muscles to do the jobs they were designed to do will give greater strength and grace to the dancers performance overall.
Let the pupils take their shoes off and do a demi plie. Check that the feet are relaxed at the bottom of the demi plie. The student should be able to release her toes off of the floor, and thus activate those shin muscles at the bottom of the demi plie.
Check then that when the toes return to the floor they don’t tense up or curl.
Show them that they have to use their shin muscles when going down into a plie, and they must relax the calves. This will make their jumps higher and smoother.
Get you students into the habit of stretching out their calf muscles after barre and again after they have finished their class.
Demonstrate The Exercises Correctly
As a teacher it is important that you demonstrate each exercise to the best of your ability, as children normally copy exactly what they see and you could inadvertently transfer your bad habits to them without realizing it.
Many times you may notice that your students are demonstrating the same faults that you have been fighting all the years, so be very careful in your demonstration so they don’t copy your bad habits.
Be very aware too on how much you turn your feet out, as your dancers will try to be like you, so for the younger classes and beginners, make an effort to make your turnout less to avoid your students copying you and damaging their knees.
Repetition Repetition and More Repetition
Repeating and drilling new steps learned in class is one of the best ways to improve your students technique.
Firstly, focus on letting your students move through the movements and positions slowly and try to get their technique as perfect as possible. Do it over and over until they can’t stand it anymore, then do it ten more times. The goal here is to install some muscle memory so that your students can move towards performing everything with flawless technique.
Once they have the technique right, then they can focus more on the actual steps and more on the dancing and performing as the technique will be secure.
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It is well worth teaching your pupils these principles on how to improve ballet technique, as it will serve them well as they progress further into their dancing careers.