Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Teaching technique in children

Teaching isn't as easy as running through syllabus and expecting your students to catch on sooner or later, or it certainly shouldn't be. When you're teaching young dancers you are affecting their physical being - their posture, their muscle development, their bone strength, their body composition. They aren't going to know it, but their teacher has a huge responsibility for ensuring that they are taught safely and effectively.

The major concern should be the teaching of technique, not syllabus. If your 8 year old pupil can't remember the enchaƮnement you've been doing with them after 6 weeks, it really isn't that big a deal. Instead the teacher should be concerned with whether their alignment is correct, their posture, their hip, knee and foot placement, are their ribs tucked in, are their shoulders down... Bad habits picked up when young can cause serious problems with posture and muscle imbalances down the line. Injuries are most often sustained from flaws in technique. It is easier to learn correct technique the first time round than to unlearn incorrect technique and relearn all over again. It is down to the teacher to be vigilant and thorough and to pay attention to each individual child.

This can be further complicated by various stages of growth in the child; if their body is changing, their coordination and motor control will be affected and suddenly they may have difficulty with an exercise that previously had been performed perfectly. Instead of drilling them on it, allow them the chance to familiarise themselves with their body, just ensure that they understand and are striving for correct technique at all times.

Boys at the American School of Ballet. (c) Ellen Crane 2007.
If a maths teacher explains how to solve a problem, and the student doesn't understand it, repeating the same words over and over again isn't going to help. Instead any teacher worth their salt will find a different way of explaining the problem until they find one that clicks with the student. Dance is the same. If you are repeatedly having to correct a student for turning out from the knee and not the hip, consider that they may not understand what you are after; instead think of new ways of explaining, use imagery, give them visual reference points for their alignment, get them to explain it back to you. When you're young and still trying to figure out the difference between en dedans and en dehors, being told to pull your stomach up isn't going to have much affect. If the teacher however takes the time to explain correct hip alignment in a way the individual child can understand, you'll find they'll suddenly be able to perform with the correct posture, even if they still haven't grasped the difference in direction!

Syllabus and rep will come to dancers in time, the most important thing to worry about is that they are learning the correct technique and alignment from the outset. If it is taught properly from the beginning of training, it becomes second nature and reduces the likelihood of dancers developing muscle imbalances and postural problems. It also means when the terminology finally clicks into place and the various awkward growth phases are over, you have dancers that will suddenly have the poise, alignment and technique needed to develop their practice to it's full potential.

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