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A Skaters’ Approach to Dance Class

One’s approach to movement is all-important. An incredible force is lost if one relegates dance to just the outward appearance of a skating program. That is why in teaching ballet and conditioning to figure skaters my first concern is to increase their awareness that movement which is both technically and artistically sound comes from the “inside out”. Every great dance innovator, choreographer, and performer knows and utilizes this concept, this working from the inside out, it’s what rivets your eyes to them and causes you to “believe” every move they make!

I try to show my students the difference between just going through the motions of the exercises I give them and to really understanding a movement’s purpose, how it should feel, how it should look, and what it will do for their skating technique. In other words I try to produce “thinking movers”. In this way everything has a unified goal and both the artistry and the technique will have a distinct quality, power, and consistency. I believe ballet to be the single best approach to understanding both the beauty and physics of classical movement. It simultaneously builds core strength (a stabilized center), whole body awareness, and an understanding of “line”, timing and musicality. It forces both sides of the brain to work together in a constant “pas de deux” toward producing a smooth and unified technique. I think a person will feel more confident and equipped to explore other dance styles after a solid ballet foundation has been laid… and as I tell the skating coaches, “I’ll give you back a more responsive and aware skater.” The sheer joy and power of movement within the framework of correct body placement will cause you to improve more quickly and express yourself more fully.

Tips on maximizing your efforts in class:

To give you a frame of reference think of Pilates based exercises. Approach your ballet lesson from a “whole body” perspective (i.e. don’t just say “I’m here to develop my posture and artistry”). Concentrate on feeling each and every muscle you are working and pay attention to how they effect your body movements as a whole. Use visual images to engage the mind-body connection. Personally. I visualize and feel my feet going through the floor/my lower abs pressed to my spine and my rib cage lifted; the top of my head reaching through the roof, my spine as a long, strong axis, and my upper body emanating a positive energy to the front and sides. Think about the quality and precision of each movement you perform (you can do 50 sit ups the “wrong” way and do nothing but wear yourself out!) and begin to work with the idea of a “collaboration” of mind and body to move with purpose from the inside out.

1- Begin to identify and stabilize your center by strengthening the lower back and abdominals and working on your “turn-out”. Even though skaters don’t need the extreme turn-out that ballet dancers do, stability in turn out (along with deep “soft” knee bends) is imperative to good edge work, spins, and jump landings. Always keep in mind that turn-out comes from both hip sockets simultaneously. Even if only the free leg appears to be turned out, the stabilizing factor comes from the opposition of the working hip’s turn out.

To increase awareness and strength in the pelvic girdle in my classes, we start out on the floor with knees up and feet flat on the floor. I ask the students to feel from the back of the head to the tip of the spine as being pressed flat against the floor: lower abdominals to spine, spine to floor. We do a number of various Pilates-based exercises and a “port de bras” (carriage of the arms) on the floor as well. I tell them to remember or “imprint” the entire feeling whether they’re dancing or skating; to feel the floor against their whole backs as well as the lifted and stabilized center. Correctly done sit ups and other core exercises not only help you identify and strengthen these areas they are a great pre-class warm up.

2- Try not to just emulate the teachers “choreography”. Get to understand the real purpose of each exercise. Nothing in ballet is ever done haphazardly, it is all to build something in us. When you copy choreography you are not getting to the core movement and muscles. You will also have much greater difficulty transferring what you have learned in class onto the ice.

3- Always move from your center – outward. Begin to visualize your whole body out to your extremities doing each exercise as a unit working together, moving as one with the music and (eventually!) reaching out to your audience. I tell my students “expand- make even the smallest movement full and articulate…speak your movements to your audience”.

4- Learn how to breathe with your movements. Correct breathing not only enhances the projection of your expression, it will increase your blood flow and physical stamina as well.

5- Make good use of your mirrors. Make sure that what you are picturing and feeling is a reality. Good artistic lines and correct biomechanics go hand in hand. **Each student needs to realize this and see and feel it within themselves. This type of understanding and muscle memory is what brings both technical and artistic consistency.

6- Have fun…enjoy the feeling of each movement through time and space! Realizing that even when done correctly each body type and personality brings a slightly different “flavour” to each movement will help keep you from comparing yourselves to others and greatly enhance your dance experience!

©2020 Annette T. Thomas and Prime Radiant Press LLC. All right reserved

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