November 27th, 2019 by Elizabeth Radabaugh
Developing our technique is extremely important, however it can be cumbersome and slow to see any results. A lot of times, as you repeat over and over your pliés, tendus and relevés, it can get monotonous. You might find yourself asking, “Why am I doing this?” or “What is this helping?”. In today’s blog, we will be discussing why the origins of your technique and repetition is important.
Every dance class you’ve taken has a warm-up. This part of class is not only useful for injury prevention but is also meant to breakdown and segment the body’s movement. In genres like ballet, each movement at the barre can be directly translated to a larger grand allegro movement later in class. In tap, you warm up your basic, broken down steps to then later put everything together in a combination of those steps. In order to build little steps to make larger steps, you must have a strong foundation. Not only is your warm-up the building blocks of your steps later in class it also helps build the correct muscles. Building the correct muscles will prevent injuries and avoid over developing the wrong muscles. For example, if you don’t learn to extend from the back of the leg in a tendú, chances are in a développé or battement, you’re going to grip in your quads and therefore, cause them to over develop. Another example would be knowing how to land properly out of a sauté. This is from practicing plié after plié and knowing how to roll through your feet. Notice that these “simple” steps are the cornerstone of your technique. A good foundation allows you to progress with success.
Not only do teachers use repetition as building blocks for larger movements later but, they also use it for your memory- your “muscle” memory. Sticking with my sauté example, I don’t always think “Okay, land toe, ball, heel in a demi-plié”. Instead, my muscle memory takes over and my body knows what to do with each landing. Because I have practiced a plethora of pliés and rolled through my feet countless times, it’s second nature. We simply train our muscles with repetition over and over so that our brains don’t over-load with all the mechanics involved with each step.
To get those pirouettes perfect, you must be able to hold a solid relevé in retiré. While repetitious exercises can get monotonous think of the bigger steps down the line. Encourage yourself to find something new about your warm-up. Balance a little longer or stretch a little further. Continue to push yourself to discover something new about your warm-up. Repetition and the proper technique will set you up for success later down the road. Next time you think to yourself, “Ugh, pliés again?”, remember, your saut de chat needs an awesome plié for that.
Marissa Staniec is a performer, choreographer, teacher and adjudicator for StarQuest with over 20 years of experience in the dance industry. She also hosts, writes and produces her own podcast on iTunes called “Beyond the Mirror: A Dancer’s Podcast”.