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Method's Research

Method's Research

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Published by Hilary Wolfley

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Published by: Hilary Wolfley on Apr 06, 2012
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Hilary WolfleyDance 396, Sandra AllenAlternative Methods Research10 November 2011Instructional ImageryEvery dancer remembers a time when a teacher used an image-based analogy to help
increase understanding of a step. Utilizing their students’
imaginations is a well-known toolteachers use in order to facilitate the proper execution or feeling of a particular movement.Although the use of images themselves are not new to the art form, the idea of imagery as ateaching method is a fairly new concept and continues to be explored by teachers across thedance world. Many ballet teachers encourage their students to mimic. While this isappropriate for younger children, as the dancers grow older, they stay in that mimickingmindset, striving only to produce a certain shape or fit themselves into a mold. This mindset is
dangerous to the dancers’ growth as technicians and artists because it stifles the innovative
beauty that ballet can foster. Eric Franklin, a former professional dancer and choreographer, isan expert in the field of imagery
in dance. He says “the difference between imaging andmimicking rests on identification…. In dance we mostly use imagery for identification ratherthan outward imitation” (Franklin 72). Images, therefore, help
students identify with a certainidea or feeling and incorporate it into their movement, making it genuinely a part of them. Theuse of imagery, either anatomical or abstract, is an effective method of teaching ballet becauseit enables students to make new insights and discoveries in regards to technique and artistry.
 
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The term “imagery” can be a broad word, but can be described more specifically if 
divided into two categories: anatomical and abstract (or metaphysical). Both are effective fordifferent reasons. Julie Janus Walters, a ballet teacher of many years, claims anatomy-basedimagery is the most effective. Instead of explaining turnout by telling the students to pretendto balance a teacup on their heel, she uses the anatomically accurate image of the rotatingfemur in the hip socket.
“*The+ direct approach gives advanced ballet students a more realisticidea of where, specifically, in the body a movement originates”
(Cohen 73). However,anatomical images are only effective if students have a sufficient knowledge of anatomy. Themore familiar they are with this knowledge, the more in depth the teacher can explain. It isimportant to remember to use language that students can understand. Using your hands in atactile way to show anatomical movement helps students with concepts they cannot fully graspright away (Franklin 71). A dancer who has a new-found appreciation for anatomical imagery
enthusiastically explains her discovery: “I am just learning about how the pelvis moves as a
system. The pelvic halves spiral three-dimensionally while the sacrum moves like a swing. Ourpelvis is the perfect force-absorbing, motion-enabling thing we have in our body at this pointthat I know about. I am just watching my plié get deeper, my muscles relaxing, and my jumpsgetting
higher… It is life changing!”
(Lydia, 2010). An understanding of how and why bodies canmove the way they do gives students a new appreciation for technique and opens avenues of exploration within that technique.
Another way to facilitate the dancers’ personal exploration is through abstract imagery.
This theoretical type of imagery requires more imagination from both the teacher and dancer,but can be an extremely effective tool in teaching ballet. Former professional-dancer-turned-
 
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teacher Tai Jimenez believes heavily in the idea of abstract imagery in dance. Her Zen-focusedclasses help students comprehend their movement better. "Dance is about moving energy. It'smetaphysical and magical," Jimenez says. "It's not just about our bodies. It's about how we
develop 'dance thinking' and how we use it in our lives” (Sims 25).
 
“Dance thinking” means the
dancer is learning how to understand movement in ways that are perhaps new andempowering, thus feeding the studen
ts’ passion for dance and keeping them coming back formore. Franklin describes his first “ah
-
ha!” moment when he started to really comprehend thepower of using imagery in his dancing: “Through apparently metaphysical exercises I grew to be
more conscious of my body surface, of the effect of directing attention, and of the moment-to-moment change in the whole inn
er volume of my body” (Franklin xi). He goes on to explainthat his new special awareness “improved technique and movement quality” as well as
i
nitiating a “fuller body presence,” heightening his “expressive repertoire” (Franklin xi).
 
Teachers can promote this “dance thinking” by exploring possibilities themselves.
Summer LeeRhatigan, artistic director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and master teacher,shares insights that she has made in the past and continues to discover daily. She is described
as “a poetic intellectual” and elevates the students’ work “through her inventive imagery” (Sims24). Rhatigan’s main teaching tool is ima
gery
and it works. Students flock to take a class fromher, just to get a taste of the possibilities within themselves. After a poorly performed
combination from her class, she comments, “All it means is that you don’t use your imagination
enough. It ca
n be part of your team” (Sims 24).
Sometimes all it takes for a concept to click in astudent
’s
mind is for the teacher to explain it in a different way. Interestingly enough, oneimaginative metaphor can replace extensive explanations. Many dancers and teachers agree

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