My previous post, Why Dancers Need to Ignore Their Bodies – Part 1, explained that when dancers focus too much on controlling their bodies, they prevent the body’s automatic, reflexive responses from working. These responses help us to maintain balance and to move efficiently and effectively. When we override these responses by trying to control every single movement we make, we cause our bodies to work twice as hard.
Researchers have found that by directing attention away from the body and toward an external focus, dancers and other athletes can work more efficiently and effectively while also improving.
Imagery has been used in dance for a long time. There is the type of imagery that serves as a mental rehearsal of a combination or dance, the type that envisions success on the stage that can reduce performance anxiety, and there is metaphorical imagery that can be used in class and rehearsal to help dancers understand a concept and improve upon technique.
Metaphorical imagery is the type that provides the dancer with external foci and draws attention away from the body. My last post mentioned increasing jump height and technique by trying to jump higher than something on the wall of the studio, and using a sticker or post-it note to work on turning. Instead of focusing on getting the body to turn in space, dancers should concentrate on the sticker “spotting” the wall or mirror. It is important to note that even when the sticker is removed, the
results should be reproducible.
Many throughout the years have used metaphoricalimagery. Lulu Swiegard is well-known for the imagery she used to teach proper alignment, and Eric Franklin has published articles and books on the subject of imagery in dance.
Below are some examples that dancers and educators can begin using in class. These are only a few suggestions, and this list is by no means exhaustive. If you have any examples of metaphorical imagery that have worked for you or your students, I hope you’ll share them with us in the comments below the post.
Imagine being sucked up through a soda straw – to teach students to lengthen through the back and sides of the torso as well as the front.
Imagine your head floating up like a helium-filled balloon – to teach spine lengthening and alignment.
Touch the edges of a bubble surrounding yourself – to teach students to extend themselves in every direction when teaching a circular port de corps.
Trace the rainbow - to teach port de bras side
Imagine yourself wearing a sandwich board – to teach the students to bend directly side without leaning forward or backward.
Imagine water spraying out of the top of your head and arching backward
Arch up over a brick wall behind you – to teach port de bras back
Imagine yourself breaking through the top of the water in a lake or pool – when opening the arms to 2nd from 5th position.
Draw each circle on the floor larger than the one before – to achieve a lengthened leg in rond de jambe par terre
Allow your leg to go over a speed bump and not into a pothole - to help with the movement of the leg from 2nd postion en l’air to an arabesque position and from arabesque to 2nd position.
Let your knee open the door – to achieve a turned out retiré or passé.
Envision a telephone pole in front of you & wrap your arms around it – to help with holding a balance with the arms in first position.
Drill a hole down through the floor – to help teach strength of the standing leg and alignment in turns.
Jump over a hurdle – to teach grand jetés