Making corrections count is about giving your dancers the most important correction/s that will have the most useful outcome rather than giving lots of smaller corrections that may ignore the key, fundamental correction that, when corrected, would also resolve many of the smaller issues.
We should consider what the most important correction is that we can give rather than giving a whole bunch of corrections that are likely to be very transient rather than incorporated into practice in the longer term. In my PhD thesis I wrote the following:
… and importantly if he/she is able to identify the key points for correction – the ones that, when addressed, can improve a number of faults or problems rather than just one individual issue that may in fact be secondary to the fundamental issues needing to be addressed. For example, suppose a teacher identifies that a student is not turning out his/her supporting or standing leg when balanced on one leg. To simply tell the student to turn their supporting foot out (which is often what happens) is to ignore the possibility that the problem might lie in the hip area – the muscles surrounding the hip might not be strong enough to hold the hip in the correct alignment. If this is the case then the issue that needs to be addressed concerns the hip and not the foot. Properly addressing the alignment of the hip will in the long term help all work suffering because of the poor alignment of the hip. In contrast, superficially correcting the foot might work fairly okay in the very short term but it has not tackled the root of the problem. In other words it has not addressed the cause of the problem.
Where the movement begins
This leads me to something that I often refer to – where the movement begins. When we talk about arm work or footwork and so on we are referring to the part of the movement that we see and not where the movement begins or happens. With arms for instance, we talk about the movement of the arms when in fact the movement occurs in the shoulder joint. Without the movement in the shoulder joint the upper arms cannot move. So when analysing arms travelling from say, a raised position to a lower position, should we not look at what is happening around the shoulder? Where there is better awareness of how the arms move and the role of the shoulder, arm work can improve. And the natural way for the body to support the arms works better than say, using tension to hold the arms in position.
Where the focus is on footwork then attention should be given to everything else that is part of that journey? Where students become aware of the movement in the hip when doing a tendu devant or pointing the foot forward then they are more likely to consider the bigger picture and the role of the hip, leg and knee as well as the ankle and foot in carrying out this movement. As in the example from my thesis above explained, when the focus is on the foot, the correction for where the adjustment is needed is not necessarily addressed. And a missed opportunity to correct the root of the issue has been missed. As the image above shows the dancer opening the footprints outwards. This exercise activates the turnout muscles in the hips something which simply turning the foot out on its own will not do.
What is the aim when a correction is made in class? Is it to make the correction just for that moment in class? Or is it to make the correction for the longer term? As dance teachers, we need to be clear what we want to achieve through our chosen method of correction. If we want to make corrections count then we must pay attention to the bigger picture and not just focus on where the issue shows up. As mentioned above, if we simply ask a student to turn their supporting foot out without first establishing whether they have the necessary strength and control in the hip to sustain this then this correction is not going to succeed. And it is a missed opportunity to consider what the student really needs to do in order to be able to turnout the supporting or standing leg and foot.
We should reflect on our approach to corrections. Is it one that offers many, many corrections throughout the class? Or is it one that makes one or two fundamental corrections giving time for the corrections to be taken on board. Or is it somewhere in between?
Time for corrections
If we consider the constant corrections approach which is after all a very popular model of dance teaching – you know the sort of thing where you give one correction after another as students perform exercises, technique and dance sequences. We really cannot expect dance students to be able to listen, see and take on board, all the corrections, adjustments, make the necessary changes and all the while carry on performing the step or sequence and then immediately on to the next exercise without any time to explore, understand and internalise the corrections given? If we take a moment to consider this approach it should be clear that there is little benefit for the student/s trying to make sense of all this information without time to understand it. Does this approach, perhaps, say more about traditional dance teaching methods that reinforce the power of the dance teacher? Does it say, more about dance teachers feeling the need to constantly correct rather than being able to take time observing and analysing the problem before working on it in a useful and productive manner?
Where lots of small corrections are given is there not the likelihood of the corrections remaining uncorrected because it is not possible for the student to grasp what is wanted and to correct it all in a fleeting moment? Does this approach allow time for the correction to be understood and for adjustments to be tried and taken on board? Giving time for corrections to be made is vital for students to be able to feel the difference in doing the movement the new way. It is also vital if they are to understand the difference that the changes make and be able to accurately reproduce the corrected work again in the future. Feeling the correction and being able to reproduce it boosts the student dancer’s confidence.
When students have time to work on a correction there is a greater chance that they can make it count for the longer term. Giving students time for their proprioception to adapt to the new alignment or positioning gives them something to hang their hat on. A little bit of time spent on a key correction can have huge benefits for both teacher and student. This approach really make corrections count.