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IADMS 2018: A Dance Teacher’s Perspective

Posted By Fiona Wallis on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee, Monday, December 10, 2018

I’ve been teaching ballet for over twenty years (the last twelve in Higher Education) and have been aware of IADMS for some time. 2018, however, was the year that I decided to make direct contact with this organisation and began to consider how dance science might enhance my studio-based practice. As a new member of IADMS, I was encouraged by Dance Science colleagues at The University of Chichester to attend the 2018 Helsinki conference. My hope was that it would provide much needed space to pause and reflect on my own practice, to consolidate knowledge, and to consider new ideas that aim to improve the learning and teaching experience in the dance studio.


From the beginning, the schedule was packed with a range of research presentations and practical/movement sessions; a testament to the diversity of research practices within the dance science community. From the wide array of topics over the four days of the conference, it is difficult to identify specific highlights. Furthermore, I am certain that, in the coming weeks and months, knowledge gleaned will permeate subtly into my own teaching. As a dance educator, I found the practical sessions in particular most useful, providing a valuable opportunity to consider how research that is situated within the domain of dance science might be applied directly to a studio setting.

 

Included in these highlights was Javier Torres’s session, ‘Breathing patterns and their use in ballet’, which considered the harmonious interaction between breath and ballet’s codified vocabulary.  Consideration was given to the release of tension when breathing out; how exhaling when performing actions that require greater muscular effort relaxes the chest and enhances the flow of movement. Although I have considered this application of breathing to my own practice before, Torres also emphasised the connection between appropriate breathing patterns and core stability. Thus, how breath is connected to strength and the facilitation of optimal performance. I found the principles from this session extremely relevant and a closer exploration of the benefits of conscious breathing to performance can be easily incorporated into a technique class.


Spirals, particularly in the torso, and the three-dimensionality of the dancer are fundamental principles in my own ballet and SAFE® BARRE classes, so I was particularly interested in Shonach Mirk Robles’ session on the Spiraldynamik® concept and the three-dimensional foot. Foot massages – as well as being a real treat – enabled us to explore more closely the structure of the foot. In particular the importance of the two longitudinal arches and the anterior transverse arch in weight bearing, how the notion of a spiral of energy from the foot into the leg can focus our attention on correct lower limb alignment. As a teacher who works predominately in ballet, safe practice when standing in turn out is key. This session, provided me with a new way of considering correct alignment, working up from the feet into the lower limbs, rather than down from the hip, emphasised correct weight placement into the floor thereby enhancing balance.


As suggested above, the ability to apply knowledge and ideas from specific sessions directly into the studio, for me, became the marker of a ‘good’ session. Agathe Dumont’s class on warming up and cooling down focused on giving students autonomy during this process and I came away with specific tools that I look forward to using in the near future. Similarly Alicia Head’s practical lecture on the biomechanics of an arabesque and Katy Chambers’ session on neuromuscular activation patterns whet the appetite for future explorations into biomechanics and neurological bias.

 

Whilst the practical sessions provided much needed ‘food’ for my teaching and research, I found the presentations to be less immediately applicable.  Indeed, although the application of dance science to specific dance movements or training methods were explored (for example, uncovering joint angle coordination strategies in pirouettes), I was left wondering how this knowledge was applied to the dancers in order to improve their skills. Perhaps the length of each presentation (only 15 minutes) prevented the ‘what next …’ scenario being explored but it is this application of knowledge that is so crucial to a dance educator and trainer.

 

Notwithstanding, when I did venture into these lecture spaces, I had the pleasure of seeing colleagues from the University of Chichester articulate their research on a range of topics including training load (Sarah Needham-Beck), the notion of the performer in relation to a sense of self (Gemma Harman), and performance anxiety (Lucie Clements). I, therefore, look forward to working with these individuals and exploring how their dance science research can have a positive and direct impact on the curriculum that we deliver at Chichester.

 

In conclusion my first experience of an IADMS conference was definitely a positive one. As a dance teacher, I’m very aware that, if I don’t regularly gain new ideas and inspiration, my practice can become stagnant. Although it was a luxury to take four days away from home close to the beginning of the academic year, the conference provided me with key tools that can be applied to my studio practice and I have returned to Chichester with new ideas that I am excited to explore with my students. IADMS also enabled me to meet new people (dance scientists, teachers, performers etc.) who are all passionate about dance practice, performance, and wellbeing. No doubt between now and the next conference, I will have many opportunities to keep in touch and share ideas with these new friends.

 

Final thoughts:

1) Making the effort to travel to Helsinki was definitely worth it. I came away tired but definitely refreshed and ready to start work again.

2) I was glad I was wearing comfy shoes! The conference was packed and I needed to move quickly (sometimes run) from one session to the next.

3) It was not all work … dinner and wine plus cups of tea in Helsinki’s Moomin café with new friends were not to be missed

 

Fiona Wallis MA is a dance educator and PhD researcher specializing in ballet technique. She is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Chichester and is also a certified instructor in the SAFE® BARRE method.

Tags:  A Day for Teachers  Annual Conference  teachers 

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