Evaluating Readiness, An Excellent Dancer.

September 8, 2017


Whether the dancer is training in AcroDance, Contemporary, Ballet, Highland, Modern, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Pointe, or any other style, the question of readiness seems to arise. A parent may ask, "Is my dancer ready to...[insert crazy awesome trick]...?" Or an instructor may ask "Should this student be doing this choreography?"


We have all seen the increasingly popular demand for stunts, tumbling, and contortion in dance television, competition routines, or half-time shows. But does every dance routine NEED that side aerial? The answer, as boring as it may seem is simply, no


Dancers should be ready, just like they should be ready for pointe shoes, to do their tricks. If the dancers cannot perform or execute reliably in basic tasks why would you ask them to perform an advanced tumbling trick? You wouldn't....or at least that's the hope. 


This is where the dance instructor, gymnastics coach, cheer coach, ballroom coach, etc., should be trained not just in how to do a trick, but how to build up to it; and know when the student is ready to try the trick safely. Instructors should have a well-rounded education and approach with anatomy and kinesthetic knowledge in addition to their dance training. This puts the instructor in an awkward position at times with the pressure from wanting to have something incredible to show the parents after each class, and yet have the job of protecting the students. How does one accomplish both?


It's simple. Keep it on paper. 


Can the student do the progressions correctly and safely? If the answer is no to any of the progressions, then they should take a step back and re-train that particular skill before going on to the advanced skill. 


What I mean by this is, can "Sally" execute a back walk-over? Let's say that Sally has had gymnastics but struggles with flexibility. She knows what a back walk-over is but maybe doesn't have the technique or flexibility to do it and make it "pretty". To evaluate, you would maybe give Sally things to demonstrate for you, pushing up into a bridge (can she do so without using her head, where is she using the flexibility in her back, is her alignment safe and technically sound?).If Sally can push up easily into a clean bridge, then can she get into a bridge from standing (spotted but not supported)? Can she stay in a technically sound bridge for "X" amount of time? Is she flexible enough to align her weight over her hands while in a bridge? Can she do other progressions for a kick-over without assistance? If the answer is no to any of these, then no. She isn't ready to do a back walk-over. Can she be training other things at the same time? YES. But they should be tasks that would not put her in an unsafe task for her level and ability. These tasks should change and develop with her as she grows in flexibility and strength. 


Will re-training, or going back to the basics be boring? Will it sometimes feel like the student isn't getting any better? Can it sometimes be uncomfortable as the student builds strength and flexibility? YES. Most definitely it can be one of the most frustrating, boring, and repetitive times in training a skill. But is it worth it?


In my opinion, yes, it most definitely is. Because I would rather know that the dancer could reliably and consistently execute a technically and physically sound trick before putting them on stage. In short, this is one reason I chose to use Acrobatic Arts's curriculum in my studio's AcroDance program. It's backed by research in more than just the tricks, dancers finally have a safe way to learn and perform the tricks, make them look beautiful on stage, and fuse it with their regular dance technique classes and choreography. Proper progressions -->> Less injuries -->> more happy and long-term dancers. 


So why doesn't every dance routine need at side aerial? Simple, because an excellent dancer is not one that can do all of the tricks mediocre, it is one that has mastered the technique, artistry and moves with incredible strength and emotion. They have mastered the skills given them to learn and can command attention with the most basic tendu from across the auditorium. The dance is not in how many tricks a dancer can do, but how they do them.



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