Top tips for teaching dance safely and effectively

Dance Scientist Edel Quin teaching
Working as part of Trinity Laban’s Learning & Participation (Dance) team means that I get to see a variety of teaching practices. We work in all sorts of settings and each of our wonderful teachers brings their own personality and teaching style to their classes.

While on the surface every teacher’s practice may appear very different from the next, core underlying principles and knowledge can be found embedded throughout their work. One such example is their ability to teach safely and effectively which helps to safeguard their participants from injury in the present and future, while also promoting enhanced potential.

So, what are the key elements of safe practice that we need to be aware of when teaching dance?

I asked Edel Quin, Trinity Laban’s Healthy Dance Practice course tutor, and author of Safe Dance Practice; An Applied Dance Science Perspective for some top tips that can be applied in all dance teaching environments:

Edel Quin talks warm ups

Edel Quin talks warm ups

1) Know how, and why to warm-up and cool-down effectively
It’s not about pumping sweat! For warm ups you want to make sure that your body is gradually prepared for the dance session ahead, by raising the pulse, mobilising the joints and doing easy lengthening of the muscles. Cool downs are designed to give your body and mind a chance to effectively recover.

2) Be aware of appropriate stretching modes for different dance needs
Deep and long stretches before dancing should be avoided. Instead save these for your cool down and stretch dynamically before dancing. Of course, dynamic stretching should not be confused with Ballistic Stretching (bouncing or bobbing in a stretch). Ballistic stretching should not be used before or early on in a dance session, but if used correctly can have some benefits for explosive movements. Also, active stretch modes will aid active range motion, so don’t just focus on passive stretching!

3) Create a positive atmosphere
Positive atmospheres promote positive motivation and create a sense of group cohesion and belonging. Understanding that mistakes are part of learning, that all efforts to progress should be acknowledged and that progressions should be self-referenced (rather than comparing yourself to someone else in the group) are just some of the ways to ensure a positive learning environment.

The importance of understanding anatomy

4) Have an understanding of anatomical functioning
It is important to promote efficient alignment, regardless of differences in each individual’s structural alignment, for example, hypermobility can have benefits and disadvantages. Safe practice cues that promote effective control of the alignment of the hypermobile knee in both weight bearing positions -standing or knee bending actions such as plié for example, and gesturing positions will be important.

Similarly, anatomically accurate cueing of the external rotator muscles of the hip in order to support effective use of turn out and avoid additional torsion or ‘screwing’ at the knee, or ankle, are simple but vital for the health of hip, knee and ankle joints in the long term.

5) Train wisely
Quality is always better than quantity – more is not always better. If you don’t allow enough time for rest your body won’t have time to recover and repair, therefore increasing your risk of injury.

Fatigue and overwork are two of the most commonly reported injuries in dance. As well as incorporating rest and recovery periods, appropriate nutrition and hydration, as well as using other training strategies such as mental practice can support an effective balance of training.

6) Keep up to date with current practice
The growing field of Dance Science provides us with more research-informed advice on safe practice every day. By keeping your knowledge up to date you’ll be confident that you are supporting your participants in the best possible way and helping to protect them from injury.

Some resources you may wish to explore are:
Dance UK’s Healthier Dancer Programme
National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science
International Association for Dance Medicine and Science (resource pages)
Foundations for Excellence (resource centre)
• Quin, E. et al. 2015. Safe Dance Practice; An Applied Dance Science Perspective.

A final thought; it’s ok to challenge your participants – safely. Knowing and understanding the key physical, psychological and environmental recommendations and stepping stones to safe and effective dance practice are essential. It is also important to recognise that each dancer is an individual, and each dance style will have its own specific requirements.

Every dancer, whatever age or ability should be able to engage fully in the act of dancing, and be encouraged to achieve their full potential without risk of harm to their body or mind. Keep safe, enjoy dancing.

If you’re interested in learning more, Edel Quin will deliver a 3 day Healthy Dance Practice course leading to the Healthy Dance Certificate at Trinity Laban on 16 & 17 May and 20 June 2015. Futher information on this event.

Becky Wyatt
Administrator, Learning & Participation (Dance)

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