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The New Certificate in ‘Safe and Effective Dance Practice’

by Stephanie Rosenheim, Ballet Teacher, Tring Park School for Performing Arts

Having recently made the transition from dancer to teacher, it has been fascinating to note the changes in the ballet studio and the general approach to teaching in the many years since I was a student. On so many levels, much has remained unaltered and the fundamentals of good technique and good teaching practices are much the same.

However, significant advances in dance science have provided a deeper understanding of how to help students maximise their progress safely and efficiently. No longer is it considered ideal to push a young body to the limits in order to achieve fast results; the dance studio is no place for ‘instant gardening’ and a careful and considered approach is now the norm. Gone also, are the days when the idea of regular hydration was unheard of and the abstinence from food applauded; a nutritious diet, catering to the physical demands of dance training is essential. A gradual shifting of ideas – and a humanisation in the pursuit of the arbitrary ‘ideals’ of the ballet body – have created a welcome change and I feel privileged to belong to this era of teaching.

Recently, the opportunity arose to take part in the Trinity/IADMS Safe and Effective Dance Practice (SEDP) qualification pilot. The many years between studying anatomy as a student, enjoying a professional career and finally, becoming a teacher, had left me feeling I needed such a course to ensure that I was getting things right in the ballet studio. Wanting to avoid a process of trial and error, I felt the opportunity to increase my understanding of the biomechanics that underpin good technique, would enhance my teaching skills and enable me to teach more effectively and appropriately according to the differing needs of my students.

Photographer: Sally Brooker

The SEDP is superb; a well-structured, relevant and fascinating course of study  inclusive of and relevant to all dance genres. It provides teachers with an opportunity to update knowledge and skills in order to provide safe and effective teaching for all students, irrespective of age, gender and ability. The choice of questions to answer were excellent, any one of which would have been of value and interest to study. Focusing on the prevention of injury through the understanding of correct posture, alignment and technique, it raised questionable issues regarding the impact dance training has on bodies. Dance styles may differ, however the consequences that consistently poor technique and contra-indicated movements have on the body are one and the same. As a result, this qualification is pertinent to anyone involved in training bodies for dance or dance related activities, regardless of style or intensity.

Of particular benefit was the section of the course involving a submitted film of a class, in order to assess how well I implement safe and effective teaching practices. Although initially a little daunting, it was a fantastic way to be able to assess my effectiveness as a teacher and assess how well the aims and objectives of my class were being met. This need for constant evaluation of our own effectiveness as teachers cannot be underestimated; it is testimony to professional integrity that we continually assess our teaching skills. In addition, the film was supported by a reflective journal that became a real sounding board for the impetus and methods of my teaching style. Encouraged to really question why I teach the way I do, the aims and objectives of my classes and how best to facilitate this in my classes has had a real impact – and only now do I fully appreciate the input, impact and influence of past teachers!

The course study of kinesiology, anatomy and biomechanics – so crucial to planning a course of training – has thankfully refreshed and boosted my prior knowledge. Clearly, if the studio is to be a place of inspired teaching – hopefully capturing and sustaining students’ interest but also cultivating an understanding of good technique – our own knowledge of this must be sound. Helping students to understand the rationale behind the technique we are teaching is only possible if our own understanding of how the body works is thorough. This depth of understanding is crucial to their training and the key to their future learning; we don’t expect our children to solve mathematical equations without teaching them the formulas first, so why should it be any different in the dance studio? It is incredibly satisfying to share this knowledge with my students and feel confident in guiding them through the challenges of their training, helping them apply technique with a corresponding understanding of their own physique. Training such a generation of ‘thinking dancers’, will hopefully reduce the risk of technique-related injuries and produce fit and healthy dancers, equipped for a future in dance.

Also covered in depth for this qualification is the range of factors contributing to safe and effective teaching practices; effective warming-up/cooling down, good hydration, designated time for rest and recovery in a well-paced class and, at all times, a need to take into account the age and ability of the students. For example, adolescent students going through a phase of rapid growth need careful and considered training to avoid negative stress to vulnerable bodies. The knowledge I have gained in studying for the qualification, has given me a reassuring confidence to guide them safely through this challenging and often frustrating phase, as well as being able to help them to understand exactly what their bodies are going through.

What has amounted to a few intensive – and pleasurable – weeks of study has resulted in a breadth of knowledge and a new confidence in my own teaching skills. Gaining a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the fundamentals that underpin good technique has been wonderful and we are fortunate that today there is such a wealth of related publications to hand. Sourcing information couldn’t be simpler – it is finding the time to read them that is the challenge! Quite simply, it is a privilege to be able to teach and inspire young dancers. To be able to do so with the confidence that you are also training them safely and efficiently, is wonderfully reassuring. The certificate in SEDP is a facilitator of precisely that, therefore I couldn’t recommend it more highly for any teacher of dance.

Originally published in Dance UK  magazine, Issue 74 – 2009