The Application of Technique

Recently, I have been fortunate enough to teach a rash of master classes around the state and in my area. One of the comments that keeps rising from the students in each place, many of whom are exposed to modern dance for the first time or elements of dance through modern concepts in new ways, is something along the lines of “the movement is free. It isn’t as technical. It is ok to make mistakes and just keep going.”

Now, I love flow. Seriously. So, yes, the movement keeps going but I think their comments are powerful in how it reflects a student’s view of technique.

By the end of class, I usually end up talking about how it isn’t that the movement we have danced lacks rules or discipline, terminology or shape.  It is perhaps more forgiving of the human body compared to the movement these students define as technical (often shape-oriented ballet, emphasis on form over quality, or some personal difficulty).

I start explaining that, to me, it is an opportunity to apply our technique to a “real” life situation. Movement!

If we spend all of our time studying technique, it often robs us of the feeling of actual dancing. For students that have limited opportunities to perform or limited opportunities to feel/sense movement rather than imitate the pictures of movement, this may partially explain the appeal of overly-stylized movement.

The other light bulb that keeps illuminating young minds is the notion that we don’t have to dance the same as everyone else in the room.

I say, “we don’t look the same, it doesn’t make sense to me that we dance just the same.” Of course, I explain the value of unison and that there are many choreographers that value a unified approach to movement but in an audition situation, even for ensemble work where “blending in” is important, you still need to find a way to “stand apart”. So even within a “technique” class, we are starting to talk about performance and basic composition elements, how to read a situation- developing the ability to know when to follow and when to lead or when to take liberties with choreography and when not to.

The definition of “technique” then broadens, for the minds of these students, to include the Elements of Dance (Space, Time, Energy) as applied in real dance situations, technical concepts that don’t require a French label, and permission to authentically assess where their technique is supporting them and where they need more work. We even use improvisation to explore these tools and make technical observations about our movement habits, preferences, and aspirations.

Then when the “study” begins again, it is from a more informed perspective. A more personal place. It even feels like dancing.