Forum: Job Talk

Teachers - Job Talk
By werk_dance Comments: 118, member since Wed Aug 24, 2011
On Tue May 15, 2012 08:40 PM

I am having the hardest time with some of my students constantly having their shoulders in their ears! It's extra obvious in their pirouettes, because their high shoulders cause their elbows to get wonky.

Saying "shoulders down" until I'm blue in the face does nothing, physically moving their shoulders only temporarily helps, as does explaining how (feel your shoulder blades, etc.). I've also videotaped them and made them watch, they can see they their shoulders are up, but once that music goes on it's like they tense up and put all their tension in their shoulders.

Any ideas how to permanently correct this (besides 24/7 port de bras)?

18 Replies to Shoulders

re: Shoulders
By Theresamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 34891, member since Wed May 22, 2002
On Tue May 15, 2012 08:55 PM
What about a posture bar like they use on dancing with the stars? . . .
re: Shoulders
By vista5Premium member Comments: 1211, member since Mon May 07, 2007
On Wed May 16, 2012 08:45 AM
Theresa, I won't buy it (too spendy for me!) but that is the coolest thing ever!

I have never tried this with my students, but after a car accident my posture went to pieces and I had a lot of physical therapy. At one point the therapist taped my back to give me a feeling of where my scapula should be placed. She went from my shoulders down to the middle of my back forming a V shape with the tape. Because that is where I had been before the accident it just took a little reminder for my body to recognize proper placement. I don't know that this would work for students who didn't already have that muscle memory. It just takes lots of time and lots of reminders to get there.

I keep threatening to buy a parrot for the studio. I will teach it to say things like, "Awck, shoulders down, shoulders down." "Awck, point your toes" "Awck, stretch your knees, stretch your knees." Yes, a parrot I think.
re: Shoulders
By DancerTonitePremium member Comments: 518, member since Mon Aug 22, 2005
On Wed May 16, 2012 10:28 AM
How do you explain relave, especially in pirouettes? Do you always say something with the word up in it? If they think they have to go 'up' on relave, then they will naturally take their shoulders with them. If you are stressing pushing into the floor to get to relave, then they may begin to relax their shoulders.

Not saying this is your issue - I just know that I've seen this happen in the past with others.
re: Shoulders
By AlwaysOnStagePremium member Comments: 7417, member since Sun Apr 18, 2004
On Wed May 16, 2012 12:09 PM
^ Yes, this usually stems from them misunderstanding where "up" comes from. I talk to my girls while they're in a pose with their shoulders up (ex. passe) and have them look at themselves in the mirror, remind them that their posture and feet take them "UP" while their shoulders have to go "down", and then give lots of praise every time they do it right. What approaches have you used other than just saying "shoulders down"? Sometimes you have to phrase things in several different ways or use different tactics (staying what's wrong, using physical interaction to instruct the change, etc), and they haven't quite corrected it because they haven't heard what that thing they need to really understand the difference.
re: Shoulders
By nodoubt_dancermember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 1510, member since Thu May 13, 2004
On Wed May 16, 2012 12:28 PM
In college we dabbled with Body Mind Centering. I remember that to feel the connectivity between the arms and the back we would take the arms out to the side and scoop our pinkies down and up. The palms face down as you scoop down and then rotate and face up when scooping up. In BMC they said that the pinky fingers are connected to the very bottom point of the scapula. It instantly makes shoulders lower and the students feel the connectivity to their backs. I stop every now and then and have everyone do it real quick. Hopefully I explained it well enough but if you need more explanation or clarification please let me know lol. . . .
re: Shoulders
By werk_dance Comments: 118, member since Wed Aug 24, 2011
On Wed May 16, 2012 01:44 PM
Excellent suggestions, thank you all!
re: Shoulders
By SAPdance Comments: 170, member since Sat Sep 05, 2009
On Wed May 16, 2012 02:18 PM
ooooh nodoubtdancer that's an awesome cue. I just did it and it worked marvelously. I have been trying to figure out how to communicate this effectively too and this is great. Thanks for sharing!!!
re: Shoulders
By werk_dance Comments: 118, member since Wed Aug 24, 2011
On Wed May 16, 2012 04:33 PM
AlwaysOnStage, I remember when I was about 6 my teacher explained shoulders down yet lifting the body up exactly as you have, and I never forgot it because it made complete sense to me at the time, and still does. I tell my kids now that when their shoulders push down and their bodies lift up it creates a strong center (kind of if you put your palms together and push equally with both hands). It works, but not consistently. I'll let everyone know how it goes :)
re: Shoulders
By MissSharon73 Comments: 1700, member since Fri Mar 02, 2007
On Wed May 16, 2012 09:36 PM
I make my students clasp/lace their fingers together. It helps to center themselves and not open the arms too far-Which I find is when the shoulders lift.

I explain the releve to my students as having to press down into the floor in order to go up, so the shoulders and spine go downward while the legs and feet lift up :)
re: Shoulders
By Theresamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 34891, member since Wed May 22, 2002
On Wed May 16, 2012 10:01 PM
When I have someone that just isn't. getting. it., I've often resorted to the simplest approach - "Do you understand the difference between what I'm saying and what you're doing?", which in the girls that truly want to do it but just aren't linking it together, opening the dialogue like that really helps.

Although, to flip that coin, this is a true story;

I've got a girl that solos with me, that for some reason, her arms are never quite right. I went back to her mom, and asked if there was some amount of double jointed-ness, or hyper-extension that was stopping her from giving me the arms I wanted.

The mom cooly responded that yes, she was slightly double jointed, and did hyper-extend a bit, but she believed that the larger problem was that the daughter was simply lazy, and I shouldn't be afraid to challenge her on it (which, I'm not, but I was still suprised to hear it put that bluntly...).

So the next week we came to class, and that became the stumbling block. She had to do it right, or she didn't get to finish the dance. Once it became apparent what I was doing, she nailed it, every single time.

So that's something to consider too. They gotta do it right, or they don't get to keep going...
re: Shoulders
By Goldfingers_Girl Comments: 723, member since Mon Dec 16, 2002
On Thu May 17, 2012 01:09 AM
I am also having this problem with a few of my new stduents and have most recently brought in pictures of the muscles of the upper body paying special attention to the lats (Latissimus Dorsi)as a way to lenghten down our backs and wrap around our sides (At a conference a Ballet instructor mentioned this visual as a way to positively effect the rotation of the arms and shoulders in Ballet students and it really stuck with me as it made so much sense) and the deltoids as a way to hold the elbows up. I always tell my students; you can always tell a professional Ballet dancer by her strong defined deltoid muscles! ;) and then I joke with them; that when the boys at school are showing off their biceps they can show off their deltoids! Just by asking atudents to lift their elbows to feel those muscles and drop them and no longer feel it engaged can help. I show them the pictures and explain how we can use these muscles and feel the resistance when they are working together to help keep our shoulders down. I also show them with my hands where they are and we practice facing side to the mirror to see and feel the difference in our body. Lots of hands on instruction helps for me! I've seen a huge difference after the lat discussion! I also find executing port de bras while lying on the floor helps too.

It also helps for some students to think about opening their chest more. I often direct those dancers to take a deep breath in and feel their chest expand and ask them to feel that while trying to keep their shoulders lowered.

And as vista5 mentioned the more you sound like a parrot with your verbal cues while they are dancing the better!
re: Shoulders
By SiyoNqobamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 7113, member since Fri Aug 02, 2002
On Sat May 19, 2012 03:52 PM
I had this problem as a dancer, and all it took was an examiner explaining to me that I took all the tension in my shoulders and arms, and I needed to transfer that tension into my stomach. Once I was given somewhere else for all that tension to go, it was no longer a problem.
re: Shoulders
By NDow Comments: 1286, member since Mon Jul 19, 2010
On Sat May 19, 2012 08:39 PM
^ I use the same image with my students -- draining the tension into the center/core/stomach. It works really well for many. I tell them that their gut is the only place they can hold tension in their body, that does not interfere with their presentation when they dance... And then I demonstrate the spazzy, uncentered look...

If pirouettes are affected by shoulders up, I have the kids do these turns with arms hanging at their sides. They usually look at me like I'm crazy, but when they physically understand they can accomplish the task without the arms, we go back and see how little energy we actually need for pirouettes with arms. It helps them become more grounded, and then the shoulders start to go down.

Of course timing and the coordination between arms and the other components of the pirouette must be addressed. But getting them grounded first makes it much easier.

As for the shape of the arms, I talk about the double rotation that occurs, which I call the turn-out of the arms, which helps to support us. The elbows are rotated upwards, but not so much that the shoulders change their relaxed position. And then the wrists are rotated as well, so the palms are facing each other in second. In addition to the shape of the arms, make sure students are not raising their arms too high (I teach fingertips in line with diaphragm).

For the die-hards who are still having issues with shoulder tension, I find it's often related to neck tension and head placement. Hands-on, very gently, can help these students feel the softness. There are a bunch of images I use, which are kind of like flinging mud at the wall, until something sticks. There are the mini-people skiing down the slopes of the neck and off the shoulders. Another one that is not mine (maybe from Irene Dowd?) is the crumpled jacket on a hanger (shoulders and neck), and trying to smooth out the wrinkles. Kids with narrow shoulders often need to think of their shoulders as wider than they really are.

I agree with many here that our connection to the floor is what creates our lightness. It's "down to go up." Our mantra in ballet class is: "The floor is my friend." And if that connection is strong, then our shoulders don't have to be.
re: Shoulders
By werk_dance Comments: 118, member since Wed Aug 24, 2011
On Mon Jun 04, 2012 04:24 PM
Thank you to everyone! I took bits and pieces of everyone's replies and I'm happy to say I think I'm making some headway! One thing that has really helped was saying enough that I sounded like a really broken second. I though I was saying it enough before, I'm saying it 10 times more. But the constant reminders, along with explaining what muscles should be engaged, has helped a ton! They now see that, hey, if I put my shoulders down, I'll be able to do a nice clean pirouette and maybe even demonstrate it to the class!
re: Shoulders
By Dream_chaserPremium member Comments: 25854, member since Thu Jul 26, 2001
On Mon Jun 04, 2012 08:55 PM
Have them learn to turn by putting their hands on their shoulders and pressing them down. No use of arms, at all, just there. Start with simple turns like soutenue and chainés, then graduate to single and so on. If they are MADE to think about it, and do it over and over, it will happen.

The problem is, many pull up at the wrong point, too. Each student is different, but this one has worked for me, in many instances.
re: Shoulders
By werk_dance Comments: 118, member since Wed Aug 24, 2011
On Wed Jun 06, 2012 10:47 AM
Thank you! Everything seems to be helping a lot. I love when I can see their lightbulbs go off in their heads :)
re: Shoulders
By Dream_chaserPremium member Comments: 25854, member since Thu Jul 26, 2001
On Wed Jun 06, 2012 12:09 PM
Glad to hear the news!!
re: Shoulders
By tm4csonsPremium member Comments: 5, member since Thu Nov 03, 2011
On Tue Jun 26, 2012 05:38 PM
I tell my students to make their neck as long as possible. Instead of saying "shoulders down" I say "long necks".