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Strategies for reflective practices in dance training

Reflective practice has the capability to facilitate deeper experiential understanding to enhance performance. It can release the dancer from the traditional ‘watch and repeat’ mode of dance training. Reflective practice and experiential learning is the crux of the process utilized in the Functional Awareness®: Anatomy in Action approach to somatic movement training.

Reflective practice has origins in the educational philosophies of John Dewey and one primary contributor to this literature is also Donald Schon. Schon (1983) describes two forms of reflective learning: formative “reflection-in-action” and summative “reflection-on-action.” “Reflection-in action” is while doing an action. Dancers who practice “action-in-action” can sense, recognize, assess, and readjust while they move through a phrase. They are reflective and re-learning in action. Schon’s summative, “reflection-on-action,” is a process of reflection after doing an action. Both forms of reflective practice can elicit cognitive and somatic insight for the dance student and the dance educator.

Peter Scales (2008) suggest that these modes of reflection become more effective if they are purposeful, structured, link theory to practice, and address change and development.

Functional Awareness movement explorations follow a systematic process, and invites questions and discussion. It includes mind/body reflection, mental record or written record of nonjudgmental observations, further action research to corroborate evidence from the initial practice using sources from both in daily life and in dance practice environments. The self-assessment of the reflective data is collected and discussion between two people or a small group enables participants to share information, respectfully question, deepen reflection skills, draw inference and conclusion, to deepen understanding, and integrate information into dance training practice and in quotidian movement of daily life. FA employs action research and a reflective mind/body strategy referred to as the 4Rs: recognize, release, recruit, restore. The 4Rs is a sequence for implementing reflective practice to encourage awareness, release unnecessary tension, promote discovery and discussion, and improve balance and performance. The following elaborates on the 4Rs and includes an exploration in standing balance.

Recognize habit. This is appreciative inquiry for what “is.” There is no judgment in the practice of awareness, merely bringing attention to a body/mind practice. No one is symmetrical and everyone exhibits postural imbalances and preferences. Assessing without judgment is a useful practice.

Close your eyes while standing. Stand for a moment as if you were waiting in line at the grocery store. Just settle into the habit that feels comfortable in standing.

Open your eyes. Notice if you are standing on leg more than the other.

Are you leaning forward on the balls of your feet or back on your heels?

Record your observations mentally or write them down.

FA reflective inquiry invites questions and does not presuppose a right answer.

Release unnecessary tension. Ask yourself the question, “Where might I do less, or where can I let go?” Do not expect a specific answer. Wait… and be open to the response. Letting go of expectations and assumptions in your thoughts as well.

Recruit for efficiency in action. This does not require strong muscle action. Rather, Recruiting is a mental practice whereby the mind envisions an anatomical or metaphorical image to elicit change.  For example, notice the image of the fleshy bottom of the foot.

The three dots are indicating a potential balance for the foot. Stand for a moment, release unnecessary tension and then visualize the tripod of the foot. Notice whether this invites a change from your habitual stance? Envisioning this anatomical or cortical map enables the muscles to realign and recruit with efficiency.

A common tool employed in Functional Awareness® is the practice of exaggeration to deepen discovery and body awareness.

Stand and move most of the weight way back onto your heels. What holding or tension does this invite in the body?

Now stand with most of the weigh on the front two points near the balls of the feet. What tension or holding does this invite in the body?

Reconsider the three points or tripod of balance in the foot and become aware of letting the body shift. Refer back to the idea of allowing the body to recruit this new muscle action and understanding of balance.

Restore towards balance. Proprioceptive and neuromuscular changes occur once you invite an anatomical image to be considered. These changes can aid the body to restore the body towards balance. For this movement exploration, it can shift the balance of your feet.

Share your findings with a colleague. Consider how moving out of habit and into awareness helped you move toward balance.

Further Reflection & Inquiry: Your Findings and Why They Matter

Make note of what was discovered in the explorations above. Bring some of these concepts forward into daily life. Perhaps notice stance and the tripod of balance while watching a teacher demonstrates a phrase or when waiting in line for coffee or food? Does a pattern reveal itself? Further evidence can be gleaned by noticing the pattern of how shoes wear out.

Does the one shoe show more wear than the other shoe? Does this support or contend your other observations?

  1. While dancing, do you favor using one leg to turn over the other? Does this corroborate with evidence about waiting in line?
  2. Do you have one leg that you prefer as your standing leg? For example, does one leg support you in adagio movement more reliably?
  3. Do you prefer 5th position with the right leg in front? Or how about the left leg in front? Do these feel the same? Is there correlation between standing habit and this information?

Investigating standing habit is the gateway to honoring a personal discovery towards movement efficiency for standing leg stability and turns in any dance class. You can prevent imbalance with a simple consideration of the tripod of balance at the feet. Merely, recognize the pattern, release unnecessary tension, recruit the image of the tripod of the foot to allow muscular support to shift and restore towards balance.  Further reflection leads to change and further inquiry. These strategies for reflection, inquiry and collaboration are implemented in collegiate course work in somatic study as well as within dance technique curricula.

Featured image courtesy of the authors. Used with permission. 

Recent Comments

  1. Anais Garcia

    The 4 R’s have been helpful in refraining from poor and destructive habits. I have already noticed some relief of tension in various parts of my body by simply recognizing and releasing certain habitual practices. I plan to continue my exploration and new found awareness of proper alignment in order to improve my dance experience. This is the key to dancing for a lifetime!

  2. Max Gorman

    As someone who has not been dancing for a long time, I am always looking for ways to improve my technique. By simply paying attention to my standing posture, I have already been able to begin fixing some of my common corrections (looking down, one leg more turned out, etc.) Using reflective practice and the 4 R’s in my dancing and daily life has been truly eye-opening.

  3. Max Gorman

    As someone who has not been dancing for a long time, I am always looking for ways to improve my technique. By simply paying attention to my standing posture, I have already been able to begin fixing some of my common corrections (looking down, one leg more turned out, etc.) Using reflective practice in my dancing and daily life has been truly eye-opening.

  4. Cyntria Vinson

    Thinking about the 4R’s whether I’m in dance class or in line in the cafe really helps me when I go back to technique class. Realizing how I’m standing and being able to know what to fix within myself will be an asset in the future, when I plan to teach for example. Taking the steps to reflect on my habits and restore balance allow me to grow physically and mentally as a dancer.

  5. Kayla Clancy

    Often times as a dancer a teacher would tell me a correction, but when I tried to fix it I couldn’t because frankly I wasn’t sure how to. But now, Using the 4 R’s, practicing better posture, and recognizing certain habits, I have been able to fix these corrections and continue to not only improve my dancing, but my body for every day life.

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