When I was training, I had teachers who’d take hold of me and fix me, turn me out, poke me, stretch me, mold me, move me and use tactile correction in whichever way necessary to get their point across. They’d “teach” me by showing me how it felt on my body to have something done correctly. My generation loved that kind of correction, that attention. It was never questioned. You’re a dancer, that’s what dance teachers do. Sometimes you can say something to a student a million different ways and it won’t register, but if you physically show them on their body, it clicks! And once it clicks, it’s there forever. It may take quite a few times for it to become muscle-memory, but the notion to self-correct becomes greater and engrained in one’s own body over time.

Nowadays however, with the state of the world as it is, that innocence is sometimes gone. As dance teachers you need to take caution and care. That “given,” that dance is a moveable, breathable art where physical correction is necessary comes with responsibility; where you need to be as transparent as possible for the student and parent’s sake and for one’s own. Things are not as they used to be. Unfortunately, times are not as simple as they once were when I and I’m sure many of you were training. So, how do we implement these same kinds of corrections but assure parents and students that this method is safe and appropriate? Here are some of my suggestions for a very delicate situation and how you and your students can be on the same page so that training is effective and goals are met in a safe and trusting environment!

  1. Be transparent. Discuss very candidly with students and teachers the way in which students are corrected in class. Explain that these corrections can come in the form of verbal corrections, perhaps a demonstration or a physical correction depending on the situation. Be open, patient and willing to accept all questions from parents regarding tactile feedback and explain why it is an important part of dance training. A lot of times, parents who have been dancers themselves or been around the studio environment long enough know this goes with the territory, but don’t assume! It is your responsibility to discuss it.

  2. Ask the student. I have found (especially with new and younger students) that this is the most efficient way to use tactile correction. When explaining something, if I want to show them or correct something on their bodies, I ask their permission. “Can I show you?” “Is it OK if I correct you?” This lets the dancer know you are respecting their private space and comfort level. Some children do not like to be physically corrected and that boundary should never be crossed; for underlying reasons may exist that you are not privy to. Or, they just might not want that kind of correction and it should be respected.  If you have dancers for a long time, most are accustomed to you and the physical feedback, but again don’t assume! That’s when teachers can get overly comfortable with our students, so again, always ask how one feels about being corrected in that manner.
Remember, we all want our students to get the best training possible. Tactile feedback is an important part of dance and has been forever. But, a student’s comfort level and trust supersedes that, so constantly dialogue with students and parents to ensure you are always on the same page to reach the maximum benefits and progress for each dancer!

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