Julian has never been one to wait for anything. Like most boys – or maybe kids in general – patience represents a virtue lost on him. He rushes headlong through his dance education every chance he gets. He is impatient. He wants to move up, move forward. Luckily, his teachers tend to slow him down.
His old tap teacher, Anthony LoCascio (of Tap Dogs fame), kept him in a slower-paced class even though he was able to move up to the harder class so he would get the technique correct first. The same was true in ballet, whenLise LaCour wouldn’t let Julian move up to level 4 as quickly as he wanted at Ballet San Jose School even though he even asked her specifically to move him up. She wanted him to develop his muscles and improve his technique. Now he’s being held back at Teen Dance Company as well. He can do the higher level dance classes – and he’s even more challenged by them, but they want him to get the basics in the disciplines he hasn’t yet learned (modern and contemporary.
This leads me to some information I was given by Denise Wall of Denise Wall’s Dance Energy in Virginia Beach, VA, and mother to some great dancing boys – Travis Wall and Danny Tidwell of So You Think You Can Dancefame. First of all, she doesn’t let anyone move up to a higher level class in her studio unless they are ready. Not only that, she sends her ballet students down to lower levels. She says once they begin to understand how to use their muscles correctly, they can practice this in the lower level classes, relearn the technique and become better dancers. They understand the moves better, you see… This allows them to perform them with a new consciousness and to enhance their ability, making them stronger and cleaner dancers.
Basically, she says that younger dancers simply don’t understand how to use their muscles correctly. (I argue that most dancers never learn how to use their muscles correctly. They actually don’t know how to use their muscles specifically in the way Wall teaches. She agrees, saying, “If you don’t get it eventually, for you to become a professional is going to be hard, because you aren’t going to be controlled. You have to make it look like it is easy.”) For this reason, she says, “Everyone has to go back to the basics, even your advanced students.” When they do this, they learn to control those muscles, and to activate the correct muscles at the correct time. “Then people will say, ‘That looks so easy for them,’” says Wall.
The key here, moms, lies in finding a teacher that knows how to teach your dancin’ boy how to use his muscles correctly. (I can’t say I’ve found one, but I’m gonna keep looking and possible take Julian to see Denise Wall one day.) The teacher needs to do the following, according to Wall: “Teach every muscle students are supposed to engage for everything they do. And make sure they know what muscle they are supposed to start with. Like with a releve…people just lift their heels up, and that’s not it at all. If you are just lifting your heels up, you are doing so much damage to your Achilles, because all your weight is going back into your heel.”
So, ask your son if he thinks about what muscle to engage when he does a releve. Ask him if he even thinks about it? If not, it’s time to get back to basics!
And keep this in mind when he wants to move up to the higher level class faster than maybe he should. (Yes, Julian…that means you.) This reminds me of the caution we’ve probably all heard when we’ve taken our children to a pool. “Walk, don’t run!” Sometimes moving slowly simply provides the faster way of arriving at your desired destination – at least when it comes to becoming a professional dancer. Patience can be, if not a virtue, at least something worth developing when it comes to being a male dancer.