Coordination is the ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently (Oxford Dictionary). In a dance context, it is important to understand the concept of coordination in relation to shifting weight from two legs to one. This requires coordination and balance with underpinning skills of stability and strength.
Coordination is also the integration, unification or synchronization towards unity of action in the pursuit of common goals. Underpinned again by balance, stability and strength, both are eminently important to any dance artist’s career and both are crucial topics in the current environment.
2020 has overturned our daily routines. It has upset our balance and our pursuit of common goals. It has also given us reason to pause, reflect and question.
As an educator at The Australian Ballet School, opening up the conversation on coordination has been pivotal for staying on purpose at a time when there are many distractions. My daily challenge and passion has been to connect our students to the conversation.
I like to take them on a journey. A fundamental journey that begins with connecting to the artist within. To support this connection effectively, the rapport between student and teacher is essential. It reinforces the pursuit of common goals, and enables meaningful conversations that will change, affect and build an intelligent dancer; one who leaves our school with the skills to take care of themselves mentally and physically for a sustainable and long career. I take this a step further. Before a student and teacher can fully experience rapport, both student and teacher have to be on the journey of defining and understanding the self.
For teachers, continuing to develop our understanding of how the body works is vital. Daily body work in the somatic area deepens the journey, helps us to stay connected, reminds us of what it feels like to be present, and offers us an ongoing inner dialogue that we can use to frame conversations with our students. I find my daily body practise is essential in continuing to define and refine what it is I do and why.
To set this scene at The Australian Ballet School, conditioning classes begin with an activity to quieten the mind. This may start by sitting down on a chair, closing the eyes and connecting to the breath. During the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning, we have ventured here daily and from there moved into new territory. Our consideration has been to understand the difference between the thinking brain and the sensory experience; noticing what happens when one shifts into the thinking brain during movement rather than staying in the sensory experience. Working with the students in this area has been exciting to observe the change in them when they understand the difference, and can acknowledge that they have lost the connection to the sensory experience. Thinking, rather than sensing, affects stability, balance, and coordination. Being fully present in the sensory experience, connecting with sound, periphery, touch, taste and smell, helps to centre and feel more grounded; and not surprisingly, coordination is improved, and focus is enhanced.
The light bulb in this conversation is valuing the connection the student needs to make with themselves, and then how we as teachers provide a pathway to the sensory experience rather than the thinking brain. The way one cues and communicates has a profound effect on a student’s ability to not only sense the correction in their bodies but to be able to self-direct their own practise repeatedly without the teacher. How we as teachers communicate these messages will then carry over into finding their coordination in the world as an artist and a member of their varied communities.
Finding the hook and meaning for the teenage brain is the daily challenge when the world is in a tailspin, a COVID-19 pandemic, in a social media driven society.
The power of stillness to frame the start and end of the conversation before coordinating the breath, before moving and layering in the education, gives the students’ mind a chance to arrive and create curiosity without the subject matter, and acknowledge there is work to be done before getting down to business. Raise the curtain and talk coordination.
The elements of balance, strength and stability are essential, and need to be considered in the breakdown and analysis to affect and improve coordination. When each of these elements is broken down, you can see their value and the vital aspect of supporting the student to make these physical and sensory connections. Connecting the human to the being into the sensory experience is where the learning is and the body can understand stability, balance and ultimately, sense coordination.
Within The Australian Ballet School’s conditioning curriculum, I find keeping the focus on the sensory attunement a successful way to bridge the gap between the conditioning space and classical studio. Without attention on the sensory experience and the skills learnt from this, the two worlds are divided. For young students in a vocational training setting, they are seeking connection to themselves and the environment before the world. It is essential that their story, and their conversation, is nurtured in a time of feeling detached and separated. This will not be the only time in their youth when these strategies and skills will be used. These are life skills and they will be essential to graduate as an emerging artist, become a professional, find a job and remain employed.
As an educator at The Australian Ballet School it is vital for our students that the conversation connects the emerging artist to the self. Dance, like all somatic practices, is about the complete coordination between the body, mind and spirit.
For further reading on the sensory experience, I recommend an article written by Phillip B. Zaralli titled “Inner movement” between Practices of Meditation, Martial Arts and Acting: A Focused Examination of Affect, Feeling, Sensing and Sensory Attunement.
Katrina Edwards, The Australian Ballet School’s Student Development Coordinator and Conditioning Specialist.