You Know the Dance But Can You Teach It To Me?


Movement is a kinesthetic experience.  Getting someone else to independently activate their body in a manner that will generate a new kinesthetic experience is the role of a movement teacher.  In order to be effective, in addition to knowing the movements to teach, a teacher also needs some other skills.  What are they?

In my 40 years of studying and teaching human movement I have thought about this a lot.  In fact, I still work regularly with colleagues and clients in order to continually refine my ability to teach movement. I have come to the conclusion that the critical skills for teaching movement fall into four distinct categories.

1.  A sharp eye for movement.  The teacher is able to clearly and accurately observe what a student is doing - with their individual body parts, the relationship of those parts, their overall movement through space, and the quality of their movements. All parts are connected and a teacher must be able to discern how all the parts are working as each specific movement is learned.

2.  An ability to think a movement through.  You are always moving.  No stopping until you die, i.e., breathing.  Where you just were and where you intend to go affect your movement choices in the now. Consequently, when teaching movement to a student, the context of the movement - what comes before and what comes after - is important.  Selected well, the context can make learning much easier. Done poorly or ignored, things can be much harder.  Look at it this way - you can learn a new word individually but if it comes in a sentence, a flow of mostly familiar words, how much easier is it to learn and retain the new word?

3.  An understanding of the different ways people learn.  Scholars have identified several different learning styles and types, each benefitting from a particular style of information presentation.  Teachers do not need to know all the details of these types but they do need to recognize that a significant percentage of their students will not learn in the same way as the teacher.  A good teacher can and does present information in ways that address multiple learning styles.  A teacher also needs to sort out how to optimize his teaching method to each individual.

4.  A good knowledge of the human structure on which we move - the anatomy and physics of the musculoskeletal system.  Without this knowledge, a teacher might ask someone to do something that is either dangerous or impossible to do.  Most often, the teacher is simply not asking what is really desired because she does not understand the underlying mechanics, which can lead to injury but more often creates confusion and wastes everyones time. For example - asking someone to breathe and “get the air down into the belly.”  Unfortunately, the only way to get air into the abdominal cavity on the inhale is if the diaphragm, the pleura and probably a lung are torn, at which point you have a life threatening situation. (I have it on good authority that it is also incredibly painful.)  Why not just ask the student to stick the gut out and drop the lower ribs in front as she inhales? That is what is really being asked for.


Students come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, none of which are the textbook standard body, and a teacher needs to be able to look at a student (see #1 above) and determine how to modify the intended lesson for that individual body structure.  It may mean a different order of progression or body positioning, but is based on asking the student to do things that are actually possible.

There is, of course, much more that great movement teachers do (plan out classes, remember student's names, show up on time, throw a great holiday party, etc.) but being competent in the above four areas is a great beginning.