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Less Is More

Less is More

by Michelle Jones Wurtz

After years of studying and teaching dance at various schools and institutions, The Tortoise and the Hare, one of Aesop’s famous fables has taken on a deeper meaning in my life.  Many American dance students are being pushed to execute fouette turns, tour-jetes, and multiple pirouettes in order to please parents’ expectations or student’s impatient desires.  Dance builds on itself and is very scientific.  If a pupil has a weak back, grand battements are impossible without collapsing in the spine.  If a grand battement is weak, grand jetes and tour-jetes will certianly be weak because these movements both begin with a simple grand battement.  Most bodies are not anatomically nor kinesthetically made to do what dance technique asks and therefore it must be taught slowly to insure that the muscles involved are strengthened properly.  If the leg extension muscles in the thigh and hip flexor muscles are weak, there is no possible way to properly execute a fouette turn.  It would simply defy physics.  We, in simple terms, are training the human body to execute tasks that it was never designed to do.

The only way to possibly strengthen muscles is to do slow repetitions that isolate a muscle area.  No weight lifter would do only four push-ups and expect to be able to lift his/her weight.  Before a dancer can execute any pirouette, it is imperative that he/she can first plie, releve, and show a retire position while maintaining proper alignment.  That is why teachers working with young children and/or beginners must insist on mastery of the skills that they are teaching.  No child would ever be expected to read paragraphs without first learning short sentences; and before that single words; and before that the alphabet.  There is an extraordinary amount of steps that dancers of famous American companies have never heard of even though they are professionals.

This is commendable.  It is more important, expecially to prevent injury, to work with a smaller syllabus and execute every movement exactly the way it was inteded; “fifty times out of fifty” to quote Martha Graham.  Many teachers feel students need to learn steps far beyond their capabilities to prevent boredom and increase their dance vocabularies.  Remember vocabulary can be taught without the student executing the particular element.  Also, it’s the responsibility of the teacher to find creative ways to repeat the skills so the student can master.  It is also the teacher’s responsibility to educate the parents of his/her students to understand these concepts.  Most parents have an idea what second grade math should be, but quality dance training is not part of everyone’s basic education.  It’s important as a lover of the art of dance to educate society in general.  Make sure that all students have learned one simple phrase, “less is more.”


Michelle Jones Wurtz holds a BFA in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts. She has studied with Judith Jamison, Milton Meyers, Deborah Chase-Hicks, and Patricia Thomas; all principal dancers from The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. She is specially trained to teach The Vaganova Method of Ballet through John White, former Ballet Master of the Pennsylvania Ballet. Michelle has taught and performed throughout the entire Delaware Valley. She was chosen by the Philadelphia Dance Alliance to choreograph under the tutelage of Martha Meyers, Dean of the American Dance Festival.