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Tips from Teddy - End of Season Wrap Up!

Author: IDA Judge Teddy

As regional competition season comes to a close—insert sad face here—I decided to take a moment to consider the amazing talent I’ve had the pleasure of viewing across the country, as well as how I communicate as an adjudicator. In my reflections, I realized that no matter where in the country I found myself, I tended to repeat certain corrections and ideas over and over during my weekends at the judges’ table. I’ve compiled two lists, one for students and one for teachers, in the hopes that we can work hard to leave these habits in this season and spring positively into the next!

For Students:

1. Do not sacrifice the length in your torso for the length in your legs. Always work to create length in your entire body.

2. ABS ARE AWESOME! They’re also more than just one muscle. Most notably though, they go in different directions. You want to feel your abs weaving together to support your back.

To break it down by your six pack:​

  • Buttoning your top two abs toward each other keeps your ribs from splaying open; this action keeps the upper half of your torso in proper alignment.

  • The middle two abs buttoning toward each other helps with general stability. I recommend focusing the majority of your tension into these two abs, as well as your back, to help to increase mobility in your upper body.

  • The lower two abs are the most important and the two I most often see disengaged. Feeling these abs buttoning toward each other keeps the pelvis from tilting down. Tilting your pelvis arches your back and sticks your booty out. Since your pelvis is connected to your legs, tilting your pelvis towards the floor also turns your legs in.

  • As your “six pack” presses toward itself, you want to feel an up and down stretch through your torso.

3. Stability comes from your abs but also your back…your WHOLE core. “Pressing your shoulders down” and “feeling your shoulder blades connecting” means activating your Lattisimus Dorsi (lats), Rhomboids, Trapezius (traps), and Serratus Anterior. Sorry these don’t have a cute name like six pack, but we can call them “good dancer” muscles! Make sure you feel them actively pressing down your body WHILE activating your abs, ESPECIALLY if you are leaning into your elbow or hand on the floor.

4. Beginnings and endings matter! What doesn’t matter is how high your jump/leg/whatever is if you can’t control the landing. Similarly, if a movement forces you to drop out of your performance or requires you to stop dancing to prepare, this is what makes it a trick and not a technical moment in your performance.

5. Feel your épaulement working in all of your port de bras so you feel a full-bodied connection to your arm movements.

6. Always feel the connection of your legs to your core. If your leg is reaching away from you, it should stretch all the way through your hip flexors into your abs, including your obliques, ultimately giving you the widest gait possible.

7. When standing in a parallel position, make sure you are always engaging your core to lift from the insides of your legs all the way down to your arches.

8. Holding tension in your neck cuts off the mobility in your port de bras, épaulement, and upper body movement in general. Work on sending this tension into your core (abs AND back) to find more support and more mobility in your upper body.

9. Hamstrings are muscles, too! Everybody loves to stretch their hamstrings, but remember that they are muscles that can actually be used to control your legs. I notice this especially in touch your-head-from-behind-type moments, like a scorpion or handstand. Flex your hamstrings to control your legs as they come toward you.

10. Take us on a journey! How is your performance directing the emotions of the audience as they watch you? How are we supposed to feel differently from the beginning to end of your performance? What changes?

11. Lip-syncing is whole body acting…IT IS NOT JUST MOVING YOUR LIPS! It is eyes, it is body language, it is texture. It is also not always necessary.

12. Commit to stillness. A living body on stage has a beating heart; it is breathing. This is movement and it’s beautiful. It is dancing to be still. This does not mean, however, that stillness is a break in performance. Stillness is pushing yourself as a performer to the forefront.

13. Dynamics are controlled by your muscles and your breath. Long, deep breaths = long, deep movements. Short, quick breaths = short, quick movements. Both are valid ways to move and when places next to each other they, make each other look stronger.

14. RUN WITH A PURPOSE! Never forget that art is meant to imitate life. Steps of transit (walks, runs, etc.) are meant to TRANSPORT you to somewhere new! Let them move you in space and commit to these movements!

15. You have one body, so feel its connecting parts. Let your torso, for example, connect to your legs as you battement so that the movement doesn’t take you by surprise.

For Teachers:

1. Consider the fact that we, as judges, are viewing all of your dances in the concentrated period of just a few days. Try to view your studio’s choreography in this lens and ask yourself if you are using the same tricks, images, and choreographic strategies in the majority of your routines. Of course, when you choreograph them separately over a span of months, this is hard to recognize, but always consider the format in which you are presenting your work!

2. Dances that stand out are dances that employ out-of-the-box thinking. Never forget: each work is a performance, not an exhibition!

  • Consider the vocabulary. Often, I see routines that have a very clear creative voice and idea and then suddenly there is a technical element, like a turn sequence, inserted out of nowhere. How can we as choreographers, teachers, AND judges show off and recognize the balance, strength, and flexibility required in a penché (for example) while still remaining true to the voice/message/theme of the piece?

  • Acro is for the acro category. If you’d like to experiment in fusing acrobatics with your movement, go for it! If you do back handsprings in your tap dance, it bears no weight at all on your “technique” or “difficulty” scores because my job is to judge the technique and difficulty of your tap dancing.

3. Ask yourself what purpose your props are serving. Try rehearsing a dance without its prop. Show it to other teachers to get feedback both with and without the prop. Props create a whole complex of further meaning and if not fully necessary or fully realized, they can take away from the dancing.

4. Know your students! The choreography that your student is executing needs to challenge them while still showing them off. If your student is working hard to perfect a clean double turn there should not be one (or two or three!!) fouetté turn sequences in their dance. Dance technique is built on foundations. If your dancer is working on building this foundation, LET THEM. Give them attainable choreography. This goes for outside choreographers, too. Yes, it’s hard to find the balance, but if they start to master everything in the dance, you can always make it harder. It’s a thin line, it’s hard. Our job is hard, but don’t cop out.

5. Can we please stop letting Instagram dictate what we think we need to choreograph? If the parents or students complain that they want these insta-elements in their dances, remind them that growth takes time. You can’t run before you can walk.

6. Similarly, understand the energy level of your dancer and how many people are in the work itself. If the composer of the music thought they needed to employ the entire Harlem Gospel Choir to fully realize the song, it is going to be nearly impossible for ANYONE to adequately perform to that piece of music as a soloist.

7. One aerial, sure! Two aerials, okay. Three aerials, and it’s a filler move. Watch these filler moves!

8. One of the scoring sections is for technique. As I’ve tried to make clear to many different people, this term is insanely broad. I, personally, base this score on three main things: 

  • If the technique demonstrated is of the category they are competing in (i.e. Jazz technique in Jazz)

  • If the technique is well executed.

  • Movement ability. This is a technique. Kicking your legs is cool, kicking your legs with correct technique is cooler, dancing in between kicking your legs with correct technique is coolest.

9. Let’s think about cultural appropriation and context in our dances. There’s no reason that this can’t be considered from the start.

10. Similarly, discuss with your students what they are dancing about. What are they are trying to convey, share, or say? What is their relationship to the music and to each other in each piece?

11. NEVER forget we are training dancers to PERFORM. Give them art that shows them off. There is no shame in hiring outside choreographers who have different processes, aesthetics, and priorities. This is SO important for students to learn as they move into the professional world. A dance should not just be an exhibition of athletic feats.

12. I promise you: you do not need as many dances as you might think. Your best dances are still going to do best no matter how many other dances you have.

Let’s consider these ideas as we wrap up this season and start preparing for next year!

Love and Growth, Teddy Tedholm


Teddy Tedholm is a choreographer, dancer, and dance instructor based out of NYC. He has worked with artists as varied as Netta Yerushalmy, Kate Sicchio, Erica Sobol, Sidra Bell, Douglas Becker, Billy Larson, Emily Shock, and many others. Since receiving a BFA in Ballet from University of the Arts, he has studied under Doug Varone and Deborah Hay and presented work throughout the country live and on film to great acclaim. In NY, he directs his own company, tedted Performance Group, is on faculty at Peridance Capezio Center and is Guest Faculty at Broadway Dance Center.

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