Joffrey Ballet School’s jazz and contemporary program director Michael Blake taught this jump-and-roll combination during the first week of jazz classes at JBS to help his students discover the power of oppositional energy. “Oppositional lines keep the movement supported and really pronounce the dynamics,” he says. “It’s round and soft, yet sharp.”
In a combination like this, the transitional moments between movements are just as important as the steps themselves. Thinking about how movements connect is a more mature concept than basic vocabulary, alignment or coordination, but it’s one that can be introduced early on and emphasized throughout a dancer’s training. Let class be an opportunity for students to develop the quality and artistry of each transition step:
Take It Slow
Preparatory connecting steps require precision in order to appear seamless and ensure that what follows—a pirouette, balance or jump—goes well. Igor Burlak, teacher at Boston Ballet School, for instance, emphasizes the importance of turnout in a glissade before assemblé. “I have students face the barre and break it down as much as possible,” he says. “We go super slow, so that each move takes one or two counts.” Then, when students try these steps in center, they are more likely to connect them smoothly.
Use the Music
The music can be supportive in a way that eases transitions. Burlak often asks the pianist to play first, before the dancers attempt a combination. “We’ll listen for the transition between notes and phrases and relate it to the physical exercise,” he says. “Then they see that dancing is like a beautiful melody when they move.”
Treat Every Step Equally
Terri Best, jazz instructor at Edge Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles, thinks that dancers also need to have the right mind-set. “If they’re thinking of the next big thing, they’re not in the present moment, staying in character or expressing themselves fully,” she says. Remind students that the audience can see them even when they face upstage, and encourage them to stay grounded in the story or character. “Every step is equally visible and should be executed with the same attention to detail, commitment, precision and focus,” she says. “Poor transitions can take the audience out of the moment.”