Blog 56: The Power of Words.. When it comes to marking exercises

3/4 creating exercises marking musically musical teaching musicality tendus Mar 09, 2023

I have to be honest with you..

I hate the phrase "use your words.", it makes me want to vomit.

Maybe I've just heard it too often. Maybe it's the farm girl in me who grew up pretty rough and tough! All that being said, it was the first phrase that sprang to mind when I was thinking about today's topic.

Here's the thing.. every dance teacher marking an exercise knows that they need to count! You know that it's important that your exercise is in phrases of 8 counts (at least the average exercises). So when you go to teach it, you might be immediately inclined to use numbers, if nothing else, to help you keep track.

Alternatively, if you work primarily with little children who don't keep track of numbers or notice sets.. you might ALWAYS use the movements, for example, "ten-du, and hold, close first and hold. Ten-du se-conde, close first and hold.. etc".

Once they've gotten the exercise, and you're running it, sometimes you might call out, "STRETCH the toes!" "Press into the floor!". "Heels forward when you close from derriere!" etc.

While using counts is great and perhaps helps keep you on track, using words as well as counts can capture the minds of some of your dancers.

The ideal situation is that you are able to use these 3 methods of teaching: counting, movements and qualities, while you mark an exercise!

Let's use the video above as our example: 3 tendus to seconde on a 3/4.

This exercise could be counted 1 + a  2 + a  3 + a  4 + a  5 + a  6 + a, etc.


it could be.. ten du and close first and, ten du and close first, and ten du and close first etc.  (Do you still hear the 3 if you say it out loud?)


it could be.. pressing down, squeezing in, heels down and, hips turned out, pel vis straight, thighs rotate, etc. (Can you still here the triple meter music if you read it with a strong accent on the bold parts?)


the ultimate teacher can slip back and forth between these 3 options by using counts, movement qualities AND the actual physical movement together while not losing musicality! Literally mixing up the name of the movements, with the qualities they want AND slip in dancer counts or total numbers of tendus.

Try it! I'll give you a second to try it on your own..

3 tendus to seconde. on a 3.


Take your time.. it's really really great practice to think about counting exercises in different ways! Some of your dancers pick up exercises immediately with numbers, others its more of a rhythm/word connection and others it's actually doing it in time (hence why you MUST be marking in the tempo/quality and meter that you want for at least 8 counts!).

Did you have some success or did this really throw you? Were you able to keep your tempo going consistently? Your 3/4 meter? The smooth quality you want?

Here's my go at it..

Ten du side, close first and, smoothly out, thighs rotate, 3rd ten du, heels close first, slowly rise arms in first.

Doing this mix of counting consistently is not for the faint of heart, it takes some time to build up a solid vocabulary of verbs and adverbs that you can use easily (quietly, throw, gently, hide, grow, form, cautiously, squish, press, sneak, sly, quick, sharp, melt, squeeze, strike, whip, etc!); BUT, I believe it is absolutely crucial that A)You remain in your meter as you teach and B) that you're able to teach in various ways to connect with different peoples' ways of learning in the room! 

If you found this fairly overwhelming or virtually impossible, don't stress, it takes time for everyone to learn! The good news is, as soon as exams are done, you can take a solid break from syllabus and spend some time really taking advantage of the benefits of unset class for your dancers and for you; you can start trying this out. (If you find the whole idea of unset class and unset music a little much, you would likely benefit from working through The Official Music Training Academy/Course for Ballet Teachers; learn more HERE)

Remember your dancers don't need to know you're working on this, but, if you do, you'll begin to notice that your dancers will pick up the exercises quicker! They'll understand the quality and meter you're looking for, before the music has even started! If you happen to work with a pianist, they're going to be exceptionally happy if you can be consistently clear in your meter, quality and tempo as you mark!

*Again, you do NOT have to mark the whole exercise in time, that's a massive waste of class time, I realize that, but if you can mark at least 8-16 counts in the tempo, quality and meter you want, your dancers and musician will really 'get' what your thoughts are the first time!


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