What is “Technique,” Anyway?

Dorrie in tendu about to pique en pointe

Dancers hear the word all the time, Abby Lee stresses it among her students, many studios offer entire classes and workshops on it, and more likely than not, it is the largest chunk of possible points to earn at competition—that’s right . . . I’m talking about that common, yet all too elusive concept of technique. Despite technique’s obvious importance, many young dancers haven’t the slightest clue what it is! So, what is it, anyway?

Technique, put very simply, is HOW a dancer executes a certain step or maneuver. Specifically, it refers to HOW a dancer executes that step within the established and accepted traditions that govern how we expect dance to look.  The simplest example is that, in most cases, audiences expect a dancer to point their toes on stage and to avoid ugliness such sickling a foot in B+, tendu, or arabesque. There are certains ways we expect dancers to present their feet to the audience. It’s that certain dance “look” that we like to see on stage.  All forms of dance have their own techniques, but classical ballet mostly informs the technique we see in ballet itself, lyrical, modern, and even jazz and hip-hop, although all to varying extents.

In classical ballet, flexed feet and hands are a no-no, but are acceptable in contemporary forms which "bend the rules," or can be considered very beautiful in forms such as Classical Indian Dance, shown here.

But even beyond creating the expected dance “look,” technique can have a more precise and objective purpose: one that is more based in functionality (something useful) rather than in aesthetics (what looks pretty). When a dancer begins to learn more complicated and difficult maneuvers, let’s say pirouettes, fouettés, or tours à la seconde, for instance, technique—or HOW the step is executed—becomes much more important. Rules have been established over the last several hundred years, not only to ensure that the dancer can perform these steps in an attractive way, but also in a successful and effective way.

Turning your smooth, clean, single pirouette into a double, triple, quadruple, or even a decuple (with ten rotations, which I’ve only seen once when I was judging a competition in Pittsburgh, PA!), requires precise, exact, and disciplined technique. In this case, technique refers to the set of rules, particularly those of human anatomy and physiology as well as the laws of physics, to both balance in the passé relevé and also to exert enough force to initiate the turn and to develop enough momentum to sustain the rotations. All of these rules make up what we call technique.

I like to think of technique as kind of the grammar of dance. Just as grammar is the set of established rules that govern how we communicate through spoken and written language, technique is the set of established rules that govern how we communicate through classically-based dance.

When someone speaks with incorrect grammar—”I ain’t got nothin’ for ya,”—we can still understand what they are trying to communicate, however, when someone does use formal grammar, they send a message of being properly educated and present themselves as an articulate and elegant individual.

Using your technique, therefore, not only allows you to present yourself as an articulate and elegant dancer, but will also help you perform those awe-inspiring steps that will get you even more respect in the eyes of your audience!

Feel free to ask questions or comment! 🙂

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Special thanks to my Wednesday night pointe class: Dorrie, Melina, Kristina, and Tiffany, and to my “choreologist” Hannah Kohinke (whose idea it was to write this blog), and to Ariana Sacco for being so encouraging!

Following a technique workshop I taught at Sophisticated Productions' Nationals in Wildwood, NJ, dancer and choreographer Ariana Sacco, framed one of my quotes as a gift!


About Jesse Katen

Jesse Katen is a professor, dance studio owner, and competition judge who lives in Binghamton, New York. In 2004, he opened his studio, The Jesse Katen School of Dance, which is in Windsor, NY. He travels extensively throughout the United States as a guest teacher and professional competition judge. In 2016, he was awarded the Industry Dance Award for Outstanding Judge by the Association of Dance Conventions & Competitions at their annual gala in Las Vegas. He also teaches in the English department at SUNY Broome Community College. Jesse's professional and volunteer work focuses on education, dance, literacy, and the arts. Check out the WBNG-TV news feature on Jesse: http://www.wbng.com/story/32879982/tales-from-the-tiers-jesse-katen This blog by Jesse Katen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Posted on November 10, 2011, in Dance, Dance technique, Teaching Dance and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I thought this was a good explanation of technique. I also appreciated how you discussed non-Western dance, and how technique in one school of dance is different from another (flexed hands/feet).

    Keep up the good work Jess!


  2. Hey Barbara! How did you find my blog?


  3. Dance is amazing and I love it. Technique helps alot and so did this blog. Thanks jesse. 🙂


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