StEPS: Dance Alignment & Foundations for Success

StEPS: Dance Alignment & Foundations for Success With Emily Bufferd*

Welcome to Beyond the StEPS

Dance is often celebrated for its captivating choreography and stunning performances, but there's a hidden gem that deserves the spotlight – the importance of proper alignment and technique in dance education. In a recent chat with Emily Buffer, an amazing dance educator, the conversation took a turn from routines to the foundational principles that make a dancer truly shine. Let's explore the key insights from our discussion and understand why aligning our bodies is the secret sauce to dance success.

Aligning Your Dance Journey:

Emily Buffer kicked off our conversation by underlining the crucial role of teaching alignment to dancers. It's not just about nailing the steps; it's about building a strong foundation from shoulders to ankles. Emily stressed the need for dancers and teachers to discover their unique alignment, creating a rock-solid base for their dance journey.

Teaching alignment to dancers plays a crucial role in their overall dance education and success. Here are some key aspects of why alignment is essential:

Foundation of Movement:

  • Alignment serves as the foundation for all dance movements. When dancers understand how to align their bodies correctly – from shoulders to ankles – they establish a solid base for executing steps with precision and grace. Proper alignment ensures that every movement flows seamlessly and looks effortless.

Injury Prevention:

  • Correct alignment is a fundamental element in preventing injuries. When dancers consistently practice and perform with proper alignment, they reduce the risk of strain on muscles and joints. This is particularly important in dance, where repetitive movements and challenging choreography can lead to injuries if executed without proper alignment.

Enhanced Technique:

  • Alignment directly influences a dancer's technique. A well-aligned body allows for better control and balance, enabling dancers to execute complex movements with greater ease. It contributes to improved turns, jumps, and overall technical proficiency, elevating the quality of the performance.

Body Awareness:

  • Teaching alignment enhances dancers' body awareness. It encourages them to be mindful of their posture, muscle engagement, and spatial orientation. This heightened awareness not only improves the aesthetic quality of their movements but also fosters a deeper connection between the dancer and their body.

Long-Term Success:

  • Dancers who prioritize alignment set themselves up for long-term success. As they progress in their careers, proper alignment becomes a habit that extends beyond the studio and onto the stage. This longevity is crucial for dancers aiming to have enduring and thriving careers.

Versatility in Styles:

  • Different dance styles may require varying forms of alignment. Teaching dancers the principles of alignment allows them to adapt to different genres and styles. Whether it's classical ballet, contemporary, or jazz, a solid understanding of alignment ensures versatility and adaptability.

Expressive Movement:

  • Alignment contributes to the expressive quality of a dancer's movement. When the body is properly aligned, dancers can convey emotions more effectively through their performances. It adds a layer of authenticity and depth to their expression, enhancing the overall impact on the audience.

In essence, teaching alignment is not just about perfecting the aesthetic aspects of dance; it's about nurturing a dancer's holistic development. From injury prevention to technical excellence and expressive artistry, alignment serves as the cornerstone of a dancer's journey towards mastery and success.

Insider's Take on Dance Education:

In the intricate world of dance, where individuality is celebrated, the concept of unique alignment emerges as a pivotal aspect that both dancers and teachers must explore. Understanding and embracing one's distinctive alignment not only lays the groundwork for a resilient dance journey but also fosters a deeper connection between the dancer and their craft.

  1. Tailoring Instruction to Individual Bodies:

Every dancer possesses a unique physique, with distinct bone structures, muscle lengths, and flexibility. Recognizing and acknowledging these individual differences is the first step toward discovering one's unique alignment. For teachers, this means tailoring instruction to cater to the specific needs of each dancer. Rather than enforcing a one-size-fits-all approach, instructors who guide dancers in understanding their bodies on an individual level pave the way for a more inclusive and effective learning experience.

  1. Empowering Dancers Through Body Awareness:

The journey to discovering unique alignment is a process of self-discovery and heightened body awareness. Dancers are encouraged not only to mimic prescribed movements but to delve into the intricacies of how their bodies respond and adapt. Teachers play a crucial role in empowering dancers to be active participants in this discovery, fostering a sense of agency over their physicality. As dancers become attuned to their unique alignment, they gain a profound understanding of their bodies' capabilities and limitations.

  1. Personalized Corrections for Optimal Growth:

One of the key benefits of unraveling unique alignment is the ability to provide personalized corrections. Teachers armed with insights into each dancer's specific alignment challenges can offer targeted guidance. Whether it's addressing issues related to turnout, alignment in jumps, or core engagement, personalized corrections accelerate the learning process. Dancers, in turn, experience accelerated growth as they receive tailored feedback that aligns with their individual anatomical nuances.

  1. Building Confidence Through Individual Progress:

Discovering unique alignment serves as a confidence booster for dancers. As they witness their bodies adapting and responding positively to personalized alignment strategies, a sense of accomplishment and confidence emerges. This newfound confidence extends beyond the dance studio, influencing how dancers carry themselves in auditions, rehearsals, and performances. Teachers, by fostering an environment that encourages individual progress, contribute significantly to the development of confident and empowered dancers.

  1. Nurturing a Lifelong Relationship with Dance:

The process of uncovering unique alignment is not a finite task but an ongoing exploration. Teachers who instill in dancers the idea that alignment is a dynamic and evolving aspect foster a lifelong relationship with dance. Instead of viewing alignment as a set of rules to be followed rigidly, dancers understand it as a tool for continuous improvement and self-discovery. This mindset cultivates resilience, adaptability, and a passion for growth, ensuring that dancers remain engaged and committed to their craft throughout their dance journey.

  1. Enhancing Artistic Expression:

Unique alignment is not solely a technical consideration but a profound contributor to artistic expression. Dancers who are intimately acquainted with their individual alignment can channel their emotions and intentions more authentically through movement. This depth of expression elevates performances, allowing dancers to communicate narratives and emotions with a heightened level of authenticity. Teachers who guide dancers in connecting their unique alignment with expressive movement enrich the artistic dimensions of their students' performances.

Emily Bufferd BDC

The Perils of Neglecting Technique:

A major highlight of our conversation was the discussion on the trade-off between technique classes and rehearsals. Emily Buffer raised a crucial question: What happens when a perfectly rehearsed dance doesn't secure a win? This prompts us to rethink the idea that drilling a dance doesn't equal training a dancer. It's time for educators to reassess their priorities.

In the competitive realm of dance, the prevailing notion has often been that a perfectly rehearsed dance is a surefire ticket to victory. Dancers and educators alike invest significant time and effort in drilling choreography, aiming for flawless execution on the stage. However, the stark reality surfaces when, despite meticulous rehearsals, success remains elusive. This raises a fundamental question: does drilling a dance equate to training a dancer?

The revelation that a flawlessly executed routine doesn't guarantee victory challenges the traditional approach to dance education. It prompts educators to reassess their priorities, shifting focus from repetitive drilling to comprehensive dancer training. Understanding the nuances of this shift is essential for fostering dancers who are not only technically proficient but also resilient, versatile, and equipped for long-term success.

  1. Drilling vs. Training: Unraveling the Discrepancy:

Drilling a dance predominantly involves repetition and memorization of set choreography. While this practice hones muscle memory and synchronization, it falls short in addressing the holistic development of a dancer. Training, on the other hand, encompasses a broader spectrum, incorporating technical skills, body awareness, and the cultivation of artistry. Educators must recognize the crucial distinction between drilling and training to better guide their students towards comprehensive growth.

  1. The Limited Lifespan of Drilling:

A perfectly drilled dance routine may shine momentarily on the competition stage, but its impact is often short-lived. The transient nature of drilling becomes evident when faced with diverse choreographic challenges or evolving performance expectations. Dancers trained solely in the art of drilling may find themselves ill-equipped to adapt to dynamic artistic demands. Educators must acknowledge that the longevity and versatility of a dancer's career hinge on a foundation built through robust training rather than mere repetition.

  1. Embracing Technique Over Winning:

The shift in priorities urges educators to prioritize technique over the pursuit of immediate victories. While winning competitions can be gratifying, it should not overshadow the significance of nurturing technically proficient dancers. Technique serves as the bedrock of a dancer's skill set, enabling them to navigate various dance styles, choreographic complexities, and evolving industry standards. Educators must instill in their students the understanding that, ultimately, a strong technical foundation lays the groundwork for sustained success.

  1. Developing Coping Mechanisms Through Training:

Comprehensive dancer training extends beyond physical skills to encompass mental and emotional resilience. In contrast, drilling primarily focuses on the execution of choreography. Training dancers involves imparting coping mechanisms, teaching them how to handle both successes and setbacks. This holistic approach equips dancers with the mental fortitude to navigate the competitive dance landscape with grace, professionalism, and a steadfast commitment to growth.

  1. Shifting from Quantity to Quality Training:

Rather than measuring success solely in terms of the number of drilled routines, educators are encouraged to prioritize quality training. This entails dedicating time to technique classes, fostering body awareness, and delving into the nuances of movement. Quality training lays the groundwork for a dancer's versatility, ensuring that they are not confined to a singular style or routine. It prepares them for the unpredictability of the dance world, where adaptability and a diverse skill set are invaluable assets.

In essence, the realization that drilling a dance does not guarantee success is a pivotal moment for dance educators. It signals a paradigm shift towards a more comprehensive and sustainable approach to dancer training. By reassessing priorities and embracing a holistic training philosophy, educators contribute to the development of dancers who are not only proficient performers but resilient, adaptable, and poised for enduring success in their dance journeys.


Alignment for Dance


Expanding on Seeking Additional Training and Resources in Dance Education:

In the realm of dance education, where standards are often subjective and lack a centralized governing body, Emily Buffer's insightful suggestion urges educators to proactively seek additional training and resources. Recognizing the absence of a standardized framework, Buffer emphasized the need for educators to equip themselves with a diverse skill set that extends beyond choreography.

Diversifying Educational Background:

Buffer recommended avenues such as kinesiology, anatomy, and biomechanics classes as valuable resources for dance educators. These disciplines delve into the intricacies of the human body, providing a scientific foundation for understanding how movements impact different anatomical structures. By incorporating such knowledge into dance education, educators can offer a more comprehensive and informed learning experience to their students.

Consulting Dance Medicine Specialists:

Acknowledging the complexity of aligning dance practices with medical principles, Buffer suggested seeking guidance from dance medicine specialists. These experts possess a nuanced understanding of the intersection between dance and physical well-being. Collaborating with them ensures that educators can provide accurate, safe, and beneficial information to their students, addressing both the artistic and physiological aspects of dance.

Building Community Relationships:

The conversation highlighted the significance of building relationships within the dance community. Collaborative efforts with specialists, fellow educators, and professionals create a network that fosters continuous learning and knowledge exchange. This interconnected approach not only enhances the quality of dance education but also establishes a supportive community where educators can share insights, resources, and best practices.

Empowering Educators for Holistic Teaching:

In the absence of a standardized governing body, the responsibility falls on individual educators to empower themselves with diverse skills. This goes beyond refining dance techniques; it involves embracing a holistic approach that integrates scientific understanding, medical insights, and community collaboration. By doing so, educators become well-rounded mentors capable of nurturing not just dancers' artistic abilities but also their physical well-being.




Continue your Education for yourself and your students with the StEPS Initiative Course!

About the StEPS Initiative Course

This course started in part with our charity event we created to save dance studios. Then we decided to keep it a free resource for the dance community. You can learn all about it below.

As part of our commitment to education and creating a safe space for all dancers, we are excited to introduce the StEPS Initiative Course. This has been curated by Apolla and donated from experts and professionals in each topic. 

Our goal in creating this course is to give dance teachers continuing education/professional development, give dancers the power of education, and provide parents the knowledge to see red flags. Each section has actionable items that can unite dance studios focused on equity and creating a safe space for every dancer. This course gives evidence-based information, some perspective & qualitative information, dance history, and further resources that can help you learn something new that helps progress and strengthen your studio OR solidify what you already have in place. There is something for everyone! 

This course is free for EVERYONE (Apolla has covered the cost and the presenters have donated the course content). These are meant to be introductions and actionable items for you. We know this is not a silver bullet to fix every issue or topic that needs to be addressed in dance. Each topic is deep and broad on its own. However, we aim for this to be the first step for some of us in these topics and even serves as a small catalyst for change in our industry. You will see there are also many resources that can allow you to expand your journey further in any of the subjects. With all that 2020 has thrown at all of us, we are determined to heal through listening, grow from adversity through action, and rise up by bringing everyone together. In the end, we will create a space open wide for the new generation of artists and athletes to ring in the new decade stronger and safer than ever!

Watch the full beyond the StEPS Episode with Emily Bufferd* Here!

*On Faculty at NYC's Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway, "Emily Bufferd continues to impact the New York dance scene." - Emily is the Producer of The Young Choreographer's Festival (YCF) in NYC, presenting #thefutureofdance, and a sought after Educator around the US and abroad. For further info please visit 

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