Teaching Movement Quality - The Basics

I find that many colorguard instructors don't feel adequately prepared to teach movement quality to their ensembles.  At the mention of teaching movement in general, many equipment-inclined instructors will freeze with panic.  Likewise, many students will creep towards the back of the basics block when it comes time to dance.  

First of all, relax! Dance block does not require the seriousness of curing cancer; it's just movement!  Its ok to do something wrong, as long as you are willing to go back and try it again until you get it right (this goes for students and instructors!).  Students who simply tolerate this part of the training regime as a means to spin flag, rifle, or sabre later, are not going to get the full benefit of dance block.  I like to encourage my students to think of dance training as the building blocks of equipment training.  For example, performers who acquire a better understanding of where their arms are, will subsequently develop more consistent release points.  Learning to stretch through the length of the leg line (rather than just "pointing the toes") can make the lines of equipment work appear longer, thus improving overall performance quality.  I could provide infinite examples, but let's get to the meat of it. 

As I often say, when learning something new, start with what you already know.  This exercise starts with walking.  The rules of the exercise are this: 1) don't make noise 2) don't touch another person 3) stay within the boundaries (ie on the floor tarp or within the basketball court lines) 4) move into open spaces 5) don't do anything that might injure yourself or others.  

Then I turn on music and just let the kids walk. 

Now let's use this exercise to talk about movement quality.  

Movement quality refers to the way in which you are moving.  How might the way you are moving be described? I break it down into 4 categories with sliding scales.  These terms come straight from WGI movement judges; these are the terms they are trained to use when talking about an ensemble or individual's movement.  You've probably heard them on judges tapes. 

1) SPACE - are you taking up a large amount of space or a small amount of space?

2) TIME - are you moving quickly or slowly?

3) WEIGHT - does your movement look like gravity has increased or as if you are floating on the moon?

4) FLOW - are you moving in sharp, short, punctuated movements or in one fluid, continuous motion?

After describing each of the four categories, I revisit the walking exercise.  Turn on the music, and then call out instructions so that students might experience the two extremes of each category through their walk.  It might go something like this:

"Take up a large amount of space......now take up a small amount of space....walk quickly.....now walk slowly... etc"

As students become comfortable with this, I will call out two descriptions at once. "Move slowly with increased gravity!" "Be small and fluid!" 

I find this is a great warm-up exercise that helps prime my students to apply variations of movement quality during dance block.  I can now describe the quality I am seeking (for a particular exercise or for choreography) in a way that my kids can immediately understand and apply.  For example, I might describe an across-the-floor exercise this way:

SPACE   Big -----X------------------------------ Small

TIME    Fast  ----X------------------------------- Slow

WEIGHT    Heavy ----------------------------X------- Light

FLOW    Punctuated ------------------------X----------- Fluid

Using this continuum helps my students understand what movement quality I'm seeking, and immediately helps to clean up the exercise by creating a more consistent look from performer to performer.  Of course, the same continuum might be applied to describing equipment work as well! 

With more advanced students, this exercise can be modified to include variations in levels, to move into and out of the floor, and to foster an understanding of an individual's default movement styles and to help them explore outside of that comfort zone.  

I hope this approach to movement can help instructors and their ensembles relax and feel more confident in their movement training while exploring the fun side to dance block. :D