Cue Phrases

Cue phrases can be both helpful and fun for teachers and students.  I remember one piece I choreographed on my advanced dancers. They were having difficulties with this circular formation and somehow I related it to a “pit of despair”.  I said “don’t fall in the pit of despair.” And eventually I was able to say “despair” and they knew exactly which part of the dance I was referring to. A parent came along and heard me talking about despair and became concerned.  After I explained she laughed and continued on with her day.

Why Use Cue Phrases?

I have so many examples of how cue phrases have helped me in class and choreography.  Here are some reasons to use cue phrases:

  1. They require fewer words and fewer words which means spending less time talking and more time doing.
  2. They put everyone on the same page. Once the phrase is established and understood, all that is required is saying it and everyone knows exactly what you are talking about.
  3. They build good habits. Students become accustomed to making the correction immediately when they hear the phrase. Eventually they will no longer need to hear the phrase because the muscle memory will take over.
  4. They organize choreography. As in my example above. This is especially helpful with younger students, but not to be dismissed with older students. Organizing choreography means students will memorize the sequence more quickly.
  5. They create a connection between the students and teachers. This builds a sense of teamwork in the class and helps the students grasp the concept the teacher is truly on their side. They see the teacher reaching for examples that will speak directly to their unique needs and this motivates them to push ahead.
  6. They make ballet technique more accessible and tangible. Some technical concepts can feel abstract until you get a solid handle on them. Cue phrases aid in this process. ‘Zip up your center’ ‘Push the air’ ‘Complete the shape’—these are all cue phrases.
  7. Cue phrases can be anything at all. Anything at all! If it resonates with your class, then use it. I had a class once who could not grasp the concept of lengthening the spine. So instead of harping on about it I told them to imagine their guts were being sucked up out of their body. Their response: “EEWW!! So gross, Miss Robyn!” But it worked. And soon all I had to say was ‘guts’ and my ballerinas were standing taller than ever.

The bottom line is that teaching ballet and doing ballet is hard and, let’s be real, sometimes it is downright monotonous. Cue phrases and words make teaching and doing less difficult and can add some humor into the mix. Good for the teacher, good for the student, good for the class, good for the dance.

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Gaye Hemsley says

Hi Robyn I really enjoy your Ballet Source newsletters. I have taught dance to all age groups preschoolers to pensioner for over sixty years. For the past three years have been working on a book 'Journey of a Dance Teacher' it is now very close to being published. Your latest article talked about Cue Phrases here is a excerpt from a chapter in my book offering advise to Parents Pupils and Teachers: To get the correct position for their stomach, I would tell the child to put a finger on their tummy button and push it towards the backbone. Alternatively, I would tell them to imagine they had a vacuum cleaner nozzle on the middle of their back, and it was sucking their tummy button towards it. all the best Gaye Hemsley

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