The Dance Technique of Lester Horton: An Advanced Class
is the final DVD in Dance Spotlight's Horton technique class film set. Ana Marie Forsythe leads the entire class; unlike in the beginner and intermediate level films, there is no improvisation component to the class. The DVD begins with a verbal introduction from Ms. Forsythe, which is followed by her teaching a one-hour class to students affiliated with the Ailey/Fordham B.F.A. Program.
The introduction is shot in such a way that it feels like the viewer is having a casual, friendly chat with Ms. Forsythe in her office. Since Ms. Forsythe is such a venerable teacher, it is nice that the producers of the DVD are able to show how down-to-earth she is and are able to give the viewer the feeling that he is or she is talking with a colleague while watching Ms. Forsythe speak in the introduction, especially since odds are many if not most of the DVD's viewers will not ordinarily have the opportunity for an actual one-on-one, face-to-face discussion with her about Horton pedagogy.
During the introduction, Ms. Forsythe mentions some key ideas that teachers (and students) of Horton technique ought to have a solid familiarity with: Horton technique is anatomically corrective. It shows the many ways in which the human body can move. It is a technique identified with clean lines and a whole range of different dynamics. It is accessible to a wide range of different body types. Next, Ms. Forsythe makes it clear that though viewers of the DVD will watch the class she is teaching, class never should be confused with a performance. I think this is a great concept to include in the discussion. Personally, I think that students cannot make the most of class when class is approached the same way a performance or audition would be approached, but it is also important to always strive to embody performance quality in one's movements in class so that class does not feel like yoga, physical therapy, or calisthenics and does provide solid preparation for performing. It is wonderful that Ms. Forsythe touched on how it is important for teachers and students of dance to be aware of the similarities among and differences between the experiences of taking class and performing.
Ms. Forsythe also briefly discusses the importance of continuing to take class even once one becomes a working professional performer, which is likewise a vitally important concept. In a way, I think this is one of the (countless) things that makes dance and being a dancer special and different from working in other fields: Though a Ph.D. in mathematics has no real reason to review flash cards with times tables on them, and the doctors that I know never again dissect cadavers after medical school graduation, even the best dancers of our generation can find value in continual review of the basics- even company class at ABT includes, at some point in the class, such building blocks of technique as tendus and plies. But because the warm-ups of even the most accomplished orchestral musicians and vocalists can sometimes include conceptually simple elements like playing scales at the piano and singing through octave slides (even if sometimes at warp speed), perhaps the concept of the vital importance of continual review of "building block" type information is actually a hallmark of all performing arts, not just dance.
But I digress. Next in the DVD is Ms. Forsythe teaching technique class. I like how she instructs the dancers in the class to "face stage right" as they begin one of the class's first movement studies; since class is a preparation for performance, stage directions becoming second nature to students is important, and Ms. Forsythe does not miss the opportunity to help make them so. Her prompts during the movement studies really help the students bring a dynamic performance quality into their movement. During Flat Back Backbends, she instructs, "let me see that pelvis really move forward… beautiful!… Really show me that pelvis moving forward in space!" and later on in the class she frequently offers helpful short comments like "press!" and "reach!"
Ms. Forsythe has a collaborative, exploratory "we're all in this together" sort of attitude that I find endearing and love to see in any technique class teacher. At the conclusion of one particularly tricky movement study, she says, "good.. okay… that'll get ya, huh?" and elicits smiles from her students. It is very nice to see her continually reminding students that she understands how they feel and what they are experiencing during the movement studies she teaches. Another example of this is when she says during Leg Swings, "Do try to keep that back leg parallel… as humbling as it is". While discussing a drop of the head, she notes, "it's disorienting, but that's what it is, " so that students know just what sort of feeling to expect during that part of the movement study. After a movement study on the floor involving the Coccyx Balance, she remarks, "yeah, okay, not bad at all! I know those abs are warmed up now, huh?" Ms. Forsythe is a teacher with empathy and a sense humor, as well as one who can effectively encourage students to persevere during even the most demanding exercises.
Ms. Forythe's corrections always convey information very clearly. Whenever she corrects, she demystifies. I especially like how when she answers a question that one student asks, and then another student has a related question, she is able to hold a brief but nuanced discussion that addresses both of their concerns and clears up any confusion for the whole class. It is wonderful that she discusses when and where the breathing ought to be in a certain movement study, and when she comments, "when you get to those [arm motions], don't make it percussive… keep it lyrical!" it is easy to see that she knows how to help students develop their musicality without prompting them to overthink anything. Her quick discussion of the historical context of the dimensional tonus exercise is a nice inclusion, and her remarks about how to approach a certain movement study differently depending upon the characteristics of one's particular body ("If you are hyperextended, I suggest you do this on a slight plie") is detailed, attentive, and clear.
I have one criticism of the film (and perhaps not even a criticism, just a question to raise): Why is it that after Ms. Forsythe's own admission that Horton technique accommodates a range of different body types, the students shown in the film all seem to have long, slim bodies in keeping with Balanchine's dancer body ideal? While it is nice to see both men and women in the class so that viewers can understand what the movement studies look like when danced by both male and female bodies, I cannot honestly say that I observed a wide range of body types in the classroom. Yet, a lot of the value of the film lies in the viewer's opportunity to see the movement studies danced through with a great deal precision, nuance, and musicality; thus, perhaps it is unfair to expect that the dancers who can show the movement the best (in so far as the DVD is meant to be a teaching tool) be anything besides dancers who have the kind of bodies that are most typical of dancers in the world's best known companies. This is certainly an interesting topic for discussion.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this DVD as a teaching tool and would also like to note that it is my favorite of the Dance Spotlight series of Horton films.
The DVDs can be ordered online at www.DanceSpotlight.com
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or ordered by calling: 212-398-4200