How Denise Wall Teaches Alignment

Photo by Matthew Murphy

If you watched Season 13 of "Dancing with the Stars," you may remember contestant Ricki Lake struggling to maintain correct posture. Yet the problem seemed to miraculously disappear one week, when she received a perfect score of 30 from the judges. In a post-show interview, Lake credited Virginia-based teacher Denise Wall, who had Skyped her to offer a helpful correction. The secret? Says Wall: "I taught her my T-neck."

The T-neck, as she calls it, is just one of the terms Wall has coined for a series of postural adjustments to help dancers find an anatomically correct and workable alignment. Students struggle with placement, even if they hear the same correction every class. The remedy, says Wall, is finding the precise way to make it resonate with students.

“I had one girl whose shoulders were always up when she'd go across the floor," she says, noting that no matter what the correction was, nothing seemed to fix the raised shoulders. “Finally, I said, 'Just lengthen your neck out of your shoulders!' And all of a sudden I had a giraffe on my hands. So I started saying it to everyone."

Wall's methods have grown out of 30 years of teaching, 23 of which have been at her own studio in Virginia Beach, VA. “As teachers, we often correct by giving the final result: If your shoulders are forward, we'll say, 'Put them back,'" she says. “But your student, the overachiever, will go to the other extreme, creating another set of problems."

Wall suggests giving your students imagery to enhance the way they think about alignment. This way, you're not providing a quick fix, and with a better understanding of how their body works, students will—over time—change their movement patterns.

Drawing on shapes or recognizable images is key, and Wall brings rope, balls and T-shirts to class to demonstrate her ideas. She is careful to point out that it does take time to fine-tune the imagery that sticks with students, but whatever works, works. She found the images described on the following pages to be successful with students. However, “If it takes them thinking 'strawberries' to make them do it," she says, keep those fruit images coming. “It just has to register with their brains."

Watch Wall demonstrate her "T-neck" and other imagery:

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