Have you ever considered if your current marking habit helps you improve your dancing or sets you back? Do you mark in a way that helps you apply corrections fast in class? Does it help you stand out and inspire confidence to the jury of an audition? Are you leveraging your making to get through a whole variation in just one rehearsal?

Marking a combination while the teacher demonstrates is common practice. Most dancers are used to marking a combination or a variation before dancing it. We sometimes use it also as we hear familiar music and our body just goes into auto-pilot mode. Yet, not every marking technique is equal. In this article you’ll discover four simple changes that will fast track improvements on your technique, presence, memory and coordination.

‘Chicken arms’

Most of us, when we mark, we use our hands as a substitute to our feet. Isn’t it typical to see a dancer bringing the right hand in front of the left hand, close to their chest, to mimic a fifth position; and from there follow the feet movements: front, side, close behind, etc.? I call this the ‘chicken arms’…

There is a funny-sad story my teacher used to tell about a dancer that always used to mark only the legs with ‘chicken arms’ when going through a variation. He got on stage one day and forgot what the original port de bras for the choreography was. None of us wants that to happen, am I right?

Dance involves the whole body, as we saw in Noverre’s classification of movement series. ‘Chicken arms’ marking is paying attention only to our legs and feet. It is forgetting that our back, arms, hands and head are also part of our dancing. Think of any variation and take the upper body away, is it still interesting to watch? Is it enjoyable to dance?

When you mark anything, give importance to your arms, back and head carriage and movement. You want a strong but supple upper body to help you perform the steps while transmitting emotions and feelings, why not work on it when marking?

Remember that your hands are not a substitute for your feet. Marking legs’ movements with your hands is counterproductive: it will leave you with poor posture, troubles remembering upper body movements and it does not look very professional. The upper body is fundamental and you want to use marking time to focus on it.

Stand proud, stand out

Posture is what makes a dancer stand out, or not, in the crowd. First of all, what is efficient posture? To learn or review the fundamentals, I recommend having a look here.

Second, why is it important when marking as well? If you maintain efficient posture even through your marking time, you increase the time spent in this posture. As you know, the more you do something, the more you reinforce ‘muscle memory’. You train your body to do what you want it to do when dancing. ,Consequently if you train bad posture habits, you will end up dancing with bad posture. So use every single minute of class, and rehearsal to keep your habits sharp so that you’re not worried about it in audition and on stage.

Coordination is key

As Cathy says in this video, one of the most important qualities that make a dancer great is coordination. Coordination is key to a “clean” performance. One of the purposes of marking is for your body to memorize the coordination of the dance, so that you can direct your attention to something else on stage.

When marking, ask yourself this question: what are my legs, arms, back and head all doing during this step?

Focusing on linking steps and transitions

You made it through that crazy sequence, but what happens once you get to the end of the diagonal and a new musical phrase is about to start? You know very well what comes next but have no clue how to transition there. Sometimes, we focus so much on the next challenging part and forget that the run to the corner, the glissade, the pas de bourré or closing to 5th is part of the dance. We forget our transitions and miss an opportunity to highlight this moment and make music visible.

Especially when marking, dedicate extra attention to all the transitions and linking steps. In the end, they will make the difference. How many steps will you be taking, in which direction are you looking, what do the arms do? Do this work when marking and focus on enjoying the dance once on stage.

Make the most of your marking

These are four small changes you can implement right away to make your marking habit more efficient:

  • Do the port de bras “full out”, make small leg movements to save energy

  • maintain good posture, even when marking or standing on the sides of the studio

  • give extra attention to coordination

  • focus on the transitions and linking steps