Magazine article Dance Magazine

Safe Knee Drops

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Safe Knee Drops

Article excerpt

No one knows exactly when knee drops hit the boards. Some choreographers think that they were first introduced by the Nicholas Brothers in their club and film acts in the 1920s and 1930s. Others remember that Jack Cole used knee drops frequently in his choreography and that he even began his barre with them! Recently, knee drops have made a comeback in routines performed by students at competitions. While drops are dramatic and suitable in many forms of choreography, if the student has not been properly trained in their execution, they can cause permanent and painful damage to the knees.

"I see more knee drops at competitions than I should," says Rhee Gold, President of Dance Masters of America (DMA). Gold adds: "Dancers below the age of fifteen are not ready to do them. Knee drops are inappropriate for younger performers. Yet they appear more and more often at competitions.

"Incorrectly done, a knee drop makes a hard sound onstage like a bang and is a certain sign that sooner or later, that youngster is headed for serious knee injuries. I'm confounded to know why that sound isn't a warning to teachers and parents. Dance is not an impact sport, such as ice hockey or football. A drop to the knees should be controlled and soundless. Perhaps points should be lost in the judging for poorly performed knee drops. That might cause more awareness to the dangers.

"I become concerned when I see a knee drop executed with the buttocks protruding, a broken line from the top of the head through the spine and to the knees, and no support in the abdominals. Drops are a beautiful movement when correctly executed, and jarring, distracting, and worrisome when they are not."

Gold points out: "Parents see student competitors executing knee drops and other tricks and want their young contender to do the same. Some who are performing them incorrectly may think that their bodies are indestructible, and they probably are until repeated assaults to the knees take their toll.

"Many teachers need to be educated to the dangers and the process of making dance in all its aspects safe and beautiful. They may be unaware of the physical dangers inherent in knee drops, may not know how to teach them, may feel compelled to use them in choreography to please parents. Is an injured child worth it? We find, in DMA, that 50 percent of the teachers use no methodology in teaching anything at all. That's why we have teaching sessions."

Joe Tremaine, of Tremaine Dance Conventions, sees the same danger in jazz, hip-hop, and lyrical routines that use knee drops. "I see slamming," says Tremaine, "and I cringe. Knee drops are a soft, controlled roll to the ground, not really a drop, but a lowering that can be correctly done so quickly that they look like a fall. Splits should also be cushioned to prevent pulls and torn muscles of the inner thigh by landing and sliding along the back of the shoe's heel and gently lowering into the split. Turns on one knee, when a teenager is ready for them, can be impressive in a routine. But knee drops are more dangerous because they require equal and simultaneous force on both knees."

Cossack and Spanish dancers, like male tap dancers, frequently use knee drops and rotations on the knees in their dances but master the technique early in their training. For them, these are not choreographic additions but inherent movements in their art form.

"Knee pads should be used during the training period," Tremaine continues, "until the abdominals are strong and pulled in tightly and under the rib cage and thigh muscles are capable of sustaining a roll through the toes into a smooth descent. Knee-drop training should begin at the barre."

Rolling over the toes, onto the top of the feet, and up the shins to the knees is a drop frequently seen in contemporary pointe pas de deux. It is a gentle and effective movement when executed correctly, although a male partner's support is needed to lower the dancer and return her to pointe. …

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