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Safe knee drops.

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.

Donlin Foreman, former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company and now director and founder of Buglisi/Foreman Dance, suggests that the study of knee drops should include physical images.

"The Graham technique begins on the floor," Foreman reminds us, "so the floor is familiar to us. The abdominals, thighs, and hamstrings are strengthened in floor exercises. One of our most frequently used movements, the `hinge,' is a slow descent that suspends the body in a long line from the knees to the head and culminates on both knees. From that position the body may recover in any direction or may continue until the upper back and head rest on the floor. Its execution requires control and strength and may be performed extremely slowly or as fast as a drop. The technique requires that several muscle groups work during the drop to suspend the weight of the body.

"There is a tendency for dancers of one form," continues Foreman, "to approach a different form throwing away everything they know and ignoring all the cross references. That is unfortunate because a sense of lifting during a plie in ballet, for instance, is the same feeling as the lift in a hinge. Graham, who had so many wonderful images, used to tell us that we must think of bringing the floor to us and not think of dropping to the floor. Opposition is an important part of this movement. You must imagine rising as you descend through a line from the back of your neck that extends through your body, legs, and knees."


1. After your warm-up, stand alongside the barre with legs and feet in parallel position; place one hand on the barre and raise the other arm overhead; keep head straight.

2. Slowly bend the knees forward as you equally contract the abdominals, thigh muscles (taking care not to overstress the thigh muscles), and hamstrings to support the weight of the body.

3. As you continue to bend the knees, the heels will lift naturally as you reach a cantilever position, or balance point, where the body is suspended in equilibrium. Continue descending as you maintain the same position until the knees rest on the floor. Keep your head straight and avoid turning to check your position in the mirror.

4. Rely less and less on the barre as you master this exercise until you no longer need its support.


1. Stand with the head held straight; shoulders and heels against a wall; knees slightly bent.

2. Bend the knees forward as you descend, using the wall as a resistance point for the shoulders. Be careful not to tuck the buttocks under. Arms can be held at the sides or forward at shoulder height.

2. Slide the shoulders along the wall using the same image as above--knees moving forward, shoulders moving backwards toward the heels. Throughout, the abdominals, thighs, and hamstrings should remain contracted.

Leg exercises with weights to strengthen the muscles around the knees should also be incorporated into daily practice. Care should be taken never to drop the knees to the floor with force. Getting up from a knee drop depends upon the given choreography. When you become adept, you will be able to reverse the descent and rise in the same position.

Knee turns and slides, like knee drops, are best performed with knee pads since turns require a definite push for the spin of a half or full turn. Wear padding for class, rehearsal, and performance. Don't do too many at any one session. Allow time for recovery.

Daniel Nagrin, modern dancer and teacher, invented a support-cushion contraption for his knee work. Beneath a comfortable knee supporter purchased at: a pharmacy or sporting goods store, he placed an envelope made from an old pair of panty hose stuffed with uncombed lamb's wool squeezed to about an eighth of an inch thickness. This envelope was large enough to cover all the bony parts of the knee, tacked in several places to secure the wool, and placed inside the supporter or taped directly to the knees before slipping the knee support over it.

How did Fayard and Harold Nicholas survive their nightclub and film routines--double tours into splits, leaps ten feet from the tops of stairs or a balcony into stage splits, climbs up walls, hops through the windows of a moving train in time to wave goodbye, a barrage of knee drops, and other acrobatic feats performed over six decades? "It hurt," Fayard confessed during a tribute to the brothers at a sold-out Carnegie Hall performance this spring. "But," Fayard added, "we wore a wide corset, you might call it, that held us in from rib cage to hip bones and we devised knee pads that you couldn't see." They should have sold those supports to a manufacturer.
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Title Annotation:history and technique of dance art form
Author:Horosko, Marian
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:Aug 1, 1998
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