Keeping up with the Kuehn Klass: Behind the scenes of after school dance classes


Alysa Suleiman

Dancers stretch out their splits in the "stretches, leaps and turns" after school class. This class, which started after the end of the annual dance show, was held on Tuesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

by Alysa Suleiman, Reporter

Ambient white blocks of fluorescent lights line the angled ceiling, reflecting in the wall-length mirror of the dance room. Spread across the polished wooden floor in two straight rows, dancers in the Tuesday 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 pm. “stretch, leaps and turns” class sit in a straddled stretching position during the warm-up session. A remix version of “You’re The One That I Want” by Lo Fang envelops the room in upbeat music, blocking out the raucous background conversations at the daily ping-pong matches outside the door and the occasional voices of students walking past the open glass floor length doors.

Close to the mirrors up front, Karl Kuehn, Upper School Dance Teacher and Varsity Dance Team Director, positions into the next stretch as each dancer mimics his moves with precision and alert detail. Each dancer is lost in their own world of concentration, striving for a deeper stretch to loosen their muscles, warm their bodies and prevent possible injuries.

The class comprises of students from all grades: either dance team members who are required to participate or regular students who wish to maintain or improve flexibility and technique. Dance classes are therefore an effective method to keep pointed feet, flexible leaps and stable turns in tip top-shape.

To the beat of the music, the two rows of dancers pull their arms across their chests to ensure a deep stretch in the tendons and shoulders, followed by a slow release. While still in straddle, dancers follow their arm stretch by reaching forward, inch by inch, to their limit, slowly relaxing into the position. Straddle is a commonly used stretch that increases flexibility and mobility in the hamstrings, inner thighs, torso, shoulders, back, calves and feet, all important areas of the body utilized by dancers.

Reaching back up into a sitting position, the dancers each swing their right leg up and slide into their right splits, then follow with their left splits, making sure to keep their hips square so as to obtain the ultimate stretch. A deeply beneficial thigh and hip stretch, splits are the most commonly known stretch and skill known to dancers and non-dancers alike and are seen as the basic level of “flexibility.” This certain stretch is also a necessary skill to master what this class offers next: leaps.

Alysa Su

After warm-ups, Kuehn arranges the students into columns for an activity known as “across the floors,” where, to the best of their ability while still maintaining technique, dancers execute exhilarating leaps such as grand jetés, a full split in mid-air and straddle. Another move practiced is the grand-battement. In either their socks or worn-out tan jazz shoes, dancers slide one pointed foot across the familiar wooden floor into a graceful high kick, eyes staring straight ahead in acute concentration while keeping in beat with the music.

While practicing both the right and left sides to the beat of the music, Kuehn counts in “5, 6, 7, 8” to cue the next row of dancers leaping across the floor. When each row has finished, panting breaths, sweating foreheads and flushed cheeks portray the effort and passion that each student in the room holds for dance.

Lastly, pirouettes, extremely technical turns that require a rigid posture, strong core and hours of practice. In the jazz pirouette taught at Harker’s dance class, rounded arms held in front and one leg is held in passé, where the thigh is brought up in parallel to the floor and the foot is pointed while held next to the supporting leg.

On the supporting leg, the foot must be in relevé, where the dancer’s only contact to the floor are the tips of their toes. While balancing in this position, dancers must then “spot” to maintain a flow of turns. When turning, the dancer is to continue to look at themselves in the mirror as much as possible while their body turns, then snap their head forward again to continue the momentum so as to ensure the most amount of turns.

Once again, Kuehn counts the dancers in with the familiar “5, 6, 7, 8” as each person preps the turn, bringing their legs up and whipping their heads as the whole class becomes a whirl of spinning tops, some more than others.

By the looks on the dancers’ and Kuehn’s faces, dance is truly an outlet for expression as well as a method of exercise and technique refinement. Classes create exposure to the dance world and motivate students’ self improvement, which then leads many students to actively participate in dance for the following years, be it the annual dance show or trying out for the selected dance teams. To be able to see a physical improvement or fully portray themselves the way they want onstage, dancers truly rely on the grueling effort they put in after school dance classes, the effective behind the scenes of what perfects the “stretch, leaps and turns.”