Inspired by … Lester Horton

by Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Horton developed his own approach to dance that incorporated diverse elements including Native American Folk Dance, Japanese arm gestures, Javanese and Balinese isolations for the upper body, particularly the eyes, head and hands. Horton also included Afro-Caribbean elements, like hip circles. Horton’s dance technique, which is now commonly known as Horton Technique, has no style, per se. The technique emphasizes a whole body, anatomical approach to dance that includes flexibility, strength, coordination and body and spatial awareness to enable unrestricted, dramatic freedom of expression. The technique he ultimately created homed in on the body’s anatomy, strengthening the dancers to enable them to perform proficiently in any style.

The Horton technique is a codified syllabus that is separated into movement categories comprised of detailed exercises called Studies, which include Projections, Locomotions, Preludes, Rhythms, Improvisations, and Fortifications. The fortifications are considered the core of Horton technique. They establish a framework of movement mechanics, of muscular development and coordination, elasticity and range, rhythm and timing of phrasing, and movement quality.

Types of stretching:

  • Static Stretching: A slow, passive stretch held for 15-30 seconds or longer. This is best done AFTER class, when your muscles are warm and elastic.
  • Ballistic Stretching: Using uncontrolled bouncing or bobbing movements to get a stretch. Because of high injury risk, it is recommended that only athletes who undergo a sport or exercise that has ballistic or plyometric movements use this type of stretching.
  • Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching (PNF): In this type of stretching the muscle is engaged in an isometric contraction for about 6 seconds, then it is let go and relaxed into a slow, passive stretch to the point of limitation.
  • Active Isolated Stretch (AIS): An active stretch in which the opposite muscle is engaged, so that the muscle being stretched is completely relaxed (for example, engaging the quads to relax the hamstrings); then on the exhale of the breath, the stretch is held for 2 seconds at its maximum length and then released. This is repeated for 3-10 repetitions. Studies have shown that AIS works just as well as Static Stretching and is easier on the joints. AIS can also be used as a warm up because it brings blood flow to the muscles.

Horton dancers exhibit athletic grace that leads to the the expressive nature of the form. A typical Horton includes  some or all of 17 “fortification studies,” codified exercises that Horton devised to tackle different physical concepts, like lateral or sideways bends, descent and ascent for going into and rising up from the floor, or leg swing releases for ease of movement. The warm-up moves quickly through a series of exercises that includes flat backs, squats, descent and ascent, lateral stretches, leg swings, and deep lunges. Dancers must master the classic Horton shapes incorporated into the warm-up, including the T-position, which is as it sounds, but often bent laterally, performed on one leg, or twisted; the stag position; the cross lunge; and, on the floor, the coccyx balance (perching on the tailbone). Horton technique stretches and strengthens dancers, enabling them to build a solid core and abs of steel. Once they progress to phrases across the floor, the technique favors turns and single-foot arch springs, or jumps from one foot. Dynamic and dramatic, the technique can help build sensitive and powerful dancers with long, lean lines and rock-solid torsos.


Great workshops for teachers are seasonal organised by Ana Marie Forsythe. She has been the Chair of the Horton Department at the prestigious Ailey School, co-author of “The Dance Technique of Lester Horton” and is the artist director of five Horton technique videos.

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