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Breaking down levels of learning


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#1 gav

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 01:54 AM

I'm curious to hear from teachers: How would you describe/categorize the various levels of ballet learning, from beginner all that way up to advanced? I'm especially curious to hear from those who have taught children across this whole spectrum, from the first forays beyond pre-ballet/creative movement onto the final steps before becoming professionals, or from those who have detailed knowledge of what happens across this spectrum even without teaching it all.

I started learning ballet as an adult through a combination of lower-level registered sessions of classes, none of which were of any named method, and a mix of open classes with different teachers at different levels. I find it difficult to know where I fall on the global spectrum of learning/progress in ballet. I'm just curious, really, but I think seeing a breakdown like might also be helpful in identifying areas for improvement.

So, what do you expect of and what do you teach to your (for example) beginner/high beginnger/low intermediate/intermediate/high intermediate/advanced students? What are some of the benchmarks at these different stages -- be they in technique, expectations for allignment, new steps taught, steps expected to be of an acceptable/good standard, concepts introduced, etc.? I'm interested to read whatever you have to say, however you break it down, so thank you very much in advance.

#2 tangerinetwist

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 01:50 PM

Having taught both adult and children, I do not think a fair comparison can be made in the way that ballet is learned. Cognitively, children have to learn skills at a rate that is appropriate for their individual development. Some children are more physically apt and have more kinesthetic awareness than others the same age. Adults are able to process information on several levels and apply corrections more easily as they are better able to interpret verbal and visual cues.

Children generally begin learning ballet by copying what they see. Because young children develop gross motor skills more easily than fine motor skills, attempting to teach correct technique too young is a battle not to be won. For example, the articulation of the foot in a tendu is more than just a pointing of the foot to a given direction. Without the facility to understand how to push the foot down and outward, a child could easily develop bad habits that take much more time to correct later on than if they were allowed to experience normal childhood activity prior to beginning serious ballet training(MANY little ones will simply pick the foot up off the floor and point it in the requested direction without attention paid to "how" the foot got there which is the entire purpose of the exercise and what will be needed later in training).

Coordination between the upper and lower body is another challenge when teaching the very young. For example, in a creative level movement class or beginner class below the age of 8, I would not attempt to work the upper body on the same counts of music as the lower body. Adding the use of the head is an even more difficult endeavor, but all these elements must be added before an intermediate level of work can be started.

Every body is different as is every mind. I would worry less about where one stands in the way of learning and more about whether one sees progress over the long-term. If you are seeing improvement in coordination and facility in being able to tackle more movements in a combination sequence, that should prove that the classes are challenging and goal-oriented. If you feel constantly overwhelmed, perhaps a step back to more basic material is needed. Or if you feel that you are not being pushed enough, maybe seeking out a more advanced level class or adding another dance form could provide more stimulation.

#3 gav

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 05:35 PM

Thank you for your perspective, tangerine. I agree that these things will not map cleanly from children to adults for developmental reasons and because of the baggage adults bring to new activities. (For example, I will consider any teacher who can teach me to do a proper grande jeté en tournant to the left without making it a figure-skating-like waltz jump a miracle worker -- it's just that ingrained in me.)

However, I am still interested to know what the overall roadmap looks like. I suspect that the divergence between children and adults is most marked at the lower levels (and therefore youngest ages for the kids) and that then things begin to track more accurately (leaving aside timelines of how long these things tend to take, which I don't particularly care about). I am no longer at those very beginning stages, so I still think a sense of the big picture would be useful and, of course, interesting. What happens along the path from beginner to what I see from pros on stage?

#4 Serendipity

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 05:50 PM

As an adult, having studied as both child and adult, I see where you're coming from. Some teachers put ME as advanced, yet in my personal experience and mind, I am more intermediate, as I look at it from a technical standpoint. The teachers I've encountered, as a returning, older adult, look at the aesthetic execution of the steps and that's why they placed me as advanced.

I think the levels pretty much do follow. I'm teaching at the moment. In my mind, aesthetically, my one student is high intermediate. Technically, I would place her in advanced beginner. I do this based on foot use, use of turnout (she's naturally flexible), etc. even while she has a beautiful "line" of movement.

When I taught small ones, age 7-8 year old beginners, I had to work much more slowly than I do with the student mentioned above. At the end of a year, I would still class them as beginners, when asked.

Each school has its own categorization, and, of course, if you do a syllabus, that also gives a designation. In my teens, I was in the advanced classes at the little ballet school I was in. When I went to ABT, I was in intermediate. I think that's why it's hard to classify the levels, as well.

ADC (Sun King Dance) does a pretty good job for us adults in terms of what they expect you to be able to do for each of their levels. You might want to contact Heidi and see if she'll give an opinion.
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#5 luceroblanco

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 05:36 PM

Serendipity, I think that's an important distinction for adults especially, since we usually take less classes than children. I feel like my teacher had initially judged me based on aesthetic and not technique. I have always been good at faking it and assimilating many different dance styles. My aesthetic is at least a level if not two beyond my technique.

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 06:23 PM

What we're talking about here is curriculum-building. Syllabus is all very well, but it fits inside a broad framework, which is the curriculum, which takes students from the very beginning to ready-to-work and beyond. Syllabi contain content within levels; where those levels lie, and what comprises them is a function of curriculum.

If one has not been brought up on Cecchetti, RAD, or other international standardized method, then the time comes to each teacher to sit down and review EVERYTHING YOU KNOW about ballet, and resolve how you are going to pass that information on. It's not an exercise for the weak of will, or those unable to plan VERY far in advance. The big methods have this already in place, but a sensible, intelligent person with a sufficient knowledge of ballet will be able to set up his/her own method of training. Perhaps a few courses in Education, such as Methods, Educational History, and Philosophy of Teaching would be of assistance in organizing your own individual pedagogy!
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#7 Serendipity

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 10:17 PM

I most heartedly agree with Mr. Mel. I am a regular school teacher, and special needs reading teacher, at that. Because I've had to break down the teaching of reading to levels that would rival a microbiologist's work, I found it easy to do the same with teaching beginning ballet and onward. When I first get a student who claims to have had some experience, I give a simple class to check alignment, foot use, et. al. If those are reasonable, then I go for a check of steps knowledge. If that seems reasonable, then I do increasingly complex combinations, to check memory ability. Once all of the above are ascertained, then I can level the student. As such, I've made recommendations at one of the schools I attend as to what classes might fit newly-enrolled students.

In terms of levels, though, I think the original question is "what am I - beginner, advanced beginner, low intermediate, intermediate, high intermediate or advanced?"

As I said, the Sun King Dance site www.sunkingdance.com might be useful. Heidi describes what they would expect of each student in each of THEIR levels. Since it's not tied to a syllabus, it could be used as a catch-all for us adults.

I gave her descriptions to my ballet teacher the first year I went, to ask what I should try for. I was thinking level 2. My teacher saw the description and said, "Go for 3A - if it's too hard, then move down." Last year, I showed her the descriptions again and she said to go for 3B (high intermediate). I did, and was not moved down or up, and the level was quite comfortable - not too hard, not too easy. So I suggest you look up those descriptions and see where you think you might place. :-)
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#8 whatsthepointe

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Posted 12 March 2010 - 10:58 PM

Gav, if you poke around a little in the NBS adult web site, there is a PDF document detailing exactly the goals for each one of their levels - and terms. It's a very loosely drawn syllabus for their adult classes - not that I've seen any teacher actually following it :angry: but it might help with the general idea as it deals with adult ballet students specifically... The web page says the prerequisite for enrolling in their level IV is their level III or a Cecchetti/RAD elementary level
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http://www.nbs-enb.c...es.pdf#zoom=100

#9 GTLS Designs

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 12:34 AM

Serendipity, I think that's an important distinction for adults especially, since we usually take less classes than children. I feel like my teacher had initially judged me based on aesthetic and not technique. I have always been good at faking it and assimilating many different dance styles. My aesthetic is at least a level if not two beyond my technique.


I feel that aesthetic is an important aspect of technique, and if you are able to "fake" or "assimilate" what is being asked of you, you have started down the right path. Of course, then you need to be able to dissect what is happening, why you are doing it, and if you can replicate it consistently.

I teach all ranges of Adult Students, and my LARGEST battle with Adult Students is confidence. I can see that the step is right there.... just do it... come on... yup... that's it.... there you go... see.... you did it!!! Yes, I break down steps for students that have never had the step before, and 9 times out of 10, the student stands there frozen. Personally, I feel that Adults are not used to having someone else determine what their abilities are; they want to be able to decide for themselves if they can or cannot do it. This applies to level placement (I have one Adult student that is very much an intermediate dancer, and refuses to take anything but a beginning ballet class).


Just my 2 cents :angry:

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#10 Mazenderan

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 06:13 AM

I teach all ranges of Adult Students, and my LARGEST battle with Adult Students is confidence. I can see that the step is right there.... just do it... come on... yup... that's it.... there you go... see.... you did it!!! Yes, I break down steps for students that have never had the step before, and 9 times out of 10, the student stands there frozen. Personally, I feel that Adults are not used to having someone else determine what their abilities are; they want to be able to decide for themselves if they can or cannot do it. This applies to level placement (I have one Adult student that is very much an intermediate dancer, and refuses to take anything but a beginning ballet class).


That is so true. As a child, you just accept your teacher's judgment automatically. As an adult, though, you start to take your own judgment into account - which can often muddy the waters. I've had my teacher tell me I've 'got' a step, but if it doesn't look exactly like I want it to, I feel like it doesn't count.

#11 Serendipity

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 07:27 AM

I agree, too, with your incredible insight, GTLSdesigns. I've had exactly the feelings you describe!
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#12 luceroblanco

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 08:23 AM

Good points! What happened with me is that I started in a level that I thought was ok based on one class, but then after several classes it was overwhelming! My teacher thought I should stay in that class but I dropped down a level. I had returned to dancing after some 15 years of not dancing. I could have handled it before easily, but those years off my memory had disappeared and I was out of shape and weighed about 40% more! To add to that it was a different method, the Vaganova method, which was much more specific and had things in it I had not seen before. It was all too much to handle at once.

I'm happy with the progress I've been making in the lower class. Not nearly as fast as when I was younger but I'm used to the Vaganova now and have added a basic class which has been helpful in learning the things that I did not get in my French/Balanchine type ballet training before. (Particularly port-a-bras and head positions) . It's also taking me much longer to get back into shape in the feet, but my teacher has given me some extra exercises to strengthen my feet. My memory is improving slowly but it is nowhere near what it had developed to be when I stopped dancing.

#13 lampwick

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 10:24 AM

I have wondered about this from time to time myself. Occasionally, I am curious about taking an RAD program just to see what level I would be at, and how well I could do. I'd probably start with Advanced 1?

I consider myself at a high Intermediate level strength and technique-wise. Probably close to what a 14 year old pre-pro student might look like. But I know that I have YEARS of advantage with confidence and performing ability on stage in front of an audience. I can "sell" some pretty crappy-looking pirouettes, etc with a lot of aplomb.

I think an adult dancer is generally a totally different thing than a teenage dancer.

#14 Serendipity

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Posted 13 March 2010 - 06:41 PM

When I was in the UK and taking classes, I studied at three different places. In one, I was in Elementary RAD (the only class that would fit my schedule) and found it easy - the teacher said it was really below my level. The second, I was in Grade 5 - similar to Elementary in the way it felt.

In the other, however, it was Grade 7 and I found it a nice challenge. Not beyond me, not too easy, and dance-y. I also took the odd Grade 8 class, which I found quite challenging at the time. That was well before I started doing major training like I'm doing now, however.
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"Since the things we do determine the character of life, no blessed person can become unhappy. For he will never do those things which are hateful and petty." Aristotle

#15 Over 50 dancer

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Posted 14 March 2010 - 10:42 AM

That is my experience too - and was not even aware of it until my teacher pointed out that every time he came near me I would freeze. There is a lot of thinking about self image and believing I am making a fool of myself. As I get more into this I find it matters less - the more I let go and just enjoy what I'm doing the less it matters what level I am. But that is just after three classes, I'm sure I will have to work on not over thinking every step the whole time I'm doing this.
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