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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Bad substitute, again

Jaana Heino

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There's a (good) reason why my ballet teacher is absent every now and then, often with short notices. Then we usually get a substitute, and the office of the school is not very good with getting us good ones.


Today we again had a substitute, and she was the worst ever. She had taken ballet sometime in her childhood, but didn't even remember the names of many basic steps (and I mean basic as battement tendu, rond de jambe), and in addition she spent most of the class small-talking; we didn't do much anything. There was a post about teacher small-talking in class some time past here. At that time I couldn't imagine a teacher doing so - now I unfortunately can.


(I'm sure she is a competent dancer - she mentioned performing in modern - but she was definitely not competent in neither ballet nor teaching. I could have given a better beginner class, and I'm not exaggerating the least bit.)


I think I'm going to contact the office of the school about it, but I'd first like some feedback (and venting - I don't want to mail the office while I am still angry).


First, I don't want it to be taken as me being upset about the main teacher having been absent, as I understand why that is, and feel that I want her with a day's absence once in a two months than many other teachers without leaves ever. :) Is it likely that I can complain about the substitutes without the office blaming it on the teacher?


Second, I definitely feel that no class is better than a very bad class. So I think that if the office don't get a ballet teacher or advanced ballet dancer to substitute in ballet, they should either 1) cancel the class, even with so short a notice that people only hear about it at the salle, or 2) change the class to something else that they have a competent teacher for for that week (I wouldn't mind basics of jazz every now and then, for instance).


In the latter case it should of course be announced in the beginning of the class, and those who don't feel like it could go away. In our school, if you can't make it to a class, you are allowed to take some other class some other time instead, so no one would lose money, just the time coming to the class that is cancelled/changed.


How do you feel about this? Are my thoughts reasonable?

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  • Administrators

Jaana, I don't see why you can't write to the school and let them know that the substitute was not acceptable. You could state your feelings about not having any problem with the regular teacher missing once in a while, but make it very clear, as you did above, that a proper substitute must be found or the class cancelled or changed to something else. There is no logic in paying for a class at a good school with a very poor teacher and you should have an option when this happens.

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Thank you for the reassurance. I emailed the office, we'll see. You're right - my school is a very good school in general, and the situation with substitutes is totally out of proportion compared to the general level.


There must be something funny going on - maybe the finding of substitutes for adult classes has been given to some office worker without enough knowledge, or to someone who doesn't care about adult dancers... though I have no proof of such people existing at the school. :)

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Maybe you could ask your regular teacher to recommend someone to teach the class when your regular teacher is away? Our teacher does this and the substitutes are always very good, and do not necessarily teach in the same way to our teacher.

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Good for you for letting your school know the sub was unacceptible. If you hadn't they may have presumed the sub was fine and hired her again.


I agree with the "no class is better than a bad one" philosophy. I drove all the way across town last Saturday only to find a sub teaching my class. I'd had her before and hated what she did with the class. I chose to skip that day rather than stay and be aggravated.


Schools need to know when a sub does or does not work out.

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Guest annie

I sub for our adult class every once in a while. This year, I subbed twice when the teacher was sick on short notice. Since our teacher is an intensely technical teacher who give harder combinations, I would give easier combinations at a slower rate (allowing us to really work on the technique we had been using) and also would add in more stretching time. I did not, however, give many corrections to the other students. Partly because this is a class I actually take and I am doing the exercises right along with them. Partly, it's because I take class along with these women and I don't want to critique them. (Yes, I know. I shouldn't feel that way.) The ladies were always appreciative of the slow pace of the class and the extra stretch time I allowed.


I agree that a substitute needs to be up to the job. Talking during the class that cuts into practice time is not acceptable. One time, the studio owner subbed our class and we did a hip hop type class. It was a nice diversion. One of our teachers would periodically add in modern to increase strength and balance.



It's good to give the studio feedback on their teachers. Since the office staff is not in the room, they will assume that every thing is hunky dory for the students if they don't hear anything to the contrary. I liked you ideas (and others given here) about the type of substitute. I would talk with your regular teacher and tell her the problem. Maybe she could recommend a substitute to the office staff next time she has to miss. This would be a good opportunity for an advanced ballet dancer to receive some teaching experience. Maybe some likely candidates could actually take class with you so they are familiar with the level of the class.

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Thanks for the suggestions. I'll talk to my regular teacher about it too, it's a good idea. She's asked about substitutes before, how we felt about them etc, but I think we've been too shy to criticize teachers and mumbled something not very constructive - this time I'll try and really say what I think.

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Good luck, Jaana. You don't even need to be that critical about the ones that have been before if you don't want to. You could just tell your teacher what sort of teacher you would like as a sub, what style they should teach, what kinds of stuff you want to learn. Perhaps there is something you and your classmates would like to improve that you might benefit from it being taught by someone else from another perspective!:)

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