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Ballet Talk for Dancers

A Tangent to "Desparately Need Advice"


Guest abcfordance

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Guest abcfordance

I am kind of thinking out loud here and am playing devil's advocate to some degree. This is a topic that has come up a few times over the last year in some classes that I take as a student as well as in discussion with other teachers.

 

For Sylphide in the "Desparately need advice thread": It's great that your teacher feels you have the facility to do third level work, but I question if your body really has the strength and stamina after 6 months of training. You mentioned you had near daily private lessons, and 3rd level Vaganova is generally considered the 3rd year material from their school, which is training nearly every day, plus selection for body type, and related conditioning modalities.

 

As an adult you may pick up some concepts more easily, have better body awareness and more strength. But I'm not sure that you would neccessarily have the ability to "make up for" 2.5 years of very specific training. Since your post doesn't say if you are returning to dance after having danced as a child and then taking time off, I will admit I am assuming this past 6 months is your first time dancing.

 

And now allowing this tangent to develop a life of it's own...

Just curious what teachers of adult students think about on this subject. How do you decide when to accelerate an adult student's progress faster than you would allow your child or teen beginners to train? Is it fair to push their physical training to meet their mental abilities or do you still feel that it takes a certain amount of time for the body to be neuromuscularly trained and able to function correctly? Just because a student is capable of doing something much sooner than we normally see is this the right thing to encourage? When teaching children we have the argument that the body is still growing and forming and there are certain rates of progress that seem more beneficial than others. We don't have the same thought process with adults. What guidelines do you follow for your classes if you teach?

Edited by abcfordance
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  • Mel Johnson

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  • hart

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Jaana Heino

I'm not a teacher, just an adult student with some medical background, but if you allow my opinion... it seems to me that while children have those growing-up issues, adults have some different issues that require taking it easy. Among these are the facts that our muscles and joints tend to be stiffer, and that many of us do "sitting down" work that really does not prepare the supporting muscles of our joints and of our body to ballet kind of movement.

 

Without seeing Sylphide or even knowing what her background before she took up ballet is, I of course cannot say anything about her, but in general while an adult can be pushed physically without his/her growth being disturbed, injuries still occur if strength is not built up carefully. The injuries just are not exactly the same as those of children in the same situation.

 

It would seem to me that an adult can safely progress a little faster than a child if he/she has good facility to begin with; however, there is a limit to how much strength and co-ordination anyone's body can develop in a certain amount of time, no matter how much and how good training. Also, there is probably an upper limit of how far an adult can go that is lower than that for a child with similar facility, as children can "grow into" the demands of the movement, adults are stuck with what they got (the teen years being especially critical in this, probably).

 

But, most importantly - I can see absolutely no reason to take risks by pushing an adult student to progress much faster than is the "normal" ballet pace. After all, if the student is not to become a professional, where's the hurry? If he/she is doing it for her own enjoyment, isn't there all the time in the world to err to the safe side? Many adult ballet teachers seem to think we adult students get bored if we are not given more and more difficult movements to do all the time. Judging from the dressroom talk, I don't think that is exactly true, at least not where I take classes in.

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After years of Dolly Dinke training and then 5 years off, I was able to make it into a professional company (beyond apprentice), starting in my late 20's, after 2.5 years of training. By the time I made it in, I had about the best form of any of the men.

 

For me, the physical aspects of form developed quickly and well. Integration of all the parts into one whole was (and is) harder. The psychological and theatrical aspects of ballet were also harder. Hardest of all was partnering. It's like dancing with someone else's body, except that you have to start at ground zero again every time you get a new partner. When we have time off of a dance (like 1 week), my partnering is the first to slip and hardest to regain.

 

In terms of basic technique and form, the shape of the foot continued to develop for another 2 years (after I killed myself for a year over it). This seems to take time.

 

I think all of these issues would have benefitted from more time, although I was able to get enough together fast enough to be useful for something.

 

I can only speculate on what my experience would have been like as a women. In some ways, it might have been easier, since form and technique are some of my strongest points and I would no have had to partner other people (or even necessarily be partnered if I were not ready for it). All of the other "slowly-developing" issues I experienced would probably have affected me similarly.

 

I can only speak for myself and my own experience. Training programs vary greatly as do adult students --- both have a huge affect on what constitutes appropriate decisions. If a teacher feels that there is nothing more (or not enough) for a student at a particular level, then it's time to move up. If not, then the student should stay where he/she is. Only the teacher --- knowing the program and student --- can be effective in evaluating those decisions.

 

For example, at CPYB, beginning adult students are put in with the six-year-old beginning children. This would be inappropriate in many schools where serious training does not start until the age of 8-10. But at CPYB, they DO teach serious things to children starting at the age of 6, so it makes sense.

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I'm so glad you brought this up. I have the same question, because in my classes the teacher has often said that the adults learn so much faster than the children do. Maybe our minds absorb the concepts faster, but not necessarily our bodies! I really, really do not want to be taught a pirouette until my balance is relatively secure.

 

My experience -- in a class of mixed abilities and experiences -- is that I have to be responsible for my own pace. Our teacher is very open to everyone doing what they are capable of, but she says it in a general way: "some of you may want to do this on flat and some on demipointe." She will never chastise someone for not doing the exercise as she has set it. But, sometimes I long for more direct instruction that is targeted to my level and ability, and that really enforces the basics.

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Jaana Heino

Sylphide, teaching adults ballet at all is still such a controversial concept in most countries that it raises stirs naturally. And while there are lots of experience and knowledge about teaching kids ballet around, the same about teaching adults beginners can't really be said, so there's a lot of room for speculation, too.

 

It's a good point that adults probably vary more as to their basic ability and basic fitness than children do, I never thought of that before. Some adult beginners are extremely fit like you were - some have done nothing but sit behind a desk for the last twenty years! It must be very difficult for a teacher.

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Mel Johnson

I honestly believe that with the emergence of so many adult students in the 21st century student body of all ballet, that a real need for a curriculum, with syllabi and associated methods courses is becoming highly necessary. Previous methods have assumed that beginners are in the single-digit ages or maybe slightly older, but not much. Adults are a different matter when it comes to starting off from scratch, or even returning after a long hiatus. Current methods (RAD. Cecchetti, etc.) do not make allowances for an age differential and simply concentrate on technical accomplishment. I believe that it's time for an adult way to teach adults and address their particular needs.

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Guest mic31

That's bang on Mel. There are enough adult students and teachers of adult students, that surely the collective expierience of all of them can be drawn together to allow for a syllabus to be made. One of the two major organizations should be able to handle it. I think that there should be allowances made for people who do have a better ability to cope with the physical learning of it all though.

When looked at, ballet is something to be learned and can be mastered, different people will always have different ways of learning things. An elite level athelete learns things far differently that a career desk pilot. A person who attained a PhD learns far differently that a person who just squeaked through High school or college. :wink:

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I can tell you, the PhD does nothing towards helping you learn ballet!

You can say that again!

 

Actually I was also going to say in the "unexpected consequences of ballet" thread that one thing I've learned is how different bodies _and_ minds are from one person to the next.

 

For example, I have one teacher who, when showing something, routinely says one thing but marks/does another, and it seems to me that it is always the same groups of people who do or do not notice because they routinely focus on either the actions or the words.

 

Anyway, meandering back to the topic: one of my great frustrations is that there are very, very few ballet classes for adults that have a systematic progression beyond the first level. My teachers have said that this is because there are relatively few adult students who are in "learning" mode rather than either "maintenance" or "try something brand new" mode. Heck, at the place where I go, I'd happily ride along with the 13-year olds for a year or so just for remedial purposes.

 

As for a systematic syllabus, maybe it could be done, but the range of fitness, aptitude, and available time must be orders of magnitude larger for adults than for kids.

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Mel Johnson

That's what makes teaching for adults so tricky. Not only do you have a range of habituated learning styles, but a range of life experiences, and other factors that you don't have with children. Then, of course, there's da bod....

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As for a systematic syllabus, maybe it could be done, but the range of fitness, aptitude, and available time must be orders of magnitude larger for adults than for kids.

 

This is so true. As is the fact that "adult" is a very encompassing word. A 20 year old starting out for the first time will progress differently than a 50 year old, all else being equal.

 

Am I mistaken, or are all of the syllabi designed with the presumption that "ideally" the progression through will prepare someone for an entry-level position in a ballet company? Well, I know there are the higher "grades" for RAD. Are these considered more for recreational students rather than the Majors (or whatever they're calling them now) What about ISTD? Does that have recreational levels? Vaganova?

 

A systematic syllabus approach for teaching "adult" students would be quite a monster thing to create :wink: . A good book or two would be great though. What about conferences? Does the subject ever come up? There are so many teachers out there who have taught adults, it would be great probably just to compare notes and start to form some professional consensus about methods that work, that don't...

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