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Ballet Talk for Dancers

A Tangent to "Desparately Need Advice"

Guest abcfordance

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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.

And that's exactly the problem a lot of teachers face... But to add insult to injury, once you pass that level and want to do dance at intermediate and above, there will be very few others in your class to follow you, and not a lot of teachers are ready to design a class for 2 students. :( (but even if it's possible, I don't think designing a syllabus will ever be a 'static' one... I know very few syllabi are, but to structure things accurately, you will need to enforce some sort of discipline -same way as for younger kids- where attendance IS an issue.. Otherwise, you're going nowhere with a plan that has no bearing on the time spent on each section). And while it is possible with a few students, you soon realise that out of your 2 students of intermediate level, only one of those is able to do that or is committed enough to come on a regular basis :shrug:


I often faced this as an adult. I simply took classes with 15 and 16 years old, but it was clear that as soon as I was branded 'an adult' then there wasn't the same commitment in teachers to help me achieve my goal.


In all honesty, I think that major syllabi like RAD and ISTD or Cecchetti do not offer an alternative to kids' syllabus because they barely 'tolerate' adults entering exams etc... It sounds pretty awful put like that, but it's also a fact that it is not financially viable, and therefore, not really some business they want to explore... Sad, but true.

I believe I am the only programme in town (the capital of Scotland! :dry: ) to offer interm/adv classes for adults even though most are no longer at an age when they can think of becoming pro anymore.

The only class offered at that level for even teenagers beyond 18 is ONE class a week, during the day (which is not convenient for those who have otherwise a job -and sections this class even more to 'those who CAN and WANT to be pro only').


Once teachers can see big $$$ in front of their eyes, then they may get interested in the idea... It's the reality of it. Very few teachers I know offer classes for the pleasure of 'giving' something for free.. Fair enough in a way, but I believe there is no 'too small' class to start with. The problem lies in the belief that a class MUST be of a 'normal size' to be viable (normal being prob 5 or 6 students!) :)


I have long realised myself that even though those classes may not be financially rewarding (and you probably will make a loss on all classes held), it's the kind of pyramid structure you still want for a successfull school... While the babies classes pay for most of your expenses, you still need a few students at the top of your pyramid to be able to not only attract more of those 'babies', but also have a small handfull of good, experienced dancers which give good publicity and reputation to your training programme. So, in a way, the babies pay for the adults (for once, the trend is reversed!) :rolleyes:


[oh, and I forgot to reply to lampwick: indeed the RAD higher grades are open to all adults and is more a recreational solution -all grades are now opened to adults in fact as well as the vocational exams- but it still bears the problem that those grades are majorly taken by students who are 14-15... And an adult is still sticking out like a sore thumb out of the lot!]

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  • Mel Johnson


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Just to add something, here: where I live there exists a very well publicised school with an opendivision. Those classes have 7 levels...which is great in itself... the only problem is that the classes are pact and the quality of education is rather poor. In conclusion, I believe schools as such are good if the student attend class at a level a notch lower then what he or she needs, but if you want to continue learning and improving, in a safe environment without taking on bad habits there is now way it is possible in such surroundings.

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I well understand the "other side" --there just aren't that many adults that are willing/able/interested to commit to a progressive class even once a week. :-(


Now here's a twist, and I'd love input from teachers or anyone else with experience in this area.


The place where I go has 9 levels (or so), and I would dearly love to go to 1-2 classes a week at an appropriate level among those 9 (likely the 7th). As a general principle, do schools/teachers ever allow this, or is it considered too disruptive or otherwise difficult?


As a teacher, can you imagine yourself permitting such a thing? As additional background, I'd say that I'm on good-to-great terms with everybody at this place, and never miss one of my "regular" classes unless I am out of town or otherwise really unable to make it.


An alternative that I am pondering is to see if one or more teachers would be willing to do a private remedial program 1 or 2 / x month, though finding a time when there is space and I'm free would be tricky...

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I would dearly love to go to 1-2 classes a week at an appropriate level among those 9 (likely the 7th).  As a general principle, do schools/teachers ever allow this, or is it considered too disruptive or otherwise difficult?


As a teacher, can you imagine yourself permitting such a thing?

An alternative that I am pondering is to see if one or more teachers would be willing to do a private remedial program 1 or 2 / x month, though finding a time when there is space and I'm free would be tricky...

koshka I think that all of your ideas are reasonable and could be met with approval. Go for it!

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Actually, I think the term adult ballet student is just a catch phrase for people who show up in open classes, or classes (not for kids) labeled beginner or intermediate. The range in aptitude, experience, and age is so broad that the term is essentially meaningless from a development perspective.

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Unfortunatedly, I completely agree with you Gary. Very rarely will you find a passionate and caring enough teacher(or school) that makes their open class students go thru the necessary phases to achieve a good developpement in their pupills.

I personally think also that even though anyone is free to take up ballet classes for their own reasons, I am slowly discovering that you cannot claim that you are learning"real" ballet if you are constanly getting away with improper form and technique, which is so often the case with adult classes. It does not give justice to the artform.

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Though I’ve only taken classes at a few schools and with a relatively few teachers, I would fault neither with respect to developing “adults” as dancers. I can honestly say that in almost every case, the teachers I have had have been caring individuals who take pride in watching their students improve.


The big problem of course is the broadness of the term “adult,” which, in my mind anyway, makes it almost impossible to create any kind of useful adult syllabus. And adults (in my mind if you are not over age 25, you are not an adult) don’t learn like younger folk either. And we opinionated adults don’t make it easy for the teachers either, as we often don’t realize good teaching when it’s right in front of us. So though I think it would be great to have something of an adult development syllabus, I think it would be a major undertaking by anyone who might try.


Personally, I like developing on my own, working out the problems I have, reading, listening to others, and working on my own to translate teacher corrections into meaningful movement on my part. I will never be good at ballet, but I take pride in improving and am reasonably patient with myself.

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I am writing to play devil's advocate a bit, here. B) It is true that there is a profound amount of diversity encompassing the idea of "adult ballet student." At the very least, diversity could be considered according to the following categories:


1. Age

2. Natural Physical and Musical Facility

3. Learning Styles

4. Current Fitness Level

5. Previous Training and Previous Knowledge of Ballet

6. Level of Commitment and Consistency in Class Attendance


However, it is also true that there is a HUGE amount of self-selection that takes place in terms of: (1) who initially chooses to take ballet, (2) who stays in ballet, and (3) who remains highly and consistently committed to ballet. Group #1 represents the broadest category with the most diversity, and group #3 likely represents the narrowest group, in terms of diversity.


Within the context of broader society, even group #1 likely represents a group of people who have a lot more in common than differences. They probably like physical activity, enjoy the arts, etc. Those individuals who stay in ballet (Group #2) for, let's say - over a year, have even more in common. Let's face it, someone doesn't stay in ballet unless they have a near mad appreciation for ritual, for details, for movement, for persistence, etc. Not only so, one is probably not inclined to stay in ballet unless he/she has at least some degree of natural facility somewhere, and a basic belief in his/her capacity to improve. There seems to be a weeding out process in this first year.


Perhaps the biggest aspect of diversity for group #2 is level of commitment. It is true that some may primarily stay in ballet for the sake of fitness while others really truly want to improve, pursuing ballet with an unrelenting passion. Outside circumstances may also be another major diversity factor in this group in that some of these individuals might really want to improve but just can't because of kids, job, travel, etc. The major difference between group #2 and group #3 is the level of commitment to ballet, as expressed through consistent attendance in class. In my opinion, there is very little that separates the individual's in group #3 because of the process of self-selection.


Now to this whole idea of a syllabus. My biggest question is, "Should an adult syllabus be meant for all three groups of individuals?" Because of the process of self-selection, those individuals most interested in a syllabus anyway are probably those individuals in group #3, that is, those individuals who express a high level of commitment through consistent training. The reality is that an inconsistent participater (which may be found in group #2) will likely not benefit from a syllabus because of the inherent need for consistency in ballet.


If I were on some syllabus development committee, I would propose that a syllabus be developed very broadly for the first year or two, since it represents the broadest range of diversity. It should emphasize the fundamentals, which all individuals could benefit from. For the successive years of training, I would propose that a syllabus be developed that focuses on group #3 as the target audience as this group of individuals will likely be most interested in and benefit the most from a syllabus. The reality is that the adult open class will always be with us, and individuals in group #1 and #2 will always benefit from them. What is missing is a formalized system of study for adult ballet students who have a high level of commitment and dedication to the art.

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Mel Johnson

That's why I'm currently working on curriculum.


Syllabi will come next, if ever, and lesson plans after that.

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Mr. Johnson, this excites me to no end B) . I personally hope that you will dream really big! Maybe even write a book and call it something like, Adult Ballet: Second Year and Beyond. Of course, it is always easier to dream other people's dreams than to live out one's own :blushing: . Nonetheless, I am excited.

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Mel Johnson

This is probably going to take awhile, as first I have to retire from my "day job" to work full-time on teaching. But that day is coming.

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I like hart's point about diversity, and about developing a syllabus that is highly tolerant

of diversity in the early years, and with more rigor in the later years. I think this mirrors

the way that many textbooks are written -- "Intro to Kneftanobulism" is a survey, and

is less demanding than "Kneftanobulism: Journal Articles 1999 - 2000." And sure, both are

in a different league than "Kneftanobulism For Dummies." B)


Fine -- But what I wanted to add to the discussion was that in my experience, my beginner's

path through ballet training (as 3.5 year adult student, semi-limber, micro-talented, but

hardworking and even harder headed) is/was rather non-linear... If anything, now that I think

I know the lay of land, I need most to return back to the basics more rigorously. That's not

only because I'm becoming more and more aware of my basic flaws, but also because as a

working adult I have real time conflicts that don't always allow me to be in class as

often as I should, so I need to have a program with some flexibility.


What does that mean for adult classes, and a rigorous adult program? I think it means that

(in addition to a flexible, progressive syllabus as hart suggests) we have instructors who

understand and appreciate that we are (even more than their "traditional" students) not

a one-size-fits-all collection of students. I think that puts more burden on our teachers,

because they have to understand what kind of trajectory each of us adults are on.

Some folks want and need detailed feedback, pushing, private lessons, etc, and some are

in it for fun and exercise. And we each may vary in our commitment level as life circumstances

permit. Likewise, I think this puts a burden on us, as students too, to make sure we're

getting what we need from our instruction. Mind you, this is not to say that ANY students

are on an "assembly line" for training, but I think adult students are the least likely to fit a

standardized syllabus.


So, good luck, Mel! And, also I just want to send a big cosmic THANK YOU to those teachers

who are willing to work with adult/returning students, and give them attention and feedback.

Those of us who are about to plie salute you!


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With all do respect, what in the heck is "Kneftanobulism" :blushing: , B) ? It's not even in my dictionary!


Mr. Johnson,


If there is anything I have learned from ballet, it is that anything worth anything takes time! Good luck!

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With all do respect, what in the heck is "Kneftanobulism" :wacko: , :ermm: ? It's not even in my dictionary!

Here I go, getting into a mess again... :rolleyes:


I confess, dear hart, that I made that word up. Entirely.

And the baaaad pun in the last sentence too. Guilty as charged.



So, I'm not EVEN going to ask you whom you might suspect

it was among our adult ballet class last Friday night that got

in (minor, trust me) trouble for talking and laughing a bit too

loudly outside a class that was almost but not quite finished...



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