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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The horror, the horror


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I took such a terrible class recently, I just had to write about it, maybe as a way of exorcising the memory!


This class was appalling on so many levels I don't even know where to begin. I guess with plies -- every one of them, demi and grand, ended in an eleve, and we stayed up on demi-pointe to do the cambres. Then, either as part of the plies or the next exercise, we had to do a penchee, also from demi-pointe! This is like, barely five minutes into class.


I finally just stopped doing some of the combinations because I didn't want to hurt myself. There were developpes that involved holding your leg out there for eight long counts. (Hello, thunder thighs!) Then there was this eleve series -- SIXTEEN EACH! -- in first position, then in coupe and then maybe one other position, with the teacher screaming, no plies, no plies, just eleve! Everything was just out of bizarro world -- the preparations for en dehor pirouettes were: tendu side, then instead of moving that foot to the rear for fourth position, you moved it to the front and made fourth position that way.


It was pathetic, and I really felt sorry for the regular students, who exept for one didn't seem to have enough of a background in ballet to know that this was an awful class. Shouldn't there be a board of ballet examiners that I could report this class to?!

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instead of moving that foot to the rear for fourth position, you moved it to the front and made fourth position that way.


Actually, I like this. There's a lot of ways a teacher can try to get you to go forward, onto the leg which will support the pirouette. It can also help you feel the way you're using your back. My teacher often makes us bring the back leg to the front and do pirouette en dehors that way (from arabesque, from pirouette en dedans, etc...) There just may be a method to the madness :shrug:


Some teachers like to give stuff which will really build strength (like the eleve and developpe combinations you describe). I tend to think that this can be good too, if you have the requisite strength and good placement in the first place. One of my favorite teachers makes everyone do each combination twice at the barre, once with regular arms, and once with the arm held en haut the entire time (he's very intent on getting the elbows back and the chest opened up). If you're too fatigued after doing something on one leg for so long, he has no problem if you stop and take a moment to shake it out and relax. The point is to build enough strength and stability so that eventually, the exercises will be easy. Also, he insists that you should feel relaxed. If you start to tense and strain with your neck and shoulders, then STOP.


I used to think he was a crazy, mean teacher and the class was awful. Now it's a class I really look forward to, feel relaxed doing, and have learned quite a bit from. It's strange how opinions can change as your personal training needs change and evolve.


32 fouettes is a LOT of releves on one foot, and a partnered promenade in ecarte can be well over 8 counts. A dancer needs to get to the point where these things are easy, and pure strength is the only way it's going to happen.


Penchee at the beginning of class is just plain madness though. No thanks. I wouldn't do it either.

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Scoop, what was the level of this class? Things like penché in the first five minutes are not right at any level, but the holding thing does become important as one advances. Of course it depends on what the tempo of those 8 counts are too! :) Also, excessive numbers of things, for students not strong enough to do them, is often counterproductive. Was this a regular teacher, or a sub? A new school or different teacher than you have worked with before?

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Hi Ms. Leigh! This was a ballet II class -- the school offers two levels, the other beginning -- but with one exception the students seemed to be dancing at a very basic level. And yet out of nowhere the teacher would throw in some fairly advanced step -- ie, frappes with double and triple beats (done for some reason with your back to the barre, holding on with both hands!), really long balances, say in fifth and then pulling into retire, and even a turn in attitude. As you can imagine, most of the students were just flailing around.


This was a school in the suburbs I'd come across during an Internet search and thought I'd try next time I had a day off work (the classes meet fairly early in the evening). I'm always convinced there are these great classes out there that I'm missing out on because I live and work downtown. I guess not!

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If a teacher gives me an excercise twice, I always attempt to do it en Relever. Your feet should be somewhat warm after tendu's, assuming you are working on warming your feet.


I tend to wear socks or thin house slippers at the barre, to warm up my feet. It also keeps my shoes dry until centre excercises.


You can't do multiple turns unless you can do multiple releves.



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I think if you do ballet long enough, eventually you will run into a class (or several for that matter) that you believe is just awful. Certainly such classes are awful in the sense that you didn’t enjoy them.


But I would ask, is that perception correct? How would you know anyway?


We all have a tendency to dislike anything that is different or that we do not understand. All the more so if something is difficult for us.


Personally, I always give the benefit to the teacher. I may despise the class, but I also know that teacher has more experience than I do and, most likely, a very good rationale for doing whatever he or she is asking the class to do. I think we as students need to try to find what the teacher is trying to do, to make sense of it, to bring it into ourselves no matter how dreadful and uncomfortable it makes us feel. Yea, the teacher may be a complete idiot, but my sense is that the odds of that are pretty slim at least if you are in a reputable school.


And of course if despite your attempts to understand and adapt, you still think that class is awful, don’t go back.

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How would I know if a class was awful, anyway?! It wasn't because, as Garyecht speculates, I didn't enjoy it or it was difficult or it was different. It was because the teacher called for a penchee on demi pointe in the first or second exercise at the barre. It was because... oh, why repeat all this. :rolleyes:


I don't think you should just automatically assume a teacher knows what he/she is doing. Anyone can open up a dance studio. Obviously I'm not taking this class again, I just feel bad for the regular students -- I'd be curious to come back a year from now and see a) who is still taking it and :D if they'd progressed any given how they were being taught. One student was telling me afterward, she was pretty new and just ached after each class and figured once she got used to things she'd be fine. I thought, not if you're doing 48 too-fast eleves, pounding down on your heels like that! Jeez, my knees hurt just thinking about that. :pinch:

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Whew... Scoop, I'm glad you wrote about this, not only as an exorcism of sorts,

but also as a way of reminding us to trust our instincts! Sure, there are times when

all of us can (and some of us need to) be pushed, but I think that can only happen

when there is a clear and reasoned explanation and (like, duh) trust established first.


I've only been dancing for a few years, but I've been playing guitar most of my

life, and taking lessons off and on over the years from different teachers.

I still remember waiting outside of instructor A's studio, and listening to instructor B

give his student a much-too-difficult exercise to play, repeatedly. Then, instructor B

would play it again, and the student would again try, and fail miserably. What was clear

to me, even just overhearing this process repeat itself, was that it was not teaching,

it was ego-gratification, plain and simple. The way he spoke to the student, his

condescension, and his attitude sounded bullying and show-offish. I spoke

to instructor A about it, and he agreed, and said that he had picked up a number

of instructor B's students who were unhappy/discouraged/etc...


It's just speculation, but perhaps the same dynamic was at work in the class you

described. I think instructors CAN be demanding, and students CAN be pushed, but

trust, built through informed, voluntary consent is a prerequisite for that.


I'm glad your body survived a trip through the "Heart of Darkness", aka,

"Bizarro World" too! :pinch:

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I am trying this once again, as I wrote an extensive reply earlier today that was not posted for some (perhaps technical) reason. I apologize, therefore, if this winds up being redundant.


I feel the need to enter this discussion, as I was present in the class in question, and have a very different assessment of what transpired. I very much appreciate the comments of Garyecht, who gently suggested giving the teacher some "benefit," as well as the posts of MJ, Ms. Leigh, and Lampwick, who attempted to suggest alternative ways of understanding what this teacher was trying to accomplish. I also hope that my perspective can be considered legitimate, as Scoop has suggested that I do not have "enough of a background in ballet to know this was an awful class." In fact, I take several classes at studios across two states and danced for twelve years prior to returning to ballet as an adult student. I have therefore been exposed to many teachers and I personally believe this teacher to be well trained, reputable, and among the most body-safe instructors I have encountered. In fact, she specifically teaches adults according to a Cecchetti syllabus because she believes the lines of this style are more appropriate than Vagonova lines in many adult bodies. For example, she advises her adult students to retire only to mid-calf and is completely comfortable with clean, 45 degree extensions in adult dancers. The teacher is in fact a graduate of one of the most reputable dance education programs in the mid-Atlantic region.


I was not present for the releve penchee in question (traffic!); when we have done this exercise previously, the penchee, unlike the cambres, was not on releve. If this exercise did occur prior to my arrival, this would be earlier than it is typically encountered and obviously this would be a bit premature in terms of warm-up and readiness. The releve sequence was certainly challenging, but as suggested, this was a conditioning exercise that we have been working on for many weeks, and although I did not and could not complete it, I am able to complete many more repetitions than I could complete a few weeks ago. As this exercise was to focus on lower leg strength, the teacher did emphasize that we not use plie to gather momentum and "spring" for the releve. This teacher emphasizes in every class that students are free to "cut (my) combinations in half" in order to focus on clean technique. I do not recall in this or any of the 75 or so classes I have had with this instructor that she "screamed." She does have what I would describe as a very animated, enthusiastic instructional style which I, quite frankly, find refreshing.


Frappes were done with backs to the barre because by so doing, the class faces the mirror. We have been focusing this year on staying appropriately over our supporting leg and keeping the working leg fully turned out; these are challenges often for adult students and having the feedback of the mirror allows for more consistent self correction. The turn in attitude is also something that was not introduced for the first time in this class; its purpose in the syllabus has been in part to help students understand the difference between opened ribs, as we reverse form pas de basque into the turn, and the closed ribs that are the traditional ballet posture. In that respect I suggest it has been a helpful exercise.


Again, as suggested, the pirouette preparation was intended to serve a purpose. We have done what Scoop migh consider more typical pirouette preparations, but we recently reviewed an article suggesting, as someone else has thankfully done on this thread, that different preparations may confer certain advantages, such as weight trasfer onto the forward leg. I have found this particular forward tendu preparation helpful, although I freely admit that I cannot successfully pirouette from any preparation.


I think perhaps Scoop was disadvantaged by not having a history with this particular class, and I am truly sorry you had an unpleasant experience. However, I think it might have been preferrable to say that the class did not meet your expectations, or that it was not the appropriate level/style/difficulty for you, rather than to make global comments about the class and to presume that you could speak for the other students. I consider myself experienced enough, by the way, to know if this was an awful class. While I respect your opnion, I surely do not share it.

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There is an element to being very familiar and comfortable with the way any one teacher works, and then there is the problem of a new student finding it so different that it just doesn't work for them. I would always try more than one class before making that decision, however, I will say it only took me two classes, in NY with one particular teacher, to know that I did not agree with her style or her method and way of working, and that it did not work for me. Many people thought she was "The ONE", at the time, but I found her absolutely not the one for me. Students who have studied for a lot of years do have a feeling for what is right for their bodies, especially adult students. It doesn't mean a teacher is bad, however, it can mean that the teacher is just not right for you. Of course the teacher could be way off base and out in left field too, and there certainly are a lot of them out there. I think the best thing is to give it enough of a chance to know for sure, and then quietly exit. Or, one might decide it's not so bad after all. :pinch:

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Many thanks for all the replies -- it does help to see things from different perspectives.. Hi there Avalon, bummer about that Beltway traffic, huh? I didn't mean to be insulting to the teacher, I just didn't find that the exercises progressed in a way that made sense.


Up until recently I traveled quite a bit for my job, so I often dropped in on classes wherever I was and always found it pretty easy to just plunge in and get with the program, whatever it was. Maybe I lucked out, but despite the many differences between the studios -- and they were everywhere, coast to coast, big and small cities -- what I found amazing and wonderful is the underlying uniformity and familiarity of The Class. Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that this class was so far out of what I've experienced elsewhere that I was just very surprised. :)

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Hi, Scoop,


Yes, I gathered from your original post that part of the issue was that the class was quite different from your expectations. This is where the regular students had a definite advantage; this year, we have been doing 4 - 6 weeks of the same barre combination before making a change. Thus, what was a real departure from the uniformity you have experienced was something we had had weeks to adjust to. I completely understand that it was not a good fit for you. It is therefore fortunate that we live in the greater Baltimore region and have at least some other options to choose from.


I'd love to know where else you have taken classes, what your experience has been, and I am happy to share some of my other epxeriences in Baltimore area studios with you (although I do not have PM privileges just yet).

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A dancer's career is full of stories of teachers that just weren't right for him/her. I took classes all over NYC when I was a student, and Ms. Leigh and I must have passed one another in classes as we went, because in our off-board sidebars, we sometimes remember the same incidents (which couldn't have happened twice) occurring. There was a wonderful lady who had been the student of Cecchetti himself, and she was still teaching. She was adorable and devastating in the way only an Englishwoman can be. I loved her, but I realized after awhile that her classes were giving me legs like a mountain climber's! (The Dreaded Thunder Thighs) so, I went elsewhere. The teacher that Ms. Leigh cited who was IT for awhile (Nureyev used to take her class), was not IT for me. I was a little more patient. I gave her three classes, and I was gone. I think she must have served in the Soviet Navy in WWII -- as a foghorn on a battleship. Lordy, she was loud, and mean strict. I didn't realize it at the time, but she had distorted my own view of how a teacher should act, and I was unconsciously "doing" her when I first started teaching. I have since repented of the meanness, and grown more reasonable in my strictness, but I'm still LOUD sometimes, as Ms. Leigh has witnessed! :)

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I have since repented of the meanness, and grown more reasonable in my strictness, but I'm still LOUD sometimes, as Ms. Leigh has witnessed! :innocent:

Passion -- for excellence, for life, for creating something beautiful -- I think

is an essential part of art. So, here's to LOUD: :)


(I've been looking to find a good reason to use that smilie face; thanks Mel)


I know some people have thicker skin than others, but I think many students

appreciate a teacher who brings enthusiastic, energetic passion for their subject

into the classroom. I sure do. That's actually one of the things that I like most about my

ballet teacher now: he does REALLY care that we get it right. And he gets loud

sometimes. It wakes us (me) up, it pulls us (me) out of the fog, and that's great.

But as I said before, I think there has to be trust there first.

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Thank you for a lesson in humility. And I am being sincere about this. I will hold it before me ever as a standard. Bless you. :)

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