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Ballet Talk for Dancers
Guest samba38

Evaluating a Ballet Program: Measuring Success

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I agree with you, Treefrog. Not all of us are lucky enough to teach in large company-affiliated schools, and therefore may not have time or studio space for many extra rehearsals. This doesn't mean we teach in bad schools (I can boast of dancers currently with several major companies), or that dancers looking to learn should turn their noses up at us.


As for the birthday parties as money makers... our school does not do this, but I do know of some reputable schools that do. Could it be that these studio owners are just doing everything possible to make sure they can pay their bills, and thus keep on providing quality training for future generations of dancers? How on earth is this a qualifying factor for choosing a school?


Sorry to be upset by this thread... I just feel like I read way too many posts that seem to trash any schools that are not company-affiliated. Every teacher in my small school (myself included), trained with well-known teachers, attended the well-known workshops, and danced professionally with well-known companies!!!! Maybe we have to rehearse and clean choreography during class time, but it surely doesn't make us "dolly dinkle." And -- done correctly, rehearsal time is just as much of a concentration on proper technique as class exercises.

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I too respectfully disagree with on the matter of learning and rehearsing recital dances in class. That criteria may valid in the most populous areas of this country, but it doesn't fly most elsewhere. In fact in many places, it's amazing to have a ballet teacher available at all, much less a very good one. My DKs' schoool, for example, is in a tiny town in one of the least populous states in the continental U.S. Given the number of students, it doesn't make financial sense (actually sense of any kind) for their teacher to hold rehearsals separately from class. Neither is she able to teach separate pointe or variation classes. However, she makes up most of the difference by teaching highly-disciplined classes and demanding hard work. I can attest to the fact that her SI-bound students are considered very well-trained, so she must be doing something right.


I think the bottom-line criteria for a good school is whether or not the teacher is a great teacher and is highly focused on the students.


To me, that means more than just teaching from a syllabus and having a good background. It means a variety of things, such as:


- Does the teacher strongly encourage DKs to take every day a technique class is offered? And for the many DKs in this country who want extra work but don't have an opportunity to take a tech class followed by modern, pointe, or variations (i.e. two classes a day), does the teacher strongly encourage them to work down a level?

- Does the teacher encourage serious DKs to be focus strongly on basic barre technique and be highly self-critical and analytical?

- Does the teacher give a lot of specific corrections, or just compliments and a few general corrections?

- Are adagio, petit and grand allegro always taught? (I've noticed that some teachers place more emphasis on some to the detriment of others.)

- Does the teacher encourage students to learn "tricks" at the expense of having a solid core or feet that aren't constantly adjusting?


I could go on, but I bet everyone on this board could add a lot more.

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Here, here! Well said Pugbee and Treefrog!

Not every dance student desires such stringent study of the art. Some kids want to dance recreationally. Usually that means they seek out studios that offer tap, jazz, ballet, pom, etc. Frankly, I have known lots of young ladies who credit self-confidence, self discovery, and lasting friendships to their years spent at these so-called "dolly dinkle" studios. And again, don't judge the technique taught until you've seen a class, or their performance....many good things happen at small studios.

Just my dopey two cents. :nopity:

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It seems as though there is disagreement in the definition of "a good school".


"Good school" to some may be the best place to prepare for a professional career as a classically trained professional ballet dancer. The truth is that every community does not have such a school and sometimes we make due with the best we have.


"A good school" to others may be a place where students are nurtured and trained in dance by a staff who run their business well while respecting, caring for and challenging their students.


A school could be both, neither or one without the other.


We had a dancer come to our school this past year from Dolly Dinkle, where she was a star. She came to us because we are "a good school". They left with a laundry list of reasons why we are not "a good school", and yet we train kids that go on to professional careers. They were looking for "a good school" with more challenging classes, but also with opportunities for DD to still feel like a star.


It's all in what you're looking for....

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Victoria Leigh

Very good points made by all. I don't believe I have ever said that the only good schools are company affiliated schools, nor have I said anything about small schools not being good. There are very good small schools, but there are, unfortunately, many more Dolly Dinkle schools.


It is, as someone said, all in the teaching. And yes, schools do have to make enough money to survive. Been there, done that, and I know what it takes, which demands much more compromise than I was willing to do. However, there are ways to do it and then there are ways not to do it.


My points about rehearsals instead of class are directly related to the fact that if one is only learning and rehearsing dances, one is NOT learning technique. It takes a minimum of an hour and a half to do a full technique class well, unless the class is so small that only one group is needed in the center. Then one needs pointe technique. You simply do not learn pointe work by learning "routines". Therefore, if much of class time is given to rehearsals, there is no technique being taught. There may be corrections in the rehearsals, but I'm sorry, that is simply not the same thing. If you want dancers to perform, they have to have a technique in order to perform. You can't put the cart before the horse.


When it gets to crunch time, just before a major show, most everyone will use some class time, but this is generally only for a very short period of time, like maybe a week. When it is done for weeks or months, then one is not being trained to dance, one is just dancing. Somehow. :nopity:

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That was the problem with my dd's old dance school. It's not that they aren't company affiliated, in fact I think the old school is bigger than the company affiliated school my dd now attends, it's the lack of emphasis on teaching instead of dancing that was upsetting. At that school a huge amount, more than 1/2 of the class time, was used to rehearse for the recital from January until June.


However, I agree with those whose described other kinds of ways schools can be "good". I was referring to schools training professional track dancers, which is what I thought the original post is about. I have to admit, if my dd didn't want to be a dancer, I probably wouldn't send her to her current school. It is way too intense for someone who just wants to have fun and perform.


Therefore, when looking at the characteristics of a "good" school, you have to know what the desired outcome is: Are you looking for the best professional training? or are you looking for a warm, nuturing environment with a knowledgeable staff for a child looking to have some fun dancing?


Also, I don't anyone's trying to say a small school can't be good... I think we're trying to define the optimal situation. What would your dream school be like?

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I totally agree, Ms. Leigh. I do think I've seen differences between DKs that get regular pointe classes and those that don't. The ones that do seem to be much lighter in their shoes, more comfortable, and have better balance. I'm not a teacher or a professional dancer, but I think it's quite clear. I also think that offering a regular men's class would be enormously helpful and we'll probably address that in a much more proactive way in the next year.


But I wanted to comment re:

It takes a minimum of an hour and a half to do a full technique class well, unless the class is so small that only one group is needed in the center.

My DK usually comments on how much less drained he is after SI technique classes, where there have generally been 20 or so kids in a class and more than one group doing center. (Is that what you're referring to?) I have often heard him compare the typical spring pre-show classes, those with 15-20 minutes of rehearsing at the end, with the large SI technique classes he's experienced--always complains that he doesn't get quite as much work as he'd like. (At the SIs, I think it helps them pace themselves for all the other classes, and during the school year, he just takes an extra technique class at a similar level to fill in.) But the rest of the school year, when there is no rehearsing, that smaller-sized class can be very intense--at least that's his and my experience. Maybe this is one area where small schools are a plus, though I'm just speculating. I suppose you could look at it the other way too, though, especially with DKs that don't want such an exhausting class.

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A good list. Our studio prepares for the recital for 6 weeks before it happens.

One of the weekly technique classes is changed to a rehearsal for those 6 weeks but for the 10 year olds and up there is at least 3 other technique classes available each week. The remainder of the rehearsals are held outside class time. Jazz and Tap students do however work on their recital routine during the last 15 minutes of class.

We just started doing birthday parties at our school. They happen on Sundays and they are run completely by the teen students and supervised by a adult teachers assistant. They are paid for their time and its a great alternative for them to make some money and exercise their leadership and organizational skills. They are usually for the 3-9 year old set and are added income for the studio. It is good for the little ones and for the teens or organize it. We have only had 3 of them but it seems to be working nicely.

So those two items are in a grey area I would say. :wink:

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I actually have one more thing to add to the list.


If the teacher asks the students to wear SOCKS over their pointe shoes in class, leave immediately!


I went to this school just to observe what the classes were like. Well, the ballet and pointe classes were appalling. And the teacher had no clue about ballet technique whatsoever. NONE. And to top it all off, she told her students to put on socks over their pointe shoes in class, "just to keep them clean." Not only is it slippery to dance like this, but no one can see their feet! How ridiculous is that?



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Mel Johnson

It's not as slippery as you think, and while I wouldn't want it in class, there's not much to say against the practice in rehearsal. Just make sure that the toe part over the pointe shoe is cut out. For soft shoes, it doesn't matter as much.

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Although this thread's original intent had to do with evaluating year round residency programs, it's grown to encompass a broader discussion. Since there've been several other threads "dancing" around similar topics, I've decided to move this one into Cross Talk in order to make it more available to newer members who may never have seen it.


Happy reading! :(

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If the teacher asks the students to wear SOCKS over their pointe shoes in class, leave immediately!




Ahem - I wear socks over my pointe shoes (if they're the last pair before a performance) and as said, they aren't as slippery as you think.


Some of us just don't want to spend oodles on those toe shoe cover things when a nice holey sock can do it.


As for technique vs. Rehearsal time.


At an old studio of mine, we had a "level class" where we "learned a dance" and then we had a separate "technique" class for ballet. The only thing was that it was a technique class for everyone 10 years old and up. It wasn't required, but if you were en pointe you were encouraged to take this class. (Not all the girls "en pointe" did)


If you only have an opportunity to be en pointe once a week. That's a bad idea. I can tell you from experience.

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We are not TOLD to wear socks, but in the Winter, if we need to warm up our feet a little bit more, I have had no problems with wearing socks for the first couple of warm-up combinations! Is that a bad thing? I don't want to kill myself!!


Our studio has no form of recitals at all! Every year we do Nutcracker, an SI performance, and 1 or 2 spring performances, which differ every year! You have to audition to get in of course, but he rarely turns people away, he usually finds a part for them. But as usual, we are not grouped by our classes, we are casted by ability. Just thought I would put that in to see if anyone had a comment....... :(



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I will defend the birthday party issue.


We offer them on Sundays, The youngsters get a tutu-clad variation danced for them, they are taught an easy dance, they get cake and cookies, and a goody bag with stickers etc. and advertisements for the studio of course.


Not only does this bring in added revenue for the studio, it exposes some kids (her guests) to ballet that might not otherwise be exposed to it, and hopefully we will obtain some new students as well.


What is wrong with this?


As for class time rehearsals, I'm small enough to get away with spending the last 10 minutes on it. I only have between 1 and 4 kids in each class (my school is relatively new, although I taught elsewhere for quite some time). I only do this in the lower levels though. The upper levels tend to have their variations class hijacked (this year we performed pas de quatre, and there were four students in the class so it was perfect). I will also steal 10 minutes out of their 1 hour pointe classes if need be. It depends on what we are doing. I only have 1 studio to use. Mon. - Fri. the pointe classes let out at 9:00 p.m. I teach 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, plus I have a second job and 2 kids. Scheduling outside rehearsals at this time is just not feasible. I would drop.


Hopefully as the school grows, I can quit my other job, obtain a second studio space to work in and hire some more teachers. Then what I stated will be able to change. Until then, I am still a good teacher with the students best interests pushed to the front of my life, and I have produced dancers good enough to obtain scholarships at S.I.s.


I don't think that this issue should necessarily be a deal breaker.


But the rest of the school year, when there is no rehearsing, that smaller-sized class can be very intense


werlkj: My upper students are absolutely exhausted by the end of class as well. It is not that my classes are abnormally difficult, it is just with so few of them there are little to no breaks between repetitions of combinations and they know that I always have my eye on them so they work like fiends throughout the entire class. Even if I try to back off some so they won't be so tired for pointe, it never works.

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