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how should the basics be taught?

Guest sally-mandy

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Guest sally-mandy

Hi, I haven't seen this issue talked about yet. I started back to ballet at age 42 this year. I studied for several years as a child but am basically one of those "rebeginners" mentioned elsewhere.


I want to learn the basics with an adult's understanding. I am in an adult drop in class which is ongoing, and I understand the drawbacks of that. For the time being I am also taking my daughter's class. But hers is not a drop in class. It started at the first of the school year.


I have the same teacher for both classes and she does not break down new steps. This bothers me. Should it? Will I eventually pick up the parts of the steps?


I don't have many choices for classes here. I am going to take beginning ballet at the university in the spring in hopes of learning the basics, even the ones I have muscle memory for, as component parts. The instructor at the U. told me this was unnecessary, that I should start in Ballet 2 even if it's too hard --that I will "pick up" the parts.


Am I worrying too much about learning steps first by breaking them down, or is there something unusual about the way we are taught here?



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No, there's nothing that unusual. It's a modification of "sink or swim", where a student is put into a much harder class than he (usually) should be. "They'll pick it up as they go along, - or not." :angry: I really think that you should have a nice long talk with your university advisor and express your concerns.

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  • Administrators

sally-mandy, you said you were taking class with your daughter, and it's the same teacher. Is she not breaking down new material for the children either? This is not a good thing, if this is the case. :angry:

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Guest sally-mandy

Mr. Johnson and Ms Leigh: thanks both for your insight. The teacher does break down some new material for the kids, though not as thoroughly as I'd like. I ask for clarification quite often. Mr. Johnson, I will talk to the university advisor.


But mostly, I am reacting this way because I've read about the importance of getting the basic techniques correct in the beginning. Maybe I'm worrying too much?

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... I've read about the importance of getting the basic techniques correct in the beginning.  Maybe I'm worrying too much?

Basics, over and over, with breakdowns, works for me. So I don't think you are worrying too much. I'm lucky, at the studio I attend there is a class specifically for adult total beginners; it repeats every quarter. There is a strong emphasis on getting the smallest motions into the muscle memory, and lots of explanation about how this little motion will eventually become part of an assemble, or a pirouette, or whatever. I took the class three times before starting the next level, and I continue to take the total beginner's class at least once a week - now starting my third year. There's no time or spare attention in the more advanced classes to get these details right, and I find it immensely helpful to be reminded every week about details, and get to practice them. This fall is the 8th time, and it is not yet boring or slow - I am just learning different things.


Your mileage may vary; I was an absolute, complete beginner a little over two years ago - re-beginners regularly pass me by!

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Very interesting topic. About the only thing I am reasonably sure of is that there is no one way that adults “should” be taught. Causes me to have much sympathy for those who teach adults.


When I look at the classes at my school for teens (or younger), which is a developmental program, and compare it with the open classes for adults, the major difference I see is that students in teen classes are much more homogeneous with respect to ability than are adults in the level or open classes. This is true for adult ballet classes labeled beginner and intermediate, as well as so-called advanced classes. The adult beginner and intermediate classes are also smaller than teen classes, at least where I dance.


There is also a tradition, history, and 300+ years of experience in developing young ballet dancers, so schools and teachers have a good feel for such. My intuition tells me that isn’t the case with adult beginners.


I’ve often felt that it would be terrific to have been in a developmental program. But when I think of it from the perspective of a school, I wonder about its feasibility. Certainly, from the school’s point of view there is considerable risk. I mean there just aren’t that many adult ballet dancers out there. And with the relatively large variation in adult aptitude, ability, and motivation, a school would have to have a lot of classes for this relatively small market. So from a school’s perspective, I don’t think it is well advised. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only feasible (again from the school’s perspective) adult developmental program is called private lessons.


I learned through the sink or swim approach one could say. I guess because of that I believe that every adult should take responsibility for his or her own development. In my opinion, that is the fun part of dance, taking what you hear and see in class and read in books and making it work for you. Teens are used to being told what to do (mom, dad, teachers do it all the time). Adults have to do more for themselves. Such is life.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the only feasible (again from the school’s perspective) adult developmental program is called private lessons.


I've said this before on this forum, but apparently not often enough.


Helsinki, Finland, is a city of about 500 thousand residents, maybe 1.5 million if you count the surrounding other cities that in practice belong to the same "metropolis" (though it's too small to call that).


This city has two schools offering adult ballet classes in yearly progressing courses, starting from complete beginner classes and going to advanced. Classes are not drop-in, but you enroll for a term (though you are allowed to cancel given enough warning, and to "catch-up" at a different class if you miss yours). Beginners start from beginning levels and advance through them. There are classes in each level several times of the week.


As an example, Helsingin tanssiopisto offers five classes at the advanced level, four classes at the intermediate three level (one of these is combined with the advanced), 8 classes at the intermediate 2 level, five classes on both intermediate 1 and beginner 2 levels, and six beginner level classes a week, + some morning classes for combined lower levels. In a normal week.


And this is just for one of the major schools teaching adults, in addition there are classes from the other, and several smaller schools around.


And the classes are by no means empty either - in fact, they are packed.


So don't tell me it is not possible. It definitely is. And this is not such a huge city, either! If you want to know how, you will need to talk to the school, though. I just take the classes. :)

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Guest sally-mandy

Thanks everyone. My town has 35,000 people. Helskinki has half again as many people as the entire state of Montana. I would have to drive ten hours to get to the nearest actual "city" (Seattle).


I'm guessing that may be the case with others who feel that adult developmental programs aren't viable where they live. I suppose we just have to get more creative in a small place like this. The good news is, I live in an artsy town where there is a lot of talent--if not money to put on good programs.

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Hi there -


I think the issue you describe is common among most adult classes. The instructors often don't know which students are attending for 'recreational' purposes and which ones are truly interested in improving and advancing; so their comments, detail level and feedback vary.


One thing I try to do is ask the instructor after class to take a minute and clarify something that I was struggling w/or ask if there's anything in particular that I should be working on. That way the instructor knows that I'm interested and more likely to provide feedback and details during class.


Then again, it may just be the style of the instructor to not break things down.


Just a thought. -K

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One other quick thought... adults also have a tendency to over-analyze and want to talk about everything in depth. Sometimes we need to stop yacking and just DO it! Not that this is happening in your case, but I've seen it happen quite a bit - especially with a lot of the intellectual types that seem to be attracted to ballet as adults. :)


Maybe enrolling in the lower university class would be best, if nothing else to clean up your basics or just help your confidence in the fact you may already be doing it right!

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One other quick thought... adults also have a tendency to over-analyze and want to talk about everything in depth. Sometimes we need to stop yacking and just DO it! Not that this is happening in your case, but I've seen it happen quite a bit - especially with a lot of the intellectual types that seem to be attracted to ballet as adults.



nicoal has made an astute observation here. I'm getting fairly advanced as a dancer, and still "discover" some fundamental issues in the way I approach class work. Mastery of the fundamentals takes an entire career. You can't expect to master and fully understand part A before proceeding to part B. I just joined a company and was immediately given "work" to do on my plie and tendu. Can't get any more fundamental than plie and tendu! :blushing:

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Small places are a different thing, yes, and I suppose you just need to be creative. I think, though, that even there if you got together an interested group, classes for complete beginners could be arranged. It's a rare small school that can turn away a class of say, 10 people, saying "listen, here we are, and we will pay, will you teach us or not?"


But there are a lot of bigger cities in the world that still do not have adult classes. And that's what puzzles me.

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Guest pink tights

This absolutely drives me insane--multi levels crammed into one class! The true beginners have no idea what they are doing, so that group tends to ask the same questions over and over again--the true intermediate-advanced group is frustrated because the class slows to a crawl. My teacher breaks it way down. Every semester we get a new batch of beginners in the intermediate-advanced class and the vicious cycle begins again. The problem, is that very few of the absolute beginners (in my class) stick with it for more than two semesters; about the time they start to get it, they either lose interest or their schedule changes. Because of this revolving door of true beginners, the director never knows if she can "make" a separate absolute beginner class.


I agree with nicoal and lampwick...just do it. Ask questions after class--most teachers are only happy to explain. Or as our friend from Finland has suggested, organize a group of beginners and ASK (BEG!!) the director for that beginning class.


I'm editing myself: I didn't mean to sound harsh or disrespectful to the true beginners--rather, I feel your pain! (As a beginning poster, I can't figure out how to use the emoticons or the quote features of this forum!) Just trying to make the point that, yes, there is a need and obviously, a demand, for beginning class!

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