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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Peers as Teachers: Personality/Demeanour?


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I'm posting this here as I'd like to hear the thoughts of fellow students, as well as of experienced teachers. I do hope this is okay! I've done a search, but haven't found a detailed discussion around what I'm looking for, so thought I'd ask further...


In the world of adult ballet, often we find teachers of our same age/peer group. Sometimes they are older, sometimes younger. This is obvious!


However, when teaching youngsters, the age difference can sometimes make it easier to have a sense of authority, to create a certain type of aura/energy in class, etc. I've found that adults sometimes a greater range of expectations in class: some prefer the teacher to be a bit more 'relaxed' and 'chummy', others want a no-nonsense, all-business, sterner atmosphere... there are loads of in-betweens (I'm ridiculously jetlagged, and am having great trouble finding words in English at the moment, so I hope you'll forgive me if this isn't articulate!).


The main question I'm asking is what kind of 'energy' do you like to have in class, and why? I think teachers can really shape the energy of a class, and make it lively and energetic, or relaxing, or very serious, or even slightly 'dead'! To some extent, there's a need for a variety of energies in different classes, or in the same class at different times.... but in general, is there anything that you prefer or you find 'works' for you? Why? Do you have different expectations or needs when you encounter a new teacher for the first time? What types of class demeanours do you really dislike and why?


For the experienced teachers out there, do you consciously try to create a certain type of class aura - if so why and how? What have you found to be particularly beneficial when working with adult students?


I realise the question(s) is/are vague and broad - but after having taught a variety of classes an academic setting over the past five years, I'm interested in seeing how the ideas/techniques may overlap with the ballet class setting!

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From a teacher-

I don't honestly know if I try to create an atmosphere, but maybe I do and don't realize it :D I know that from taking class for so long, I like to leave class as a student, feeling exhausted but exhilarated.


I also know that people tend to respond more to corrections that are done in a positive way. I have yet to find a student who would prefer it that I was demeaning and negative. I find that I get much better results with a positive environment. I also feel strongly that a trusting environment produces amazing results, so I suppose I do try to make it a 'safe' atmosphere.

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Another teacher, nearing 40, who still takes class every Sunday:


I think any atmosphere that is created by a teacher is done so unconsciously. When going in to teach a class, even with lesson plans in hand, so many things may come up and cause you to have to go off course. Handling that with finesse is as difficult as an audition where you are placed on the spot and have to learn quickly. Each teacher has their own style, and I do find that working with various age groups makes a difference. I am not the same teacher with five year olds as I am with my advanced high school dancers or the students in the class I take when I sub for my own teacher(she only teaches adults).


Especially with adults, no one teacher is going to suit everyone. By adulthood, most dancers know if they learn better in a class with little physical demonstration and more verbal cueing or if watching and transposing movement on themselves works better for learning combination. I do agree with the above post that EVERYONE responds better to positively stated corrections- Pavlov found this out with his dogs ages ago. As is the case in most job situations, you have to learn to deal with aspects of your teacher's style you may not like and enjoy those you do(for example, my teacher LOVES this one particular turn which I find very awkward and cringe every time it pops up in a combination; I do it when it comes up no matter how lousy I feel about it, but I know that there are a lot of things I can do that feel/flow much better and know that there is always another class to redeem myself in).

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I love teaching adults and am very big on creating a warm and happy atmosphere. I'm in my mid 20s and look like a teenager, so it's very obvious I am younger than everyone in a normal adult class. In fact, I did have one adult lady inquire to a studio owner as to why a high schooler was teaching adult class...the owner directed her to my bio :blink: It's different with kids. I'm kind but insistant with the teens-- with adults I'm going be very personal with each one. Some adults are there to get a ton of corrections and a hard class, other adults have had a rough day, they are dancing for the enjoyment of it and don't want to focus on "work" of technique. I don't ignore these students, but I give them a different flavor of feedback. I try to create a happy and relaxed environment. I think it's safe to say I am "chummy"....as a number of my former adult students remain good friends. Interestingly, I have been told I am too permissive with the youngest students but there have never been any complaints from the adults on how I treat them.

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As an adult beginner, with a couple years of experience, I enjoy a demanding class where I feel I'm learning something, but not getting overly frustrated. I find it very difficult to follow a teacher who just throws out a combination without going through it, or taking into account that we ARE beginners. Slowly, and lots of repitition please.


Clara 76 - I'll give you some feedback on your class, since I've taken a few from you :blink: It's a very fun class, since I'm sure everyone can tell that Clara 76 is a very fun person! But she does a lot of explaining which I really appreciate since it helps to do it if I can understand why I'm doing it. But you work in her class too. I don't like classes where the teacher figures we're all old and tired and just want to socialize. I like to work hard and socialize too! I SO miss you all! :shrug:



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All my teachers (I have six!) are younger than me (check my moniker...) but they pretty much all take on the professional teacher persona for class. That works best for me. Heck, my doctors are usually younger too - but they are doctors, and act like doctors, and it works fine.


Sometimes I have had a very young teacher who was diffident about correcting those of us old enough to be a parent or grandparent. That's too bad, you don't get all the benefits of a class. Really, it just makes you feel old - no matter how sweetly you are treated. But since I've seen these same teachers quickly become more professional, I put that down to inexperience, not to youth.


That's not to say that "energy" does not matter. I love best a class where the students and teacher know each other and there is a sense of community and common purpose - it flows better, probably because there are fewer misunderstandings. But all that is true for any group activity, not just ballet class - and it has only a small effect on what I learn. Perhaps I'm just lucky, but I've never had a class from a teacher who was not enthused about dance. Enthusiasm takes many forms of course, but as long as you can connect with it, whatever style the teacher uses is going to work. I've had equally valuable, rewarding classes from critical perfectionists and from soft-hearted cheerleaders.

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Thanks everyone for your replies so far. I was going over some teaching feedback yesterday when these questions struck me. I've been teaching for years as i mentioned above, but I look much younger than I am (or so I'm told. Luckily my few gray hairs are well hidden!). I've had students across the age spectrum, and while most are gracious, there are those who find it difficult to 'take classes from a kid'.


In my ballet classes, I've also seen this at work. I've further seen people who thrive off different atmospheres - all-business, cheering, demanding, relaxing, etc. Swanilda, your points about catering to individual needs is very true! I'm also glad to see the emphasis on positivity, etc.


These are all interesting responses - please keep 'em coming!

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My teacher yells and bangs on the floor with a stick. :D He is old enough to be my father, and one time, as I was sitting on the carpet near the dance floor, he patted me on the head like I was 10 years old and I completely forgot I was in my 40s. During class, he takes me as seriously as the teenager on the barre next to me, gets frustrated if I make a mistake that he knows I am capable of avoiding, and does not hesitate to praise me if I do well. He pulls me aside during and after class to elaborate on corrections on class as if it is a matter of great importance both to him and in general that I understand and execute my technique correctly and also do it with the correct emotional expression for the particular music. He sees me every day and is attuned to the slightest change, and if something new in me develops (e.g., new ability to begin working higher in arabesque), he notices right away and starts pushing me in that new direction (as well as all the others already in progress!)


Although he is quite severe and I know his style is not for everybody, for me, this is the perfect "class energy," that the person I dance for each day has the highest expectations for me and places serious demands on me, pushing me beyond what I may have realized myself capable of, yet never beyond the capabilites of my body. (And by the way, the most amazing thing is - he does this for every serious student in his studio. He notices every person, every movement, and gets the best out of everybody.) In short, although I'll never be in a ballet company, that is the feeling I have in my teacher's studio, where his investment in me every day gives me a feeling of commitment and continuity.

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I think the concept of “energy” in a class is interesting. Each class has a definite energy to it which certainly varies from teacher to teacher and sometimes from class to class for a single teacher.


Personally I like an energy that is positive and enthusiastic, but not enthusiastic to the extent of craziness. Clearly the teacher is projecting an air that the class is an enjoyable 90 minutes. I also like an energy of knowledge and competence, but not to the point of absolute authority. I’d say it is exactly the same energy that one would find in good class or any sort—school or job training.


My intuition suggests that teachers can influence the energy of a class by creating a positive image of the class, being well prepared and patient, and knowing his or her stuff. Even then there will be differences among classes, but at least the energy will be positive.

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Lately I've been more affected by the energy (or lack thereof) coming from the accompanist. A dreary accompanist can really bring the energy of the class down.


Like others, I enjoy teachers who have a well-structured, thought-out sequence to their combinations. I like getting individual attention and feedback .


A few months ago, I took from a teacher who repeatedly told me to suck my "tummy" in. OK, I have hyperextended knees and lack copious amounts of turnout. I need reminders to get on top of my hips. But geez...."tummy"??? I'm 32 years old... This dude was seeing me for the first time ,and wouldn't leave me alone the entire class. It was too much.... And I haven't been back to that class. He was an older gentleman with impressive credentials and perhaps had a lot to offer. I'm positive he just wanted to his students dance their best. Just wasn't my cup of tea at that point in time. Teachers seem to have an uncanny knack for going "all out" on me right after I've had a break, and just trying to find my legs again :)


I like teachers who wait until they've seen you in center a couple of times to start honing in on things needing correction.


I have taken classes numerous times from dancers younger than me, and all have taken a no-nonsense approach. The best ones aren't shy about correcting or pointing things out. I had one teacher who seemed unsure about expressing authority, and the class was not very successful.

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Me.....my ballet classes took the place of my Buddhist meditation and sutra class. So ballet, for me, is a mindful activity exercised with patience, tolerance for mistakes, diligence, and persistence--all of which are basic tenets of mindful meditation.


As an adult, I recognize that my psychological and emotional maturity is beyond that of a juvenile student (well, most of the time at least... :) ). And as with other teachers I've had the opportunity to study under (not necessarily dance-related), the relationship takes on an adult, professional character. I like it that way; while we're not exactly peers, the intellectual gap isn't that far apart either. And this is quite manifest in our conversations, Q&A's, and general contact.


But apart from the above, I definitely expect my teacher to retain and assert that "expert authority" when teaching. It is important! It clearly defines the boundary between teacher and student. I expect my teacher to teach and guide firmly but gently. I expect my teacher to keep the bar high to keep me challenged, but not so high that I am set up to fail. I expect my teacher to always create a positive stress to test my capabilities and limitations, but not a negative stress that will catapault me to the psychotherapist's couch. And sensitive soul that I am, I always yearn for warmth and mothering from my teacher.


Touch my brain, and touch my heart.

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Many others have already said the kinds of things I would say, so to these replies I would add that I enjoy a teacher who seems to take the adult class seriously. I appreciate planning in advance, a sense of cohesion within a class and from class to class and a genuine respect for the students. I do not want to take class from someone who seems to want to be elsewhere (just as a teacher wouldn't want students who seemed to want to be elsewhere!). I want to be challenged without being thrown in the deep end over and over again. I want to be encouraged when I do something correctly, or show that I've learned something. I don't mind a certain amount of chat and comraderie, but with my time in class so limited I really want to make the best use of my 90 minutes as possible.

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I have had the opportunity to have experienced 3 different teachers in my school and 1 teacher really strikes me. She is really vocal and even yells encouragingly when we are doing battments (sp?), for example, to help us get our strength to do better, higher ones. She points out little things as well as the big things in each student to help us improve. I guess what I am trying to say is that I like my teacher to be serious in ballet but laid back with life. I don't want to feel nervous in class but I want to get a great workout. I like the teacher to be able to tell a joke or two but knows his/her stuff enough to call us out and want to encourage us to do our best. Our new semester just started and we have a group of 3 girls or so that jokes about the class and maybe makes fun of it/us a little. I don't like that.

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