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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Becoming a Ballet Teacher


gerlonda

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I am a serious adult ballet student (began ballet at 17) in my 20's. I have been in the student division of my school for 4 years. My passion is ballet (I plan to attend CPYB this summer for my own training!) I'm looking down the pike and seriously considering teaching ballet. I am very observant, have a keen eye when it comes to good/bad technique, and it is easy for me to verbally express what I want; however, I have some major obstacles :D

1) I am not a professional dancer, never have been, so I think people will not take me seriously.

2) I'M still learning ballet technique myself and can't demonstrate EVERY movement in the ballet vocabulary.

3) I totally do not understand music, i.e. when a teacher says "Give me a 3/4, or 2/3" or whatever.

4) I know "of" the classical ballets (Sleeping Beauty, Le Corsaire, etc) but I do not know any of them in depth.

 

Do any of you know of any excellent Ballet Teacher programs that could address my above (and other) deficiencies (i.e. going to Europe to learn R.A.D. or Vaganova methods or something else)? If I ever choose to be a ballet teacher I want to be thoroughly knowledgeable (knowing all ballet movements, understanding music, costumes, ballet history, various teaching methods, etc).

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I am very observant, have a keen eye when it comes to good/bad technique, and it is easy for me to verbally express what I want;

Gerlonda, I think that these qualities are a great foundation for starting a teaching career. To address your other points, in order:

1. Get as much performing experience as you can, especially outside the academic environment. I think that "professional," if you mean getting paid for all your performances, is not as important as "professionalism" by which I mean the quality, depth and passion of your work. There aren't many teachers who are considered "great" who achieved great fame as dancers; how many Super Bowl winning coaches were superstar players? They were, however, "students of the game."

2. I think that being a teacher is a work in progress, one's whole life. As far as demonstrating, my best teachers weren't those who demonstrated the movement full out; sometimes they just used hand gestures. Being able to articulate what you want at the barre, in enchainements, etc., to correct, give verbal coaching and motivate are more critical than being able to demonstrate every move full out. We all know of the 80 or 90 year old revered master teachers who don't dance at all. Why are they effective?

If you have access to a space, you can rehearse your teaching just as you would rehearse choreography. In fact, you don't need much space- you can rehearse a full bar, even center, in your living room. Practice your manner and pace of speaking, and your choice of words.

I do recommend continuing education but if spending a couple of years in Russia is not feasible, I don't think it's necessary anyway. There are plenty of wonderful summer courses in the US. There are also more and more DVD's for teachers- Finis Jhung has a big series, including pointe.

3. Listen to music, especially classical music, throughout the day. Try to count the music- it will usually be either in some variation of 3/4 or 4/4 time. Then it's just knowing when to use a 3/4 waltz, for example, in class, vs. a 3/4 Mazurka or Polka. These distinctions usually relate to accent (1st versus 3rd beat, etc.) and tempo.

4. Watch the videos, and don't just focus on the grand pas. Petipa was very clever in his movement phrasing in some of the village, palace, etc. crowd scenes, and many of the variations and divertissements contain movement passages that you can use, verbatim, in your classes. And you don't have to spend a fortune on ballet videos-

 

Other than subject knowledge I think the keys to being a good teacher are the other things you've already mentioned, in addition to kindness and compassion, being a good listener, keeping a sense of humor at all times, being a lifelong learner and staying upbeat, positive and diplomatic. Remember that you will also be interactiing with parents. Sometimes they can seem difficult, and we just have to remind ourselves that they just want what's best for their child. They are, after all, paying our salaries!

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Gerlonda, in order to become a teacher, one needs to study to a level of proficiency at least equal to that of an entry-level professional dancer in a major company. Who knows, you may be TEACHING professionals someday! In addition to the ballet technique, the teacher-candidate should have a working knowledge of anatomy, kinesiology, pedagogical techniques (Dewey? Montessori? Skinner?!), ballet history, small business and personal financial management, and a host of other things. "Being a teacher" isn't an easy option. It takes as much skill and dedication as becoming a professional performer.

 

And you have to know music. If you're not playing, it's not so important, but you should at least know what kind of music to expect when the teacher wants the pianist to play a 6/8. I don't think there IS a 2/3, but I have played music which is x/dotted half note so that's a 3 of sorts.

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Skinner?! Hee hee. Yes, and while you're at the psychological end of things, some acquaintance with sports psychology won't hurt any, either.

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Yes, and while you're at the psychological end of things, some acquaintance with sports psychology won't hurt any, either.

 

Dance psychology please :blushing:

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May we please not respond further to this thread until it is decided which forum it belongs. gerlonda your question is valid and an interesting one indeed but this is the Teacher's Forum and you are not yet in that category. There may be those with experience with your question with very helpful answers who may not be able to respond because you have posted here.

 

Until a decision is made where to move this thread, unfortunately, this thread is closed.

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Since Adult Students gives us the widest range, and 33% of gerlonda's posts are there, why don't I just move it there and open it back up?

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Skinner?! Hee hee. Yes

 

Sure, what's wrong with a little electroshock as negative reinforcement?

 

"Ah, ah, mustn't let the ropopo stick out in back! (BZZT!) There, much better!" :blushing:

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As Mel points out, though hopefully it goes without saying, you need to keep working on your own technical ability. I don't think you need to be able to do more pirouettes, for example, than the best student in the room, some of the teens I've seen lately are whipping off six or eight or more. With these whiz kids, though, there is always something you can help them with- often it's breath, and having a nice soft finish to those six or eight pirouettes.

I wasn't going to mention the "2/3" time, but anyway, yes, music, music, music! I think one of the best things for me as a dancer and as a choreographer was to work with Chopin. Fred's music has it all, from Barcarolle to Polonaise to Waltz to Mazurka. The demands for breath and suspension created when moving to music with such pervading rubato can be staggering, then exhilirating to dancers accustomed to strict tempo. Of course, in lower level classes strict tempo is generally required.

GREAT suggestion by Mel to educate yourself on personal financial management. Teaching is a profession, and a business, and there are unfortunately some employers out there who treat it as neither. Said elsewhere, if you treat your dance (teaching, performing, choreographing, whatever) as a profession and a business everyone else will too.

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Learning to play a musical instrument can be a valuable asset. My teachers always said my timing was "impeccable" and I was always in front for corps work. Playing in an ensemble is especially valuable for developing an ear for all the parts in the music. You don't always just want to choreograph to the obvious melody line in the music. It's neat to see choreography that responds to other musical lines in the piece.

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Can I add the perspective of an adult student, on different teachers that I have had? I’ve had some great teachers and some no-so-great teachers. The not-so-great teachers (who were probably junior professional dancers, I don’t know) on the whole just ran through a class, like ones they’d had themselves, giving one round of corrections perhaps. I came away feeling I’d waved my arms and legs around, but not much more.

 

The good teachers could really TEACH – they inspired us with how they demonstrated, they picked up students’ weaknesses immediately, either correcting them individually or taking them as the starting point for a new exercise for the whole class. They were very alert to the underuse or misuse even (it seems) of individual muscles (even apparently in a whole class at once), and could correct positively and encouragingly. The exercises flowed on constructively from one to the other through the class, and built on each other during the term.

 

I guess that none of this came easily. It needed application and study as well as natural ability, and a great ability to empathise with students.

 

The other thing I have found is that all my best teachers have been great comics. They usually hide it, but can be hilarious at times. The are also usually great mimics – I guess that is part of observing body language so much. They have all had professional careers, and I think this is important, not only because when necessary they can slip into performance mode and inspire us, but also because ballet is intrinsically a performance art. I’ve no idea how achieving they were as dancers, but for me their ability to perform is part of their ability as teachers.

 

It seems to me that someone who goes into ballet wanting to be a teacher has a great advantage, because they will apply themselves to the skill of learning to teach, rather than just hoping that it will occur naturally. But I would also agree (from my point of view, and as suggested above) that some performance history would be a good idea.

 

Jim.

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Gerlonda, when you say you don't yet know the whole ballet vocabulary, or music, or have a really solid technical facility, it makes me think that before you focus on training as a dance teacher, you need a full training! But maybe you can get the two things together, by looking for a suitable university programme? Four years' full-time training would really consolidate your skills. But you'd need to be able to acquire those skills really solidly -- particularly music.

 

Speaking generally, not just about ballet, the thing about teaching is that a lot of it is improvisation -- BUT not improvisation because you're skipping over a gap i your knowledge -- rather, it's improvisation from an absolutely rock solid deep knowledge base. Then you can develop & elaborate. If a teacher is uncertain about something, it is really unsettling for the student, unless that uncertainty is to a certain extent "performed." For example, a student asks your opinion on something that really it's their business to know about -- an experienced teacher can, with confidence, turn that back to the student and say "Well, I'm not sure about that. What do you think?" But you can't do that, if you genuinely are not sure about something!

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Well said, Redbookish!

 

My response to a student who asks me my opinion is almost identical to yours. As far as teaching goes, I have said to my colleagues that I do two matinees per day, five days a week. :innocent: There is definitely a sense of performing in teaching, and I find that stepping into a classroom is similar to stepping onto a stage...deep breath, and here we go!

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