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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Very unhappy about the music


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Hi everyone,


Perhaps you can give me some advice…

I take class at a studio with open classes, adult dancers, intermediate/advanced. I like the teacher, the atmosphere, the other dancers. Place and time are very convenient. Everything could be perfect, were it not for the music. Good thing is, there is an accompanist – bad thing is, he’s bad. Barre is often quite ok but in the centre – ouch! He seems not to care about melody or phrasing and he uses the piano as if it were a percussion, especially during allegro.

He likes to play the same 8-count-phrase over and over again, changing only the pitch by a half-note, and the longer, the louder. With time I am getting very ill-tempered. It’s impossible NOT to hear the music, and dance…!


Strange thing is, the teacher seems to be very pleased to have him. He teaches many classes and mostly he has to use recorded music. I know what time it takes to prepare proper classes with recorded music, I’ve done that for years.


I feel caught between a rock and a hard place. With the teacher I have quite a friendly contact, sometimes I substitute for him (elsewhere) and I feel respected as a fellow teacher as well as a student in his class and I wouldn’t think about criticising him. I work with several good musicians and could easily recommend someone else, but how?


Has anybody here dealt with a similar situation? New term is getting closer and I’m seriously thinking about not buying a class card this time…


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A bad pianist is far worse, in my opinion, than working with CD's. I have been spoiled by having wonderful pianists for a lot of my teaching years, but that just makes it even worse when you get one who is not good. I would much rather work with CD's than an incompetent pianist. The teacher needs to either work with the pianist and train him how to play for a ballet class, or find a new pianist! Is there any hope for this one if someone helped him to know how to play for ballet classes?

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... I would much rather work with CD's than an incompetent pianist. The teacher needs to either work with the pianist and train him how to play for a ballet class, or find a new pianist! ...

I've run into this problem sometimes as well. More often we'll get a good pianist who has zero experience as a dance accompanist or dancer. The best teachers will give the pianist tempo and time signature corrections ("Let's have a fairly fast waltz here ..."), which helps a great deal but imposes a lot of extra work on the teacher - and not all teachers know enough about music to do this. Sometimes I just do entrechats instead of changements when the tempo is too painfully slow ... unless my ankles are complaining already! Sometimes we'll do things at half or double speed as necessary - everybody makes their own adaptation, and the class does get a little chaotic. But it does take an exceptional teacher to teach the pianist as well as the dancers, at the same time!


Occasionally we'll get a pianist who can only do very simple things. I find it acceptable if he or she can provide a useful tempo - "something with a good beat, you can dance to" as the old Dick Clark show used to say! I'd rather have that than a wonderful piano concert, disconnected from the dancing.


There ought to be a book, or at least a pamphlet, you can give to a pianist that provides a class outline with tempo and time signature suggestions. Does anybody know of such a thing?

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Yes, I do! There is a very good book, “The Royal Academy of Dance Guide to Ballet Class Accompaniment”. It is no syllabus music, but a compilation of varied compositions as well as an introduction to class structure and many, many details for the pianist and the teacher (by Jonathan Still). I have made some people happy with it.


Ms Leigh and olddude, you are so very right! I have pianists for my classes too, and some of them had little or no experience with ballet, but they all were very good and we got along nicely. I always try to be clear about what I’d like to have, and I truly appreciate their work!


The trouble is that in this class I am not the teacher but the student. I have no idea what to do – I don’t want to interfere. Would you talk to the teacher?

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Aventurine, I do feel for you. I have taught and taken classes both with a pianist and with with CDs. A good accompanist is, of course, the best option, but a bad one can really weigh down the class. I have had pianists be so clearly bored by being there (unfulfilled concert aspirations?) that they actually read the newspaper in class and (like yours) only used 2-3 differing melodies regardless of the tempo I requested. And yes, I am one of those teachers with enough music knowledge to be able to request a time signature, tempo, and dynamic, etc... No matter what I said, he played the same, same, same... One time I stopped the dancers in the middle of a combination accross the floor, and he did not notice right away and continued playing a few measures. After class he yelled at me for not letting him know that I was going to stop, because it made him look bad. I politely shared that had he been paying attention at all to the class (and not his newspaper), he would have noticed me putting my hands in the air and yelling "STOP!!!" I eventually spoke with the Director of the school, and learned that I was not the only teacher having issues with this pianist. He had a contract with the school which was not renewed the next term.


So, I guess I am wondering...You mentioned that you had a friendly relationship with the teacher. Would you feel comfortable discusseing your issues about the accompanist in a respectful manner. Perhaps something like, "It's great that we have a pianist for this class. Are you happy with his ablility in the classroom? If you ever are looking for someone, I know "so-and-so" is great. I would be happy to put you in touch with her/him." You know your relationship with this teacher, so only you know if that is a possible conversation. Do you know if other students feel the same way?

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In the Washington DC area I have been amazed by some of the accompanist for classes. When I took a class taught by Suzanne Farrell at the Kennedy center rehearsal rooms last year Ms Farrell came into the class leading an older lady to the piano. She could not see, but she could hear and feel the students footsteps going across the floor. At the end of class all the students gave her applause and thanks. Another great accompanist is at American Dance Institute in Maryland. When Glenn plays I have no problem knowing the count. One day after class was over he played for the students "Ballade for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19," a late 19th-century work by French composer Gabriel Fauré. The complete piece he was to perform a few days later for the The Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center dancing the Balanchine ballet Ballade.

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Since we moved to a new studio, we've had live accompanists for ballet classes.. and I can definitely feel the difference dancing to a great pianist.. as opposed to someone playing the same boring melodies over and over again! There's one class that is a bit too easy for me but I enjoy going because I look forward to the pianist.

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Right – everybody loves a good accompanist, it makes such a difference!


dmdance – yes, I feel I should address the topic carefully… this teacher is a very agreeable person and I don’t want him to feel bad about it in terms of “this guy is just pounding away on his piano and why don’t you do something about it”! Probably I could tell him that I really enjoy his class very much but I have an issue with the music –to stress that it’s my problem, not his.

Not so easy to find the appropriate words for it but I’ll have to – he’s British. :innocent:


What I really want is to take some sheet music to class and feed the pianist with it. :wub:

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You could strike up a casual conversation with the pianist about the joys and difficulties of accompanying ballet classes and somehow mention that you have this wonderful book of music for ballet classes from the RAD and would he be interested in borrowing it? I have worked with an excellent pianist, fluent sight reader and all, who accompanied the music students etc etc admirably, but hadn't a clue how to accompany ballet classes. She kept changing tempi in the middle and could never seem to speed up or slow down the small amount that I wanted. Preparations were either too long or too short and the music didn't reflect what I wanted for a step. I'd have to work really hard describing exactly what kind of a waltz I wanted! However, when I gave her syllabus books, she did really well and now after a couple of years of experience, she is doing much better. It's not easy to play for ballet classes - it's a whole new ball game.


By the way a colleague of mine has a pianist playing for her, whom I can't stand - he bashes the keyboard dreadfully in my opinion! She loves him however and he's played for her for years, so who knows...........

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