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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Discipline over Customer Satisfaction

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I've just been hired by a new art academy as a stretching teacher after attending a brutal stretching program in France and after being an assistant in my ballet class and university for a couple of years in this field. I was looking for another position which could be directly related to ballet, but they did not need a ballet teacher at least for now. But I may switch titles over time, who knows :P


But I have one question in my mind that bugs me a lot. Thanks to my ballet history, I tend to be a rigid teacher, I mean I smile, behave cute and all but I can never let anyone procrastinate or cheat during the class to take everything easier than everyone else (ie. not doing stretches with full capacity, I mean raising the leg to 45 degrees whereas (s)he can do 90). Because for me, people are paying to see physical results. But what I've seen all these years in my city is that the teachers who instruct a non-dancing adult group create a "friendship circle" with the group, having long conversations about life, about the exams of X's daughter, illness of Y's son etc. and they practice at the same time, but not "at the full capacity". And they call it "customer satisfaction" and they probably are expecting me to do the very same thing. Because they think that people are paying to get psychological results.


I will be teaching 2 different non-dancing adult groups (number may change) and also will be helping other dancers inside the school (latin and ballet dancers) and if I need to do this "customer satisfaction" thing with the adults, I think I will not enjoy working with them at all. Because for me, customer satisfaction comes with the results; when they see that they have a firmer body, that they can do things they could never imagine doing etc. I think I can do both at the same time, being chatty and working out, but I'm not sure how it would reflect to the director as I'm a brand new teacher (and I don't know her even a bit) and as the general idea about non-dancing adult students is that they are there to socialize only, not really for practicing quietly.


I really could not decide where to send this, but I need experience from both sides (teachers, and students). Would you prefer fitting the expectations or going idealist like I want to go?

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As an adult student, I take ballet to learn ballet, and I take Pilates for toning. I take ballet with the kids, so there is no talking, but I take Pilates with adults. Everyone in that room taking Pilates wants results, but at the same time, everyone in that room is an adult who spends all day either at work or home with kids. We all rarely have a social outlet.


So yes- we want results, and we want a teacher who will take us seriously, but sometimes we do chat a little bit. There just isn't any other time of the day to have adult interaction, so most of us want to take advantage of it- especially if there is big news: passed your PhD comps, announcing a pregnancy, daughter getting married etc.


I think you need to strike a happy medium. You shouldn't let your class become a social hour- 90% of it should be all about the class. But I think you might need to handle adults a bit differently then kids. For some, this will be the only time they are out of the house for the week, the only time they have anyone to talk to other then a 2 year old.


For me customer satisfaction is about wanting to stay in the class and take it again. Progress isn't the ONLY way to measure that- although it's one of the indicators. Enjoyment of the activity is the other.

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Guest MasterPuppeteer

Skyish, you're my kind of teacher. Wanna come to our studio and teach? I love teachers who are demanding, exacting and strict. It's what I pay you for and I want to get my money's worth. I'm a kickboxing instructor and I tell my students when they look like they're not giving 110% that they can take a break after class is over. They pay me to kick their butts and that's what I do.

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I think it depends on the class. Be sensitive to the group. You may have a bunch of people that really want to get "whipped into shape"....or you may not. I would personally feel it out, but then I don't feel the same way you do about getting physical results. I'd like them, of course, but for an adult class, I've learned that if that is the focus all the time, frusteration can be the result. In adult classes, I also focus on musicality, phrasing, different types of steps that are related to ballet and use different meters (Mazur, Polonaise, ect). Some classes are naturally chattier than others, and I tend to allow that as long as they are happy.

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I'm an adult ballet student in Paris . This year I mostly take floor barre since it fits better with my schedule and enables me to keep in shape - I'm 30 . I'm good friends with most of the other adults in the studio and with our teacher too - she's much older than me but we even took trips together .

However, during class time, we don't talk , we work ! we would not think of chatting - that would mean speaking over the music, which would be difficult , actually ...The friendship thing means sometimes, someone will make a joke, or we will ask for an explanation, such as "This exercice is so long I guess that means the lesson is over after it .." (joke part) or "Why can we bend lower standing up than sitting down ?" (advise) ...


as for getting the best out of the students , most of us like to do their best, and we usually like it if our teachers goes round and helps us a bit with her hands (for instance to stretch our en dehors or such things)

however, sometimes, it's been a bad day, and we just want to be able to keep our mind off our problems, and don't want to be yelled at if we're not doing our utmost !


sorry for the long message ...hope it helps ! I'm a teacher too, though not of ballet, and I strongly believe that like in the "King and I" song : "By your pupils you are taught..." :yes:

good luck ! (where did you study in France, by the way ?)

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Thanks for your replies :D


Minty, I was studying in Siuaps Strasbourg, which is a part of my university (Universite Louis Pasteur). And I was always amazed to watch my teacher at work because there were people crying on the floor doing those exercises and they were not giving up, they were there every time we had a class, and they were never complaining, just crying silently :blink: And I was always wondering, though we were not really warming up (or at least according to a ballet student that warm up was nothing) nobody was getting injured by our brutal work of stretching with the teacher forcing everyone to their 120% capacity (I once saw my left leg touching my right ear because of her lol). She was a true expert and I'm happy that she was generally using me as an assistant :blink: Well I'm sure that I won't try to force anyone to touch their ears with their feet though, I know my limits as a beginning teacher :lol:


I also have been teaching for years (I've been a tutor for many many years) and I truly believe that I need to learn how to behave as a teacher with the help of my students. I was kinda planning some "emotional" atmosphere benefiting from my minor on Psychology like "OK as soon as you step inside this studio, you are who you want to be" and kinda turning this into a role playing game, both making them laugh and work. Don't know if it would work though... :shrug: But I'm aware that they are there to get away from everyday problems and I was thinking that working hard would make them forget everything. But maybe I should add a bit more spice. :thumbsup:

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  • 1 month later...

Skyish, what do you mean by "non-dancing adult students"? If they are there taking ballet lessons are they not dancing students since ballet is a form of dance?


I also teach adult ballet students and I have a similar mindset about class atmosphere. This is what I have learned. Most are ignorant as to what is expected and so behavior guidelines need to be set gently and with no criticism of behavior. Also, working into the discipline slowly and gradually with lots of praise and encouragement works better than setting a rigid standard. Humor always works, hands down, always. You just can't go wrong with it. It eases the tension, breaks the blows to the ego adult students must cope with and helps with "customer satisfaction".


I have been teaching the same women for several months now and I can see a world of difference from when they first started. They are chatty, yes, and sometimes aren't very sensitive to the cues I give for them to get focused. But, I use the old elementary school teacher method of getting quiet myself and stating that it's time to begin. If they don't hear me I just start the music. If they are behind then I merely start over. No reprimand, no harshness. After a while they get the idea that class will start whether they're talking or not.

And nowone likes to have to start over.


I have a lot to learn as a teacher, too. If forget the excercise I just demonstrated and then some students do it the right way anyways. I'm actually quite proud of them for that. They're paying attention. I am getting better and catching mistakes and being consistent. But, just like my students, I am humbled by the distance I have to travel before I have it all figured out myself. Everyone is on a learning curve.


Good luck with your new class and new teaching experiences.

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I've had quite a variety of adult classes now, so I feel qualified to make a few observations at least.


The main one is that there is a variety of individuals in any adult class. They are there for a variety of reasons. Some of them are very serious about learning and advancing. (I try to be one of those, and more than once have assured a teacher that they can beat me with a stick if they think it will help!) Other are there so they can tell themselves, or their friends, they are there. Some are there because their friends are there. There's a million reasons.


The best (real-world) teachers figure out who is there for what reason, and push each one to the limit of their individual comfort zone but not too far past it. I was fortunate to find such a teacher early on, and she consistently pushes me past what I think I can do without demanding what I really can't do. As a consequence, my ideas of what I can do are still expanding, far past what I would have thought possible before.


But this is extremely difficult! It demands a sensitivity to each individual, and of course as adults with full lives you can't even count on them coming regularly. I have the greatest admiration possible for those who have learned to do this - you must pick up on subtle, unconscious hints of their state of mind, while remaining aware that each individual projects their inner state in very different ways. For an enormous variety of reasons, most adults have developed ways to protect their vulnerabilities and disguise their true inner feelings, often from themselves as much as from others. CEOs of large corporations have the same problem - it's not at all easy to get the information you need, your position of authority leads most of us to project a persona that is not entirely ourselves.


Bottom line, based on my experience - to get the best results, you have to push each individual a bit past their own limit in order to find out where that limit is. Then you have to salve the wounds you created. And you have to keep doing it. It's about iron-fisted empathy, and it's about mutual trust.


Fortunately, most of us are really grateful for the teachers who try to do this impossible task :) and will cut any teacher a large amount of slack - generally students DO understand what an impossible task they project onto their teacher.


My two cents worth, anyhow.

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Actually now it's been 1 month that I have started to teach I just realized that being a "shrine of information" always works. Because as a teacher I find it cruel to leave the "flow of information" at the point where the title of my class stands. As a stretching-toning teacher I cannot teach them stretching only, I have to pass as much information as I can (being sure that I have the correct information on everything I teach).


For example, I hate boring warm up routines. And I hate to see people not enjoying what they do, but doing it only for technical reasons. So I have invented a routine for my classes. This is Turkey where I'm living, and as you may know belly dance is a national form of dance for us, no matter how much I dislike it, for some classes I put some arabian music on, and warm them up with belly dance. Sometimes I go for Salsa... Sometimes cha-cha-cha (I always take some demonstration and preparation class before teaching them ballroom dances from the ballroom teacher of the studio). For a song that lasts 5 minutes, I teach them the very basic steps of these dances (adding arms and neck movements if necessary) for the first 4, and for the last 1 minute I let them dance freestyle just to make them laugh. I give them funny homeworks "OK you have to sing till the next class, no matter where you are, in the streets, at the office, at school... just sing your favorite song and "then" come to my class because I want to see you all smiling" and sometimes if they are too tense, I want them to yell "AAAARGHHHH!!!" and therefore they release their bad energy. I use my psychology background, my anatomy knowledge, naming the muscles, bones, explaining why they feel dizzy, what to do if they feel nauseous and so on...(not as a medical advice of course, I just explain them that if they are feeling nauseous it is generally because they are not breathing correctly, and that they should stop moving and start breathing for a while etc.)


I always end my class dimming the lights, putting some tai chi music, "commanding" ( :) ) them to dream of good things and massaging them if need be. This way they learn to relax, meditate, and to expand their imaginations (well they sort of need to expand it as they are +25, they sometimes lack their inner child). Well of course between the first and the last 5 minutes, for the 50 minutes that I have, I originally and carefully "kick their butts" so they all started to get actually thinner and more flexible :thumbsup: And they admire me :lol: Guess I'm doing it right...

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