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Finding the right teacher?


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I would like some professional advice about this, because I'm not sure if this is something I should be worried about or not.


My previous ballet teacher emigrated to New Zealand earlier this year and thus I started with a new teacher in August. This meant that I had to change the "type" of ballet I was doing, from DASA (Dance Academy of South Africa) to RAD. (Sorry, I am aware that no one will know the difference but DASA is mostly the same as RAD and all arm positions etc are named the same as RAD). I have only done one year of RAD previously, so I am still getting used to the change in syllabus-type.


Thus I am uncertain whether my concerns are about the change in "type" or merely the change in teacher?! My previous teacher had, however, taught RAD for many years so I doubt it is about the "type" of ballet.


These are some of my concerns:


1.) At my new ballet studio, I am continuously told to "straighten my knees". I feel like I am locking them though, and I've been told NOT to do this my whole life. To me, locking my knees is not a good thing. I am uncertain whether this has to do with my difficulties with turnout or not (which I mentioned in my other post).


2.) We are taught once a week by a student teacher who does not have a lot of experience. She has taught us steps and parts of the syllabus incorrectly before. I am not the only person who is unhappy with this situation. Would it be wrong of me to speak up to the lead teacher? I really don't want to be taught things incorrectly.


3.) My turnout is poor and I am aware of this. I have suffered lower back pain because I was turning out using the wrong muscles. My physiotherapist (who has experience with professional dancers) has told me that I need to be gentle and not force my turnout, as I work continuously on improving and stretching the correct muscles. However, only 1 of the 3 teachers at my studio has been understanding about this, and then other 2 continue to force me into painful turnout. My Physio has actually recommended that I move to another dance school. But I really like the lead teacher! I am so confused.


4.) My new dance school was my previous teacher's 2nd choice, but unfortunately her 1st choice is on the other side of the city and too far for me to commute. My previous teacher also said she had concerns about some of the teaching at my new dance school. Yet, it was still her 2nd choice.


I am so confused. Am I wrong to be listening to my body and perhaps not doing exactly what my teacher wants (i.e. forcing turnout, locking knees), although I do completely agree with other aspects of her/their teaching? I am 22 and I hope that by now I have some understanding of what my body is telling me.


I am reluctant to move dance schools as I like the lead teacher and she has been very encouraging and helpful for the most part, but I am afraid that currently she is forcing aesthetics for our exam in April and neglecting worrying about proper alignment and technique.


I hope this makes sense...


I've also just remembered that I am constantly being told to tuck my bum in, but then my physiotherapist says I need to tilt my pelvis back rather (I hope that makes sense). Which is correct???

Edited by Lau
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Oh dear! Lau, this is certainly all very confusing. After reading all this, my first instinct is to say change schools. What did that for me, for sure, was the use of one word....tuck. That is a major no no. Using the gluteus muscles is one thing, tucking is totally another, and that causes one to sit in the legs. It is very bad. I also do not believe in forcing rotation with anyone.


As for the knees, my guess is that the problem is that you are not straightening the extended leg, and you are straightening the standing leg too much. The reason for my thinking this is that very often people with hyperextended legs do not straighten them all the way when they are extended, especially in arabesque. Sometimes they just have difficulty feeling whether they are straight or not. It may take some work with the mirror to fix that. With the extended leg you can straighten it all the way, even to the point of pushing back beyond straight. It will look straight in the air.


In the meantime, I would start looking around for another school right away. If they have not placed you correctly, in the right alignment and weight placement for your body, and they use the word "tuck", then I say get out of there, fast!

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Thank you for your response.


As regards the straightening of the knees, I am not usually told this when extending a leg, but rather when standing in 5th position. Is this because of the hyperextension? Thank you for the advice about extended legs anyway, as I was not aware that it would be okay to push beyond straight on an extended leg if necessary.


Despite my concerns, and your advice, I am reluctant to change schools. It took me a long time to find this one and to get vaguely comfortable and the prospect of having to look for another school (which would most definitely be quite a commute from here) is not a very nice one.


I think that for the time being, I will remain at this school and be more vocal about things. We are currently on a summer break and the studio re-opens in mid-January. I will give it until the end of February at the latest .


I believe I may not have given my current studio a fair chance. One of the biggest problems is that our class is huge (15 or so girls) and it's a small dance area. Individual attention is sorely lacking. I have actually received more correction and help in the studio's adult open classes, which are much smaller (and taught exclusively by the lead teacher)!


Fortunately, in 2009, they will be splitting the class in two, and giving the older girls a class of their own (those of us who are a little "too old" for the exam we are doing!). I expect more individual attention and help then.


I also think that I brought up my concerns about turnout, my back pain and so forth, at a bad time of year, when everyone was exhausted and the studio was about to close for summer. I did request an individual lesson with the lead teacher to address my concerns, but she requested that we do it in the new year. I hope to be able to spend at least an hour in total working on this.


I feel perhaps that I neglected to communicate effectively. Trying to discuss things with a teacher at the beginning or end of a class is always a disaster! I would also like to clarify the "tuck" comment and see what the lead teacher has to say about that. And I did not mean to imply that I have not been helped with alignment and weight placement, but I think that the large classes are hindering this as it is difficult just to get through the syllabus with such a big class!


So, I will bide my time...see how it goes...explore options such as regular private lessons with the lead teacher (if possible), see how it goes with smaller classes...until the end of February.


I will also be starting ballet "conditioning" classes from the beginning of the year. I will be able to take group classes and be individually assessed by someone who has taught ballet for many years and who has been recommended by my physio and my previous ballet teacher.


To what extent do you think such ballet conditioning classes will help with alignment and weight placing?


I do have ongoing postural issues owing to a nerve injury a few years back, which my physio is also addressing...could these, and the hyperextesion be contributing to my lack of alignment?


I am so desperate to improve my ballet, to correct alignment, improve turnout, to strengthen muscles. I just feel sometimes that I am on my own in this regard. I feel like often my eagerness to improve and do as much ballet as possible, is met with the reply that people don't have enough time to help me.


(I apologise for the length of this post!)

Edited by Lau
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