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Ballet Talk for Dancers

how to talk to a teacher


LauraR

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My dd received her mid-year eval and I was a bit taken aback. Of course, there were the typical mentions of her flexibility and how it's holding her back from progressing to the next level (unless significant changes are seen in the spring). However, there was also mention of her arabesque needing to be 90 or higher, straighter knee in arabesque, and a comment about poor work ethic.

 

First of all, the work comment surprised me because two other teachers commented during Nut about her being such a hard worker. One teacher from another campus even remembered her being such a hard worker from extended session before SI!

 

I think the arabesque issues may be coming from dd's hyperextension. She told me that she can't 'feel' straight. She thinks her legs is straight and then the teacher gives her that correction. The height...dd is super concerned with alignment and can only achieve 60 with a good alignment, and loses her square to go 90 or higher. Maybe she's not supposed to be so square and that's why she's not getting her developpe's etc?

 

The bottom line is, how do I address this with her teacher when I'm just a non-dancing mom? How credible is it to say, "I read this on the Internet...." I'm concerned that my dd is not getting individualized attention that could help her. Is it enough to just say, "Straighten your knees" in a class of 15 or so?

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  • Administrators

Laura, I'm not going to address all the issues, but I will hit on the arabesque one. Alignment for arabesque is different than for other things. When you lift a leg to the back, and expect it to be turned out, then the hip of that leg will need to open. The degree varies according to ones rotational ability, however, trying to remain "square" in an attitude or arabesque position, turned out, simply does not work. If her teacher is trying to keep her hips square in arabesque, find another teacher! It could be that your daughter is not understanding that she can open it.

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It's very difficult to question a teacher. I find the best approach to be something along the lines of "I was concerned with some of the comments in her evaluation. Is there anything we can do at home to help improve them?"

 

One thing I noticed you said that she wants her arabesque square. It is possible she's trying to keep it too square. The pelvis must tilt foward in order to lift the leg and there is also a degree of 'opening' of the hip although you've got to be careful how much! Why not look through some photos of dancers and study them with your daughter, see if you can achieve a better position with her and then perhaps show her teacher to see what she thinks.

 

You said your daughter can't feel when her leg is straight. Does she have mirrors in her studio? They are very important for self correction. Again, you could work on it at home a bit - have her go into an arabesque, use a mirror if you have a suitable one at home or otherwise you tell her whether or not her knee is straight. Do it over and over and see if your daughter can start to feel it.

 

 

 

Sorry Ms Leigh, we were responding at the same time.

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No problem, CDR. You said a bit nicer. :) I just have no patience whatsoever with teachers who have not yet arrived in the mid twentieth century, much less the twenty-first! :D However, it is also possible with a young student that they don't understand it correctly.

 

Oh, and Laura, they also need to understand the difference between opening the hip and lifting it! Lifting it a no no. And, the leg MUST be behind them, not out to the side. :devil:

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I won't comment on the technical issues, however, work ethic is something that can be addressed with or without a discussion with a teacher. Although having specific issues to bring up with the dancer can help them understand what the teacher expects and what they are not giving toward those expectations.

 

Work ethic can mean different things to different people. For some, it means dedication to the task at hand and "showing up" so to speak. For others it may mean that corrections are given and applied immediately. For still others, it's seeing you sweat because you are working so hard. It is important for you to know what the teacher means and how that differs from what the other teachers define as work ethic. It is also important to note that some people work very hard in rehearsal but do not match that intensity in class. That may be where your difference in teacher's opinions are. Were the ones who commenting on work ethic during Nutz referring to class or performance work?

 

I'm not sure I would mention that I read it on the internet any more than I would mention what other teachers thought. Your issues are an attempt to better your dancer and with this one teacher. So going in with hopes of having your dancer understand what you need answered should be the goal at first anyway. All in all though, remember that an evaluation should not just say nice, glowing things. If it does, then the dancer cannot grow from it.

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to clarify:

 

The teacher addresses opening up of the hip, I wonder if my dd is thinking she needs to be square. My dd's idea of good alignment in developpes, battement, etc is that the hip stay stationary and only the legs move. I'm not sure if my dd's correct or not. The teacher appears to be working the girls toward what today's companies are looking for in a higher leg line, that's when my dd feels like she's compromising her alignment.

 

You know, I don't expect eval's to be glowing. I just think it's ironic that while my dd may not be the best dancer in class, she's always been thought of as one of the hardest working. Hardest working to me and from other teachers has meant that dd seems to want to please the teacher, pays attention, and puts effort into her work. These were not rehearsal coaches, but subs, teachers during extended session, other class teachers, and such.

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Laura, it does sound like your daughter does not understand that the hips cannot stay square in extensions to the back. It does not compromise the alignment.

 

I would not obsess about the work ethic thing, especially since there seems to be quite a discrepancy from various teachers.

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I agree with Sam7, and I would only add a suggestion that you include your daughter in the conference. That way your daughter will feel "part of the solution" to these issues, and can hear first hand what the teacher is trying to communicate.

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Actually, it is MOST important that the student understand the evaluation herself, as she and the teacher are the ones to work on the things that need improvement. Most teachers do not really feel that it is a great idea for a parent to work at home on technical issues with the child.

 

Behavioral issues are different, of course. And certainly a lot of support and encouragement is good. :D

 

But with technique there are ALWAYS things that need to be improved, with every student at every age, including professional dancers. That is what class is for and why dancers must have them every day throughout their career. Things like getting the knees straight and the leg higher are constant, and while you work for them at a young age, it is not expected that they will happen immediately. I spend half my life correcting knees that are not straight, especially in arabesque! :o The other half is spent trying to get the leg behind them and the line and direction of the position correct.

 

There is no such thing as perfection in ballet, and I don't remember ever doing an evaluation where there was some area that did not need improvement, even in the very best dancers. :o With a child it is important that the teacher makes sure that the child not only understands the correction, but also knows how to work on it. I would hope that there are also some positives in the evaluation, though. Anything that is good, or especially something that has improved over the period of the evaluation, should be acknowledged.

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Another suggestion might be to set up a 1 time private lesson to go over specific corrections your dd is unclear about. That way she is getting the corrections in a one on one setting and should come out understanding what she needs to work on. And hopefully both she and her instructor would be happy with the result. I realize this can be costly but might be worth peace of mind for your dd.

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As a teacher, I just wanted to say that is very important to me if a student does not understand a correction, that he/she come to me after class so that we can go over it a little more to clarify what it is I want (IMHO most teachers feel this way as well).

 

If your daughter is confused about alignment, she should politely explain that she is unsure about how to proceed to achieve the desired line. I'm sure her teacher would be happy to take a few minutes to explain it.

 

When the student doesn't understand how to implement a correction, and therefore can't, it can appear to the teacher as the student just isn't, and thereby not working hard enough. :D

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This was true for my DD, with regards to straightening her knees. She thought she was doing what her teacher wanted, but she wasn't. DD felt like she was trying really hard but wasn't getting any positive feedback. Her teacher, however, didn't realize that DD wasn't understanding exactly what she wanted. After some emails back and forth (very hard to find time to talk at the studio!) things were cleared up and DD got some clarification.

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