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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How to choose a studio/teacher?


Dave62

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Hello all,

 

I'm an adult male 51 looking to start ballet again after 25 years away. Beginner most definitely. How do I choose the right teacher/studio to learn at? What questions would I ask the teacher? What features would I look for in a studio?

I want to get started on the right foot ( no pun intended )!

 

Thanks,

Dave

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If it were me, I'd be looking for a studio with state-of-the-art flooring (edited to add well-sprung, with marley, because I'm picky like that) positive, open environment, and happy adult students.

 

You could ask, for one thing, to watch a class so you could get a feel for the studio and the teaching style of whomever you'd be taking class with. While larger studios may be more likely to have well-attended adult classes, don't rule out small schools with adults! I'd do my homework first and get online to see what's around, and then try at least three places (if you live in a place with that luxury) so you can do some comparative shopping and see what feels best. And do ask to test out the floor if you're there at a time when no one is dancing -- take off your shoes and jump up and down to see if you feel any give or if there's no shock absorption there! I hate to say it, but I've seen people working in studios lie (whether through ignorance or to make a sale) about what kind of flooring they have.

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Hi Dave,

 

I definitely agree with what insidesoloist said about checking out the floors. I've been to studios with cement floors, and they are no good for anyone to dance on. As an adult, you will want a properly constructed floor to minimize the wear and tear on your body.

 

As far as selecting a school and teacher, I think the best way is to go and observe some classes. Just like meeting people in everyday life, you will get an impression of a teacher and how they work just by watching. You will also get an impression of the school by how the students work within the class (i.e. well disciplined and paying attention or goofing off). It is quite usual for schools to allow a potential student to observe one or more classes. You should probably ask what level they would suggest for you. Some schools have policies about what classes an adult can participate in.

 

One important consideration is the age group you are willing to dance with. Ballet was a lifelong dream for me, but I didn't start until I was an adult. I would have danced with the three year olds if that had been required, however the studio started me off in an intermediate class with kids around 10 years old. Many schools don't have an adult program, so that might be something to ask about. Personally, I'm grateful that I get to dance with the kids, but I know that some adults like to only dance with other adults.

 

If there are several schools for you to pick from, try observing at each one. You would be surprised at the wide variety of situations you can find at different studios.

 

I hope that will help get you started. Good luck and welcome back to ballet!

 

 

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If you're in an area with good facilities, I'd be looking for a studio with a good range of adult dance classes of all styles, not just ballet. As a re-beginner (or beginneragainer) doing more than ballet is great for just getting dance into your body.

 

I've always been lucky to live in big or small cities (in the UK, cities can be quite small!) where there've been good studios for adults, so I've never had to do class with young children or teenagers. However, there's far more public support & subsidy of the arts here than in the US, so community dance studios are more common.

 

So the other advice is to look for the best pre-professional school in your area, and contact them to ask about an adult programme. The logic is sound: if it's an excellent studio for training aspiring professionals, it's likely to have excellent facilities and teachers, and those may be made available to adult recreational dancers.

 

Have a search through our forums here on pre-professional schools: the threads are organised in alphabetical order, so you'd be able to find studios in your area, read how they work for teens aspiring to pre-pro training, and then go from there in contacting the studios directly.

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Dave62,

 

You mentioned on another thread that you were not in an area with large cities. While location creates some problems in terms of choice, it is still possible for you to study.

 

Well, as I mentioned on another thread where you posted:

1. It is important that wherever you study that the instructor is willing to correct you! Yes I mean individual corrections. Be very selfish about this!

2. If you can find an adult class at your level great. If you are studying with little girls, ask to be placed in a class that is appropriate to your skill not your age! Nothing more frustrating for your development than to always be over your head where combinations are concerned. You also won't learn the proper technique.

3. Always check in with the instructor after class to see if there is anything specific or to get a clarification of how to do something.

4. Performance is an important aspect of your development as a dancer. Does the school offer an opportunity in this area? If you don't want to perform then this isn't that important.

5. Work on you own on the things that give you trouble. If something is just too difficult for you to execute, then put it aside. Your not ready for that step or combination. re-visit it again later.

6. Ask the instructor about that particular problem. Sometimes it's something small that is holding you back.

7. At a certain point, more classes aren't going to make you that much better or accelerate you progress. Especially if you don't get a lot of feedback.

8. Pay attention to this, it's important! Write down your corrections as best you can. Review them before class. You will eventually develop a mental checklist of those corrections.

9. Take a class that is one level above you once and a while. It is the best indicator of you readiness to advance.

 

All or this leads to : If the instructor just doesn't seem to see you in class. It's time to search for another instructor!

 

One last piece of advice as you re-enter the world of dance. You are competing with yourself to improve, not the 14 year old next to you!

 

Best of luck in your search!

 

 

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Well, first do all of your research to be sure the studios offer adult classes. Call and visit the studios if you can. Take advantage of the either free or discounted first class. Watch how the teacher interacts with the other students, how she teaches and gives corrections, how she presents combinations, how she handles students that need additional help, and how she teaches and corrects you. I agree with the other posters. In ballet, corrections are the name of the game in order to learn.

 

Also, review the studio. Are the facilities out dated or new? How are the mirriors, the walls, the floors? Do they have adequate changing areas? I once danced at a studio where the dance floor was uneven in places and was a bit hazardous to dance in those spots. How is the staff? To me, if I am going to be paying for classes I look for a friendly, welcoming staff (not just the teacher) who respects you as an adult and as a student. How do they speak to people coming in the door and on the phone? Do they let the phone ring?

 

The best teacher is the teacher you feel comfortable with at your re-beginner level. I recommend not always choosing the studio closest to your home. If you can (such as transportation and afford it), my advice is to try to take classes with the best most ecperienced teacher and staff you can even if this means you have to travel a ways or even to a next town.

 

If performing is what you want, ask about performance opportunities for adults. If you are going to want to perform, be sure to ask about costume fees. When are they ordered and when does the money need to be paid? At my studio, the adult class only recently had a number installed in the annual recital. Most of the time, I find the adults in class do not want to perform. They come mostly for the class and exercise. But if you do want to perform, let them know if and when you feel ready. I danced at a studio who really wanted me to dance in the annual recital since they really wanted a male dancer. They went so far as to all but order me tights and a costume before I even said yes or no. I did not feel ready to perform at that point. My current studio never pushed like that which was refreshing. However, I understand the excitement of having the rare male dancer in class.

 

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Good Morning Everyone!

 

Thank you, Thank You, to all of you who have responded to my questions. You have given me a lot to think about. The only class I've found so far is about 1/2 hour drive away. Adult classes are like 'hens teeth' in this area. I like the idea of adding different types of dance to my opportunities. But ballet will be number one.

 

One question that no one has answered, What questions do I ask a prospective teacher about their experience? Or is that rude and crossing the line? I certainly would not want to offend anyone, especially someone who I will be paying to teach me. I would visit the studio first just look at it and get a first impression of the facilities, as suggested by many of you.

 

The only studio I've found does teach adults but currently has no adult students.She told me she will offer private classes to me a reasonable cost. That makes observing a class out of the question, but could be good because I would get individual attention and corrections. Any additional insight would appreciated.

Thanks,

Dave

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I think asking the teacher about her experience in teaching is appropriate. Generally, how long she has been teaching, her professional dance experience, and where she studied dance. My teacher also added her teaching results in preparing her students for dance programs in college or went on to the schools or programs associated with the well known ballet companies. I think a teacher should welcome these questions. That should not be an insult. If it is, that studio is probably not for you.

 

Look for bios of the director/owner and the staff of the studio. Usually, I have found there are bios written up in material the studio hands out to prospective students or on the studio's web site if it has one that covers her and the staff's experience, If you can't find the bios, ask for them at the studio.

 

In my opinion, having only privates does not eliminate a possible observation of her teaching a class. I think even if you observed her teaching a girls class, that may give you some idea of how she conducts a class, how she teaches, and gives corrections. You might want to ask her first before you observe a class.

 

Private classes I think are the best because it gives the opportunity to learn with you and the teacher only as opposed to a group class where she has to watch everyone in the class. She can concentrate on just what you are doing. Ask a lot of questions. Ask her to break things down if you do not understand something.

Edited by leopard dancer
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Leopard Dancer,

 

Excellent points. I'll keep them in mind when I go visit the studio.

 

Thanks again,

Dave

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"Hens teeth", eh? *chuckles* I like it.

 

With my teacher hat on, I will say a couple of things:

 

1. In my experience, it is very unusual -- not necessarily bad, but unusual -- to have as potential student come in and start asking about my pedigree. With me, people are welcome to, and I'll answer their questions, but there are some reasons why I'm more comfortable with this than some (i.e. I have a recognizable pedigree, pedagogy training, and a healthy sense of self-esteem in this area), and there are reason why asking about this is not the norm. For one thing, as has been pointed out, most of us have bios up on our schools' websites or are google-able. I encourage people to do your homework instead of taking up someone's time. For another, while I like the idea of adults being intelligent consumers, I also think it's the rare newbie who can spot a good teacher. For most, knowing about someone's career or teaching experience isn't necessarily going to do you any good. Some of the best teachers out there never got to perform professionally, or never studied pedagogy. Some of the best dancers and teachers I've seen don't have the kind of pedigrees most people would recognize or understand. I actually think asking where a teacher trained as a dancer, or with whom he or she studied, or what else he/she practices can tell you so much more about them -- and then again, that's really only if you know what you're talking about in the first place.

 

I realize this may be a very unpopular sentiment, but 'm just going to go ahead and say this: I often find there to be something kind of rude and and bizarre, really, about the student who knows very little to nothing about the subject coming in and inquiring about a teacher's background or credentials. Maybe it's only with the ones who come in and do it with the wrong attitude that it grates on me so much; maybe it's just because with them it points to a kind of elitism. Perhaps if it's done humbly, as a new person just hoping to learn more about a teacher and ballet, it's okay. But otherwise, it's just bizarre. I mean, really. If a teacher then says, "Oh, I danced with Ballet Company A under John Doe and studied pedagogy at Local Conservatory," are they going to say, "Well, I've never heard of that!" and walk out? What if the teacher is a great teacher and they've just missed out? Or will they nod as if or because they've heard of these people and places and stick around? Maybe that teacher is a lousy teacher. How does getting that information help them? I think people learned somewhere, that this is a thing you do. But I'm not sure how it helps most people in situations like this. Perhaps it helps down the line, if you've studied with someone great or not great and you're looking for a new teacher and you find out that they've trained/danced in the same place as your old one, but...

 

I guess this is what I'm trying to say: The place doesn't make the teacher. The only way to judge teachers is to start taking classes in multiple places, learn more about ballet, and start comparing quality of instruction.

 

2. On private lessons: There are a lot of ballet teachers who will try to steer you away from these, and for good reason. A lot of schools that offer them do it as an easy way to use up odd studio hours and make some extra cash. I think it's so much better for a beginner to take regular, group lessons. Watching others dance and watching your teacher give other people corrections can be so very helpful in learning what is right and what is not. Hearing things repeated over and over lets you know what's important. Watching a combination done by more advanced dancers helps you understand how it should look when you do it. The time you have to prepare before you go is all time you have soaking up information and becoming mentally, physically ready for your turn.

 

There are only unusual circumstances in which I, personally, would agree to teach a beginner private lessons. They go something like, "If someone were in a wheelchair but always wanted to dance and couldn't find an adaptive dance class in his/her areas, and just desperately wanted to learn some ballet, and none of the local studios were accessible, so they needed someone to teach them at home" or "If I had someone who really wanted to try a beginner class but wasn't sure what they would be getting into and were terrified to throw themselves in with a mass of other people knowing NOTHING and wanted to test the waters first to make sure they liked it." Even with advanced students, there has to be a good reason, in my opinion, for me to give a private lesson. Wanting to get help with a specific kind of jump one is struggling with, or with turning, or with a variation, or what-have-you -- something like that. I'm not sure what a "reasonable cost" would be, but if it's anything like local private lesson costs, then I think you'd be better off taking that same amount of money and driving an hour to get to a good adult class.

 

With my adult-student hat back on, I'll say this: I also live in an area with no good options for training locally. When I can, I drive 45 minutes each way for a decent beginner ballet class, taken with a teacher whose pedigree is not recognizable to anyone but an insider and even then it is sort of middling. I'm happy to do this because, with experience as my guide, I know the teacher is a very good teacher, and I recognize the value of good ballet classes.

 

I do hope that you find some good classes for you! If you haven't checked for these already, please do include adult education or college programs in your search for beginner classes. Sometimes folks overlook these as places to find classes, but beginning college classes in particular can be good places to start as an adult. And even if it's not a good weekly option for you, if you live within an hour or so of a good large school with adult classes, please do try to get to one or more -- just for comparison's sake!

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Guest Pas de Quoi

Insidesoloist: Thanks for this great post! I was going to write pretty much the same thing myself but now I don't have to ... because you already did!.

 

I agree about the private lessons. It is just so hard on both the teacher and the student. I have tried this before, several times, and the strain of working one on one wore us both out after a few weeks. Some studios charge upwards of $75.00 per hour for privates. I had one student who brought her husband along to video each and every lesson. He got in the way, asked if we could do something over again so he could get the exercise from a different angle, etc. And - dance is not a solitary art form. We learn so much from watching others, and watching the teacher's interaction with other students, just as you mention above.

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I realize this may be a very unpopular sentiment, but 'm just going to go ahead and say this: I often find there to be something kind of rude and and bizarre, really, about the student who knows very little to nothing about the subject coming in and inquiring about a teacher's background or credentials. Maybe it's only with the ones who come in and do it with the wrong attitude that it grates on me so much; maybe it's just because with them it points to a kind of elitism. Perhaps if it's done humbly, as a new person just hoping to learn more about a teacher and ballet, it's okay. But otherwise, it's just bizarre.

 

I absolutely agree, insidesoloist. I'm not a teacher in ballet, but I'm quite an expert in my own field, and I do find it just -- tiring -- that my students, and their parents, will question my judgement and expertise, under the guise of being an "informed consumer." Education -- in a university, in ballet -- is not a consumer goods and service. And humility and a desire to learn is a necessary pre-condition for learning.

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This has been a great thread... anybody have thoughts on whether it's better to start classes as an adult beginner at one's dk's studio or another...there are plenty of option in the area.

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Insidesoloist and other respondents,

 

I meant no disrespect of any teachers abilities or experience. I agree with all of your opinions and advice, very good advice actually. I just wanted some guidance on choosing the best studio/school. The best teachers do not have to have a list of schools trained at, etc, etc. There are, I'm sure very good teachers out their who don't have the 'name' recognition of the best schools and teachers and companies they danced with. It's like that in all professions. I would never approach a teacher with a 'informed consumer' attitude. I have no clue what makes a good teacher or a bad one, but I would not be rude or disrespectful of anyone. But I do have a better idea now as to what to look for and not look for and to not let travel distance hold me back.

 

I appreciate all of the advice given to me. I am humbled by the knowledge you all have. Thank you.

 

Dave

Edited by Dave62
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Dave62,

 

Yes, I didn't mean to jump down anyone's throat about that -- you clearly were wondering whether it was appropriate, and that's just my take.

 

I just wanted to add one more thing: In your situation, where you are just starting again and eager to learn, if you will be going to a larger school with regular adult classes and can arrive a bit early and manage to introduce yourself and your situation to the teacher, I'd recommend it.

 

Also, while I think it's an incredibly good sign if you find a teacher who is open and engaging and welcoming -- asking who you are when you show up at class, and if you've danced before, etc. -- don't automatically assume if someone doesn't that they aren't a good teacher or paying attention or don't care. Especially at places with large adult classes, the norm is that folks drop in and out and may be looking for the sense of anonymity they can find in a crowd, and sometimes the teachers there are literally running from one class into another with no time to spare. If that happens and you think you want to come back and take more classes there, I'd encourage you to try to catch the teacher at the end of class and introduce yourself. :)

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