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Ballet Talk for Dancers

A report from my travels (levels & teachers) in Adult Ballet class


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I posted here a while ago asking if anyone had recent experience of various levels of drop in classes in Washington DC and New York City, and got some useful advice both on the forum and by PM. So I thought I'd write a bit about what classes/levels/teachers I experienced, as it might help others, as I suspect I'm not the only one who packs her shoes, tights & leotards when she travels!


I've also been puzzling over class levels, because I am still scared of going into a new studio & making a fool of myself.


So, I have had a couple of work trips to the US over the last few months, and haven't had such a packed programme that I've not been able to do class. Indeed on one trip I organised my other commitments around doing class, which was a wonderfully fortunate position to be in. I took class consistently in DC and New York (Manhattan) and decided I was fit enough to try to step up from Advanced Beginner to Intermediate/Slow Intermediate. But I did a mix of both.


And from that experience, I'm beginning to see the difference between "Advanced Beginner" and "Intermediate/Slow Intermediate" in the US. In the UK, the term "Intermediate" gets mixed up with the graded syllabi of the RAD and Cecchetti/ISTD curricula. And my overall experience is that US class levels are higher than UK ones, even in London. I happily do an "Elementary/Intermediate" class at DanceWorks in London, whereas in New York, I check the website to see what the teacher says, or f there's any YouTube footage, to get a sense of the class.


It seems to me that the main difference between an Adv. Beginner and an Intermediate class, particularly in NYC, is that in the higher level, you need to know the technical execution of all the steps, and have a pretty good idea of how to put them together -- and FAST! This to me is the main thing: and I found at one otherwise really lovely class at Steps, because the studio was so crowded I just couldn't mark the more complex enchainements quickly enough to get the hang of them.


The teacher (Lisa Lockwood) was extremely clear & helpful in setting barre exercises, but of course went faster in the centre, and so I got lost after the first petit allegro ... Had I been attending the class more regularly, I think I'd have been fine, but there were a lot of young dancers in (it was April & I think it was YAGP time in NYC ) and so the class was more crowded than usual, with beautiful & accomplished teenagers. Still, I learnt a lot, by doing what I could, and watching when I just felt too stupid to dance (or fall over!). I think I'd persevere with this class - or other "Beginning Intermediate" classes at Steps if I were in Manhattan for longer than a week (and had remembered to renew my prescription for contact lenses).


And of course, I took class a couple of times from Kathy Sullivan. I think Ms Sullivan is one of the warmest most helpful teachers I've encountered at Steps. I would recommend her classes to anyone, as she sets a simple but balanced & challenging barre (that is, there was space to push yourself in a technically clean way) and a very dancey centre, even with the simplest of steps and combinations.


In my June trip, I also attended several "Slow Intermediate" level classes at Peridance, taught by Dorit Koppel and Jamie Salmon, and found those were almost exactly right for me. Indeed, the petit allegro could have been harder, as by this point, I was ready to really try to "get" petit allegro, even if it meant falling over while trying :blush:


Both Ms Koppel and Ms Salmon seemed to have perfected the art of being hugely encouraging, while pushing us, and their joy and energy was infectious (also I got a "Nice feet" in allegro from Ms Salmon -- that made my day!). They also corrected, often hands on, and were able to give imagery & explanations for HOW they wanted us to achieve the effects they were looking for. Peridance is also a lot less crowded than Steps. The studio for all the ballet classes I took was beautiful -- really big, so we could go for it in turns and jumps across the floor. So I'd really recommend those classes for anyone feeling they're ready for a step up from Adv. Beg.


I also did a couple of Adv. Beginner level classes with Peter Schabel, whom I found a very interesting teacher -- he's very funny in a completely dry sardonic way, and gives you a lot of dance history, as part of explaining why things are done in certain ways. My only thing about Mr Schabel's classes was that he rarely gave corrections in terns of what we needed to do to achieve the physical effects: he corrected by telling you what he wanted to see, rather than how to go about doing it. For example, he said a really really wise thing: why adult students got to a certain point & then never progressed. He said it was because we don't deliberately change the way we do things, we just do things in the same habitual way, therefore our bodies don't grow & change, like children's. A very wise thing, but I wish he'd then shown us individually what sort of a radical shake up we needed, or given us an exercise to help us experience that proprioceptively (because I think he was talking about proprioception).


I was really fortunate in my April trip to catch a class given by Kat Wildish at Ballet Arts. It is a gorgeous studio, but most of all, I was just so engaged by Ms Wildish's teaching - her energy, the combinations & exercises she set, and the way she pushed -- literally, in my case! I really like hands on corrections from teachers, and she gave me several, including some really good technical advice (and pushing & pulling) for my leg in developpe a la seconde -- she had my leg almost to my ear, and got me to bring my torso much further forward than I've ever placed it (I get scared of flaring ribs), but it was magic. Inspirational, and I think I learnt so much in just one class about technique, but also about how far I can still push myself. If I lived in NYC, I'd be a regular in her classes. And she was gracious & welcoming when I introduced myself (mainly to explain that I was just visiting and that's why I would only be in one class -- not that I'd tried it & didn't like it!)


In Washington DC I took class each day for a bit over a week at the Washington Ballet facility: again, lovely studios, and expert teachers. The Sunday Beginners' class with Bahareh Sardari was a joy. Quite a simple straightforward class in a more "English" (RAD/Cecchetti) style than other US classes I've taken. Ms Sardari was extremely kind to me, and I could see that she saw us all in a big class -- this is a skill I am always in awe of: the way that good ballet teachers see everyone, even wjhen there are over 20 people!


I also took Intermediate level classes with Stephen Baranovics. Mr Baranovics is witty and gentle, but again, doesn't mess around, and really teaches. I got the sense that if you went regularly, you'd get more personalised teaching than is usual in a drop-in class.


I think this is the frustration of doing all drop-in classes as an adult learner -- that one is taking class, but maybe not being deliberately taught. As in, picking up new skills, or the teacher setting new work, and taking you through it, bit by bit. The one class where I was really taught something new, and the teacher set out to teach this to all of us, as opposed to give a class was in Austin, TX, at the Ballet Austin adult programme in an Intermediate class given by Arletta Howard Logan. THere were only about 6 of us, and Ms Logan set out to teach us a variation on the jeté en tournon -- that step but with a sort of layback + half turn on landing - a kind of fouetté, I suppose. It was great fun, and something I'd not experienced for years: actually being taught a new step or combination, rather than being expected to pick it up as I went along.


I could write a whole essay on the differences between English-style dancing/teaching and US style/teaching -- a few teachers picked up on my training style as English before ever I opened my mouth! I really enjoy the US technical approach to ballet: my current regular teacher also has that advanced anatomical knowledge, and I like knowing how things should work. I also really felt welcomed at every studio -- even Steps doesn't have the "snobby" competitive atmosphere I expected, and the ladies I danced with at Washington School of Ballet were absolutely so sweet & welcoming.


Edited to add: my goodness, I didn't mean to write quite such an essay. Hope it's useful in parts!

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Wonderful!!! Thank you for sharing!!!


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What a great post. Thank you!

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What wonderful information. Though I just returned from NYC, I was doing ABT National Training Curriculum training and didn't really have any time to take any other classes myself. But, the next time I go, I will be prepared and try to get into a class with one of your "reviewees". Thank you so much.

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Gosh, thank you all for reading my essay. I've found reading here the experiences of others so useful, I thought I ought to add to the knowledge.


Further thoughts about US teaching - and maybe teachers & more experienced dancers can chime in here: in every class I did in the US, there was emphasis on "being on your leg" (ie supporting side). In fact, Mr Schabel went so far as to say that if a teacher hadn't corrected you to be on your leg, or mentioned this in general corrections, then you hadn't done a ballet class.


In the UK, I don't think this is mentioned so much. The emphasis is on working & maintaining turn out. Whereas, I rarely heard a teacher mention turn out in the US (generalising wildly, but the difference was noticeable). Although my current teacher here where I live, doing very basic classes, does talk about the supporting leg, and activating that whole side (she is VERY good).


I appreciated the advice about being on my leg, but I'm interested in the difference in emphasis. Also never quite sure if I really am "on my leg" because it's not something that has been emphasised to me over the years. How do you tell?

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But, the next time I go, I will be prepared and try to get into a class with one of your "reviewees". Thank you so much.


I think you would probably be way above me in ability & training! But then, sometimes it's the "easy" classes which are the hardest in terms of clean technique. I just found that although my basic technique is OK, I don't get enough practice at my home studio in thinking fast and following more complex enchainements, and just throwing myself into something. It all takes practice, practice, practice.

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When you are on your leg, that's when you feel invincible! That's that moment when the alignment gods are smiling upon you and you can whip out multiple turns so easily and naturally, it feels like you're sailing. It feels like you can be on arabesque or attitude forever, it feels like you can transition instantly and easily, and that you are I control of your body! It's that moment when your center is right over your toes no matter what your position is, you're grounded but you are not sinking in the hip, in fact you feel pulled up. That's the magical feeling of being on your leg.

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Redbookish, we may at some point have been in the same class :) I take Kathryn Sullivan, Jamie Salmon and Peter Schabel's classes regularly! Haven't tried Kat Wildish yet but she has a couple of new classes including a pointe technique one that I might start to take in the fall.


Kathryn Sullivan is really what every ballet teacher should be. She's so caring and will literally not move on in the class until you get it right. She often uses imagery and props (like therabands or pilates accessories to visualize what she's talking about). I absolutely love her. One thing I particularly love as well is that she brings a lot of neoclassical "American" style ballet choreography, especially in center work which makes it super fun and a very New York-ey experience. I think her training was with the Joffrey School and Boston Ballet so it's fun to dabble in slightly more American styles (for variety's sake). Nothing too crazy here of course, mainly it's with épaulement and slightly Balanchiney port de bras.


Jamie Salmon is an amazing teacher as well and definitely geared towards Advanced Beginner to Intermediate levels. I'm always completely sweaty and satisfied after her class.


Hope you had a great trip and enjoyed it!

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My answer to 'how will I know if I'm on my leg?' is that you WILL know! There is no doubt - you feel secure, pulled up, steady, like you were meant to stand that way always. I love that feeling, and am constantly trying to achieve it in class.

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Yes, I feel like that pretty much always on my right leg. I'm working on getting similar strength & placement on my left.


Just intrigued that it is a regular correction/guidance in the US, not so much in the UK. And that turn out is stressed in the UK, but I rarely heard it discussed in the US classes I did. (But a survey on 1, so nothing more than anecdotes!)

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Redbookish - I almost wonder if "being on your leg" is an East Coast vs West Coast thing? I don't feel like I here that phrase much over here in the West?


I will say that in NYC there is an undercurrent of technical influences stemming from a couple main teachers: David Howard, Maggie Black, & Finis Jhung. All of these teachers encouraged a more organic approach to movement. They shook up ballet's concepts of perfect turned-out positions, always being 'square', and how the body transitions in/out of movement. These teachers also deconstructed how ballet class is organized, rearranging the order of how/when you do certain movements, and addressing which muscles execute the movement (and if they are warm/ready to execute that movement). I feel like "being on your leg" is part of this conceptual world that these teachers were so influential in creating.


Here on the West Coast (the "Best" Coast <giggle>) we are currently being influenced by Alonzo King. Dancers are encouraged to explore their limits and how their body moves in space. "Being on your leg" isn't as important as "bigger, faster, harder, more!!"

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GTLS, that is fascinating. My day job is as a theatre historian, and I'm currently reading & starting to write (in part) about the development of ballet as part of the theatre of the 19th century, so these bits of history -- or rather recent development -- are just like precious gold to me.


And when I lived & worked in Australia, the "bigger, more" attitude was "fill the space" -- it was a great training principle. maybe by the time I'm 80, I'll have put it all together :)

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Hahaha, I had a couple teacher from Alonzo King's apprenticeship program before, and they used that term too! I think it's a pretty old term that is just one of the visualizations to get a dancer to use their core placement correctly. Even my older teachers from Eastern Europe would say it... usually referring to transferring the weight correctly when executing pique type movements on pointe so we didn't fall back.

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Having lived and trained in NYC my whole life I would like to commend you on your "essay". I agree with everything you have said, and know every one of these teachers - personally and professionally (except Kat Wildish). And yes...in time you would get used to the way Lisa Lockwood puts a combination together. She is almost completely influenced by Maggie Black, and although I don't agree with a lot of that way of working, Lisa is a remarkable teacher.


The term "Being on one's leg" is something that I have heard since the beginning. And yes...much of the NY training is influenced by David Howard, Maggie Black and Finis Jhung. And although she never used the exact phrase, Madame Darvash taught that way too. I assumed everyone taught that way. This is proving to be a very interesting thread.

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