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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Switching from competition school ballet teaching


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My daughter, 10, has been dancing at a competition school for the last 8 years. I'm very lucky that the school has excellent technique, but there is definitely more of a tap/jazz focus.


She has decided that she would like to go on pointe. I told her that I didn't think the competition school was the right place to do that, since their technique classes are only one hour (though there are about 8 or 9 of them available each week).


She started supplementing her comp schedule with classes at a ballet school last night. She is in the right class as far as age and ability, and seemed to do fine (that's what the teacher said).


However, she is frustrated by the method they use, which is to tell what they want the kid to do, and then sit and speak corrections. The teacher did walk around the room from time to time, but many corrections were oral.


At her comp school, the teacher show what they want, and then the kids do it.


How can I help her feel better about this transition from watching and repeating to listening and repeating? She is a perfectionist, and having to look at the other girls in class to figure it out is a considered a failure by her. :/



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At the ballet school would the teacher she had for the one class be the same for all her classes? Was the class a "set" class, meaning that the students already knew the exact combinations and were repeating them? Did the teacher demonstrate anything? If she would have other teachers it would be a good idea to try more classes. The class she took with one teacher might not be the school's "method", it might simply be that one teacher, or, it might be a school that works with a set curriculum like RAD or Cecchetti, so the students work on the same material for several months at a time. What I'm say is that I think you need more information on this school, and perhaps it would also be a good idea to check out other schools. Check on the schedules for the students as they advance and compare them to our guidelines. Try to see an advanced level class, or a performance of ttheir upper level students. Do their students attend well known SI programs? Do they go on to careers in dance or to good college dance programs?

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Sadly, we don't have a ton of options in our area. We did try the local pre-pro school and my daughter hated the teachers and the classes were quite large, so no individual corrections were given.


I got the impression that these girls had a pretty standard barre, and that's where my daughter was the most frustrated. The teacher did demonstrate the things she wanted them to work on when they did the across the floor, but not barre and center. For those, she gave oral instructions. The other girls in class got them right away. My poor daughter, who is used to explicit demonstrations, isn't used to getting directions in this way.


This would be a set class, since she isn't quitting her competition school. She loves the classes there and the dance competitions, and she IS getting good technique, just not enough. She does have another class today, but I'm not sure if it will be the same teacher or not.


I was happy with the class, and as far as I could see, she did a great job and did the same moves as the girls around her. She just felt like she was behind.


Again, her problem is that she has a need to be perfect. And even slight mistakes (like forgetting she supposed to end on releve) make her very upset.


Is there a way you can help support your dancer while she takes the time to "get it"?

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I'm guessing this is a very temporary problem that will resolve on as she gets used to the class if she can hang in there, but here are a few ideas.


Does she have a good, solid understanding of ballet vocabulary? That may or may not solve the problem, since different schools may have different preferences for port de bras and different names for some steps depending on whether Cecchetti, Vaganova, RAD, etc., but I imagine she will quickly get used to what the teacher means at the new school when she says exercises verbally. My DD and her classmates now find it really fun after auditions or classes with a new teacher to compare or "translate" the different names teachers use for steps. Their regular teacher also tries to mention different names in class from time to time ("in X technique, this would be called Y") to remind them that they might hear different names in other settings.


If the new school teaches a coherent style (doesn't have to be a formal syllabus, but if all teachers have roughly the same expectations) it will probably be easier than if each teacher is quite different.


Would she enjoy using one of the ballet "dictionaries" as a reference? We like having the Gail Grant "Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet" and the Gretchen Ward Warren "Classical Ballet Technique" books at home for reference. There are now some online dictionaries with photos/video as well.


It sounds like your concern is more about her perfectionism, however. I'm guessing the current situation (worrying about how she is doing in the new class) is likely to improve quickly as she gets used to this class format and the style of new teachers-- she may just need to accept her discomfort for a few weeks and keep reminding herself that the other girls have been taking the class for months or years and are used to what the teacher wants. If she is accustomed to being one of the "best" in a class, it may be unfamiliar to her not to feel completely confident in a dance setting. She may also get more corrections and feedback as time goes on; I've noticed that teachers sometimes leave new students alone (not many corrections) for the first few classes in order not to overwhelm them.


As far as what you can do to support her, I think you are probably already doing the things I would think of: reminding her that it will get better soon, that the teacher thinks she is doing fine, that she is doing this because it will help her to reach her goals, etc. If her concerns persist after a few weeks, it might also be worth talking to the teacher to see if she can help.

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Very good advice, skiptomylou. :clapping: Fuddyduddy, let us know how the class today goes for her.

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If I may add on a little bit to skiptomylou's post. My dd actually did make the switch from a comp school with OK ballet to an excellent ballet school at age 10. Vocabulary was one of her biggest issues. A 10 yr old can be told to "do 4 tendus en croix, followed by 4 degages en croix" with no demonstration needed at all. It took dd a little while to catch on to the vocabulary she was missing. I would say that by the end of her first semester, if not much sooner, it was a non-issue.

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Great advice. I'll let you know how it goes after this afternoons class. :)

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Well, what a difference a day makes!


There was a different teacher for today's class. He demonstrated everything. He would say what he wanted, mark it with them, dance it with them, and then he would watch them. Before they switched sides, he would stop the music and give all the corrections.


My daughter was very happy. :)


So hopefully, this teacher will give her enough confidence that she will be able to succeed in Thursday's class.

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Glad she had a good class! Perhaps it will also help her feel more comfortable on Thursdays as she gets to know the other students.

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I just wanted to update and thank you all again for your words and advice.


She went back to the Thursday class this week, and it was an entirely different girl coming out. The teacher made many hands on corrections and really helped explain things to my daughter. She also complimented her, and it made my daughter feel great.


The studio owner observed her for a while and confirmed that she's had decent training, but that she has typical competition school errors (straight arms instead of bent, for instance), but said she only had small, fixable ones. She also said that DD had perfect feet and wonderful strong legs so they would "make a dancer out of her."


So I'm really glad DD decided to stick with it and I'm glad that she doesn't seem behind when compared to her ballet peers.

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