Response to “Give this ballet teacher a piece of your mind”

Wow, I’m glad I waited to respond to Adult Beginner’s post. Lots of great comments have come in over the past few days! I’m taking a break from sewing elastics on my new ballet slippers to post an initial response (it might take more than one post to adequately respond!). I have to say, most of the suggestions followed my own instincts which made me feel a ton better about my planned approach.

A lot of people mentioned starting with the basics (including posture and turn-out), giving thorough explanations of the exercises, and going slooooow. This was a huge relief to me because in my initial lesson plan the first thing I had on the agenda (after the requisite blahblahblah) was learning how to stand, followed by proper turn-out and the five positions of the feet. Then we’re going to try a plié! But I was worried while writing this all out that I might be getting a little too basic, maybe I should jump right into a regular barre routine. So hearing this from adult beginners puts my mind at ease that starting at the very beginning is a very good place to start. I totally agree with teaching students of any age proper ballet technique, not just giving a workout that happens to implement a ballet barre (I’ve got a bunch of those DVDs and I’d rather do real ballet any day!). So thanks for that! I’m definitely planning on focusing on barre-work for the first few classes to get the basics down. I will have a better idea of overall skill level after the first class. If it turns out that there are more advanced students I may try mixing up some sink-or-swim with the basics, but based on the current roster, I think basics it will be.

Someone also commented on using the history of ballet to explain some of the steps (the example being the tendu originating as a way to move the heavy skirts out of the way). And I love that idea, just… I don’t know how a lot of steps originated. I’ve got some ballet history under my belt, but it’s more the general history and how pointe developed than how history played into the particular steps we do. I’d love to learn more about that! Will have to see what I can find.

Compliments and critiques was another big topic. I definitely believe in offering thoughtful compliments, because who wants to hear only the negative? Not me! And during my blahblahblah section of my first class I will address the correction process and that it may be hands-on at times. I’ve been on the receiving end of a teacher adjusting my foot and the realization that, “A-ha! That’s how it’s supposed to feel when I’m in this position!” And I will strive not to overwhelm students with corrections… that’s definitely a turn-off and part of the reason I’m planning to start with basics!

Music was another comment theme, both regarding song selection and in being organized with the music. I did have a bit of a struggle finding music for the class that I really liked both in style and in tempo. As a more experienced dancer (and as a former classical musician) I enjoy the challenge of dancing to a piece with nuances in tempo, but I can imagine it must be frustrating for a beginner to follow along with a particularly interpretive pianist and since I’m stuck with pianists who live in the CD player I can’t exactly exercise much control over them! I found a series of CDs (only bought two of them so far) that I like, and will try to be very clear with counting and demonstrating with the music. And I went through all my planned exercises wrote down the tracks that will go with them (even went so far as to do the exercises with the music in my kitchen!) so I hopefully won’t be fumbling when I get to class.

Dave of Dave Tries Ballet brought up some other thoughts that had been swirling in my head. One was attire: the importance of addressing what’s appropriate for class. I’m not teaching in a formal studio (actually, we dance in the basement of the city community center!) and people are pretty come-as-you-are, so I was definitely planning a discussion on wearing form-fitting attire and the necessity of ballet slippers. I am planning to wear conventional pink tights and a leotard myself, just because A) I’m a traditionalist and B) I want the students to be able to see my line. I will certainly offer that option to students, but will let them know what other options are acceptable in the first class.

Another comment Dave had was the concept of “homework.” I was toying with that idea in terms of giving people links to interesting ballet clips on YouTube or good websites/books/etc. I think this is a great way to build a love for ballet outside class, so thanks for that suggestion! I’ve certainly come across quite a few things that I’d love to share with my students.

The final theme that I came across and loved was showing that I, the teacher, am having fun. Ultimately that’s why I agreed to teach this class: because I love ballet and I want to share that with others. I want them to enjoy it, too! Within this theme someone mentioned acknowledging my own weaknesses. As a fairly self-deprecating person that shouldn’t be a huge problem (though I’ll keep it in check… I doubt anyone wants a teacher who critiques him- or herself so much that they appear incompetent!), but I agree that it’s nice to hear a teacher mention his or her own shortcomings. My ballet teacher recently mentioning her less-than-stellar turnout, which made me feel better. Her turnout isn’t great, but she’s a beautiful dancer, so I shouldn’t let my less-than-stellar turnout hold me back.

I’m looking forward to testing out all my theories this week! Will let you know how it goes!

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