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The New Year



This topic may be a little premature given that classes will probably not start for most of us for another two weeks, but having recently come from an extremely productive, positive faculty meeting I am very excited about the new ballet school year. I still have some conferring to do with the other teachers, but I think that we are generally on the same page and poised to have our students excel. We have all agreed on the syllabus (it helps that most of us were trained at the same school) and we are to keep in close contact as some of us teach the same classes on different days to make sure everyone is progressing at the same rate. We have even agreed on such details as how the students should enter the classroom! It is a wonderful feeling to be part of such a group, and now that the foundations are in place, I am considering what (besides the steps) to teach and how to do it.

Things I would like them to learn include: how to spell ballet terms, basic music theory, knowledge of important people in ballet throughout history, and plots/characters of great ballets. I know I will have help from the other teachers in all of this.

But more than that, I am going to try to get my students excited about ballet. That may sound redundant--if they didn't like learning ballet, why would they be there? I believe they enjoy it, but the levels I teach are still fairly basic and the exercises can become monotonous. I don't have the opportunity to pepper the combinations with bits of variations, and my students only perform once, at the end of the year. In addition, they take several different types of dance and are usually involved in several other extracurricular activities as well, so making this ancient art form relevant and alive for them--even as they patiently execute my combinations--is a challenge.

It should help that my classes will be slightly larger this year. Small classes are wonderful for refining technique, but for the same reason they can also make it difficult to let go and "just dance," so even when, in an attempt to free my students from the confines of their endless battements tendus for a moment, I would have them chassé or otherwise move across the floor, they still maintained a rigidness, as if they were afraid of what I would criticize, and I was not able to bridge the gulf between "corrector" (as they saw me) and a benevolent person there merely to help them dance better (as I wished to come across). With a larger group, I am hoping it will be easier to form a rapport while still challenging them to work very hard. Their technique must be devoid of bad habits at this early stage, but it must also be alive, and perfect technique is of course useless without the enjoyment of dance and the desire to learn about all the elements that go into it--history, music, costumes, fantastic drama, and above all grace, elegance, harmony, and beauty.

Try teaching all that to the average thirteen year old who grew up in the suburbs and knows nothing of life outside middle school.

And yet, if they weren't already predisposed to the appreciation of grace and beauty, wouldn't they just take jazz? Something about this must speak to them already, and it is my job to draw that out and elaborate. Maybe once a month (I only see them once a week, although they have ballet with other teachers more often than that) I will end class fifteen minutes early to engage their minds in some way, either with a video, music, or a short lesson about an important figure in dance.


I came up with an idea to teach ballet terminology. At our first class, I'll give each student a folder, the kind that holds three-hole-punched notebook paper, and a list of basic ballet steps and their definitions. I will ask them to write down one combination we did in class that day in the car on the way home using the list as a guide. If they encounter a word they don't know how to spell that isn't on the list, they should sound it out as best they can, circle it, and at the end of the next class we will learn each word's spelling and its definition and add it to the list. By the end of the year, they should have a lot of terms, and by limiting it to one exercise, I shouldn't be taking up too much of their homework time/energy. The folders can also be used to hold information from the once-a-month lessons. Now all I need is a dry-erase board, some markers, and to be told that this is way too ambitious and unrealistic!


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