My dance training began when I was nine years old. A year later I saw a professional ballet dancer for the first time. It changed everything for me. In my eyes, this ballerina was perfection. I had no idea such exquisite grace existed. It was everything I could ever possibly dream of becoming.
Of course, I didn’t know nearly enough about ballet to point out why she was so beautiful, but I knew without a doubt that her beauty was unearthly. I also knew I must find a way to touch it. To become it.
The inspiration that sparked from that moment catapulted me into the world of ballet. There was no turning back after that. Ballet and I were destined to be together.
It Is Our Job To Show Them
Because of this vivid memory, and the lasting impact it had on me, I am an advocate for exposing students to good classical ballet. To ensure my students are getting this exposure, I take it upon myself to integrate this element into my lessons when it seems appropriate. Below are some ways I have found to help me do this.
- Using video clips. Obvious as it may seem, we are so easily gripped to our goals for the year that we can forget to slow down and show good dancing in class. Utilizing videos in this way has the capacity to open the eyes and minds of our students to a whole level of ballet they maybe only knew about in theory. It is one thing to talk about how to use the feet in ballet walks, it is an entirely different thing to see that in action. Often that visual is just the thing to help a concept sink in.
- Showing still images. Whether this is a poster, a photo in a book, a magazine clipping, a digital image, etc.—showing still images allows students to analyze each piece of the dancer. Since there is no movement we can hone in on specific elements easily. Where are the eyes focused? How is the head tilted like that? Notice the delicate shape of the fingers and how they finish the line of the arm? Is her hip open in that arabesque? Why do you think that is? Put images of two great dancers in the same pose against one another and ask the dancers to point out the differences. Speak about individual line, body proportions, and how to use clean technique to get the finished result you desire.
- Demonstrate. Truthfully, I barely demonstrate these days. I find it takes up way too much time and I lack the physical energy as it is. However, on a rare occasion I can be seen dancing full out. And when I do, the affect on my students is . . . well, it is kind of amazing. I hear remarks such as, “You make it look so easy!” and “But . . . how?”. One of my favorites is when I finish and I turn to see they are all just standing there completely mesmerized by what they witnessed. Now, that is not to say I am this fabulous dancer. But I know what I can do well and, when I choose to, I can do a fine job of stopping them in their tracks with a little wow factor. Of course, this is not to show off in any way. The point is to bring excellent technique right in front of them. When it is that close, they can feel the energy, they can sense the tension, they can better grasp the focus that is needed in order to attain that high skill level. Plus, if their ancient ballet teacher can do it, then so can they!
- Point them in the right direction. Since we have the internet at our disposal we might as well use it. Recommend companies to look up. Give them names of dancers to research. Offer a list of ballets to watch. Build their critical thinking skills so they can analyze for themselves if a source is solid. I firmly believe this is part of our job description nowadays. We cannot afford to ignore the influence social media and the internet have on our dancers. If we don’t teach them how to filter the information, we put them at risk.
Finally, the absolute best way to expose our students to excellent ballet is taking them to the ballet. This is not something I have ever gotten to do with a group of students. I write that with much regret. But then, my teaching career has not reached its end, so there is still time. I will get there yet, and when I do, I cannot even fathom the amount of inspiration that will be flying about. There is something uniquely special about seeing your student in that zone. That place where nothing can hold them back because the power to reach for more is set to its highest volume. This is certainly on my favorites list.
Perhaps you have ways you bring fabulous ballet dancing to your students. Regardless of how any teacher in particular chooses to do this part of their job, there is no doubt that this teaching tool is packed full of possibilities. Seeing as how it is ballet, I would expect nothing less.
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