I had a teacher oh so many years ago who was helping me learn how to teach. She observed me giving class one day and afterwards we had a little chat:
“So, Robyn. Well done. However, I noticed you didn’t correct the dancers often. Can you tell me why that was?”
“Yeah. I noticed that, too. I think I really didn’t know what corrections to give.”
“As in, there were too many and you didn’t know which one to give?”
“If only! No. It was because I couldn’t see any to give. Which I know is all wrong. I know there were tons of corrections. I just couldn’t see them.”
I felt like a terrible failure. If there was anything I knew it was that there is ALWAYS a correction to give. But somehow I just couldn’t find any. Of course, the reason I couldn’t find any way back when was because I was young and inexperienced, and had a very long way to go before I could claim to be a real teacher
As I matured and gained my footing, I soon found myself in that very situation my teacher had asked about. I didn’t know which correction to give because I now saw so very many corrections! How to choose?! And if I choose wrong, am I damaging my students? If I don’t choose the best, am I ruining their progress? If I choose the worst . . .
*all the screams!*
The stress felt super high to me. (But I also tend to be overly dramatic about such things.)
Anyway . . .
I landed on two solutions to this problem. They have helped ground me when I feel overwhelmed with all the corrections and I have also seen them give young teachers a boost when they find themselves lacking corrections to give.
- First Solution: Give the most basic correction available.
- Second Solution: Give the correction based on your objective for the class/exercise/combination/etc.
- A Bonus Solution (and one I have grown to love because it offers excellent results): Ask the students which corrections they would give themselves.
I would like to take a moment to break down these three solutions.
First Solution: Most Basic Correction
This one never fails. When in doubt, go simple. While I certainly mix and match this checklist often, having this list in place can help pull my focus back into clarity when needed:
- Classroom Behavior
- Safe Dancing
- Proper Muscles Groups Being Engaged
Dancing can only be as strong as the foundation on which it is built. Therefore, it follows that correcting the most basic mistake will help strengthen the overall movement.
Second Solution: Objectives
I have used this one more and more as of late, particularly with classes that tend to be recreational as opposed to intense. First, I choose an objective or two for any given class (or combination/weeks/etc).
EXAMPLE ONE: My objective for today’s class is demi pointe.
- In everything we do, I correct demi pointe. There will be a host of other corrections I can give, and perhaps I will stray to those a few times, but mainly I stick with demi pointe.
EXAMPLE TWO: My objective for this grand allegro exercise is a supported plié.
- Most all corrections are based on this objective and how to attain it.
EXAMPLE THREE: My objective for the next three weeks is to solidify knees remaining over the toes.
- I build a class that hones in on this aspect and give exercises that reinforce it.
EXAMPLE FOUR: My objective for this dance is formations.
- Of course, the dance will have a variety of formations, and the choreography (depending on the skill level of the dancers) will likely be kept more basic so the group can focus on the teamwork aspect along with how to personally place themselves within those formations.
I like objective based corrections because the students quickly realize what you are aiming for and can easily adopt those goals for themselves. As mentioned earlier, I find these types of corrections especially useful in recreational type classes.
Bonus Solution: Students Correct
This is one I find helpful really only when the teacher is seasoned. Allowing the students to correct themselves requires an experienced eye and should not be left to the new teacher.
When we give our students ownership over their dancing and training, it not only empowers them, but it teaches them how to be self learners. What an a brilliant thing that is!
Some ways I prompt this is by asking questions such as:
- What do you want to be better about this step?
- In what ways do you feel you could execute this concept better?
- Do you like how it looks when you see it in the mirror?
- How does this position feel to you?
- Are there any parts that feel awkward? Or forced?
I will sometimes have my students choose one correction (sometimes I do two) they wish to focus on but not to tell me. They are then to do the combination with 100% focus on that one concept and I am supposed to be able to see what their focus was. I have seen lovely results from this method.
While ballet class is made up of enchainements and exercises, the meat of class is truly the corrections. Without corrections, we are simply people twirling and jumping about—having a grand time, but not refining an art form or becoming more disciplined in our passion.
Taking the time to consider the corrections we give and place importance on those corrections will result huge dividends.