I remember the very first time I taught a pre-ballet class by myself. It was a group of crazy, beautiful, energetic 5 and 6 year-olds. They looked at me with expectation and excitement and I looked right back with sheer terror. Even though I came with great curriculum in my binder, I was not very skilled yet at knowing how much is too much for one class.
As teachers in a new classroom of students, it often takes a great deal of focus and dedication to understand how to properly pace the lessons you give. The following tips really helped me know how to read my students and give them exactly the right amount of new teaching and review teaching each class.
Curriculum is Structured
The way curriculum from The Ballet Source is put together it “takes some of the guesswork out of teaching ballet.” Ruth Brinkerhoff very carefully structured her curriculum to build upon itself and “provide a logical sequence for teaching the things to be learned.” This means that you can be sure that the concepts you are teaching them this year will allow them to progress into the next level the following year.
Keep in mind that each level has much more than just one year of material to cover. In fact, you could probably teach the same level for more than 2 years and still not get to every single exercise and/or enchainement contained therein. I have personally found this to be the case, and I’ve been teaching from these books for 14 years. In the Level 4 book, she says, “There is enough material here for at least two years of classes. Choose one fourth to one half of the items to use this year. Next year, you could use a different selection for your next [Level 4] class.” Take your time and help your students to really master each concept. They will feel accomplished and excited about what they can achieve.
Some Things May Be New
Some things in the ‘Ballet Arts for Young Children’ books may be new to you and your already established classes. Any changes in class content or procedure should be done gradually, a little at a time, so the students have time to get used to the new material and procedures.*
It is for this very reason that the lesson plans are divided up as they are. There is not enough time in one year to get to everything in the book anyway, so take the necessary time to be extra attentive to the needs of your students. Some of them may adapt beautifully to a new exercise or procedure. Others need more time to fully understand and implement new concepts. It definitely helps the teacher to know that, even though we may not be covering a certain step right now, it is in the plan for an upcoming quarter, or may need to be saved for next year.
Whenever you plan to teach or do something in a different way from before, be sure to present it as a step upward in maturity and advancement. Motivate their acceptance of the changes by telling them that it is a more advanced way of doing things, or a more ‘grown-up’ way, or a way that will help them become a stronger, better dancer.*
It really helps a student to know and understand what is going on in their body and how their body is changing as it grows. “We are beginning to practice this step now because you are ready to try it” is a great way to let them know that they are growing, learning and developing at a pace you approve of, and that you have faith in them to take this step upward in skill level. At this age, they love to hear about the way their bodies work, and telling them that they have accomplished something will motivate them to stick to it. (See “Understanding Your Student’s Growth Process” for more on that!)
Not Everyone Catches On
We all know how rare it is for teachers to show a new step and everyone in the class does it well, or even to an acceptable degree, the first time. Of course, that’s to be expected. However, there are some students who are struggling with other issues in their physical development that may cause them to take an unexpectedly long time to grasp a new step. Be prepared to encounter students like this and to be very patient as you work with them. Do not move ahead with the the rest of the curriculum without allowing enough time for everyone to feel they have accomplished each item on the syllabus to the best of their ability.
Don’t Move On Too Soon
This was something I definitely had to learn for myself. In teaching younger ones, especially, I found myself entirely bored with the simple pliés, sautés and gallops that we did every single week. I thought, they must want to move on by now! Actually, when I abandoned that mindset and forced myself to stick to the set exercises that were established in the lesson plans, I found that I could really teach and not spend any of my mental energy on worrying how the students were responding to everything. (See “Why ‘Changing It Up’ May Not Always Be Best”.)
If you find that they are not doing well in a certain section of the class—say grand battements, for example—skip that section of class one day and teach them one of the fun enchainements in the latter part of the choreography section. Learning a dance is a great way to spark their imaginations and reignite their vigor that may have waned from all the toe touching and butterfly stretches. After all, why do children start taking ballet in the first place? To learn to express themselves, tell a story, and of course, to perform!
- The Dance Teacher’s Secret Weapon: Expectancy
- Why “Changing It Up” May Not Always Be Best
- Win With Threes By Knowing Their Needs
- Hints for a Happy Class
*Cited: “Ballet Arts for Young Children: Level 4” by Ruth H. Brinkerhoff, copyright The Ballet Source, 2016.