Ballet Pedagogy: The Art of Teaching

by Rory Foster

University Press of Florida

 

In a nutshell: A must-have manual for ballet teachers.

 

With this book, author Rory Foster, professor of dance emeritus at DePaul University, provides a valuable instruction tool for ballet teachers of all experience levels and training methods, whether Bournonville, Royal Academy of Dance, Vaganova or Cecchetti. The former American Ballet Theatre dancer urges teachers to focus on not only what to teach but also how they utilize their pedagogical skills. In nine chapters, including a foreword by master teacher David Howard, Foster explains the mechanics of teaching ballet. He briefly covers the genre’s extensive history—encouraging teachers to incorporate historical facts into lessons—and all aspects of conducting class, including musicality, the student/teacher relationship, injury prevention, proper demonstration, corrections and counting. Foster even gives readers advice on establishing a dance school. But what teachers will find most useful are the precise diagrams and photographs that illustrate how to correctly work with a dancer’s body.

 

 

On Technique

by Dean Speer

University Press of Florida

 

In a nutshell: Insight into the teaching philosophies of 18 respected artists.

 

Dean Speer, director of Chehalis (Washington) Ballet Center, presents a well-rounded cast of respected teachers, including Finis Jhung, Gwenn Barker and Yvonne Cartier. Each contributor provides a context for their training philosophies and addresses the questions: What is the difference between skill and technique? What does a good class look like? What are the expectations of a good teacher? Readers will learn how Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal defines technique and how Nina Novak of Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo describes the always elusive concept of perfection. By allowing contradictions to exist amongst the various viewpoints, Speer lets readers decide which methods work best for their teaching practices.

 

 

Site Dance: Choreographers and the Lure of Alternative Spaces

edited by Melanie Kloetzel and Carolyn Pavlik

University Press of Florida

 

In a nutshell: A window into the theory and practice of site-specific dance.

 

Two university dance faculty members have produced the first anthology ever to examine site-specific dance performance. Editors Melanie Kloetzel of the University of Calgary and Carolyn Pavlik of Western Michigan University seek to raise awareness about the lack of support for this 40-year-old dance genre and push it into the realm of serious art. Through poignant personal interviews and essays from American choreographers, including Meredith Monk, Joanna Haigood and Eiko Otake, the editors reveal “what compelled these artists to find a way of working outside the norm, why site dance developed when it did and what continues to make it relevant in our current cultural framework.” Readers will find the book’s four sections easy to navigate—the choreographers are grouped together by similar themes in their processes and works—and will enjoy seeing the dances come to life through more than 80 black-and-white photographs.

 

 

Photo by Emily Giacalone

In Motion's senior company dancers and Candice after a showcase performance in Bermuda, (2016). Photo courtesy of Culmer-Smith

When I was 23, an e-mail circulated among my former college dance classmates at Towson University, regarding a teaching position as the jazz director at the In Motion School of Dance studio in Bermuda. I applied, and after a few e-mails, I got offered the job.

Four weeks later, I packed up my tiny little car in Denver, where I was a dancer for the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, and drove across the country to my hometown in Maryland, before flying out for my new life in Bermuda.

Looking back now, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't have time to think through how I should prepare and what I needed to do to officially apply for a work permit. I was mostly concerned with how I was going to pack all my clothes and belongings into two suitcases. If I could go back, I wish I would've had a more specific guide to what teaching in another country entailed.

In an effort to share my experience, here's what I wish I would've known before I left and what I learned over my 10 years living and working as a dance teacher abroad.

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At age 12, doctors advised Paige Fraser to stop dancing and have surgery. Instead, she chose physical therapy and team of chiropractors and massage specialists to help work through her condition. She has just begun her 5th season with Visceral Dance, based in Chicago.

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine, when viewed from the back, has one or more curves. The vertebrae are abnormally rotated, which creates twisting and more prominent visibility of the rib cage on one side, and it is most commonly seen in adolescents ages 10 and older. Most cases cannot be reversed, but they can be controlled, for example dancer Paige Fraser who despite suffering from severe scoliosis, has thrived as a dancer. Dance teachers can play an essential role in spotting the condition at an early stage.

“Teachers can help to notice that scoliosis is there in the first place," says Sophia Fatouros, a New York City–based dance teacher and and former professional ballet dancer who has struggled with scoliosis since she was 12. “Parents do not always see their children in tight clothes, like leotards."

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Dancer Health
Sebastian Grubb (right) runs Sebastian's Functional Fitness in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Grubb

From improved aerobic capacity to better reactivity, cross-training can to do wonders for dancers' health and performance. But with the abundance of exercise programs available, how do you get your dancers on the right routine?

Sebastian Grubb, a San Francisco–based fitness trainer and professional dancer, shares three questions to ask as you consider different cross-training options.

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Videos

When choreographer Cristian Faxola learned he had two days to create, develop and shoot a music video as an audition to choreograph for The Squared Division production house, he and his team embraced the challenge.

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Dancer Health
Thinkstock

I have heard you say that tight hamstrings prevent full extension of the knees and that you prefer hamstring stretches in a standing position, rather than on the floor. Can you explain why?

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Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Arizona State University

Many parents discourage their teenagers from majoring in dance because of fear that their child will become a struggling artist in an unforgiving city, only to end their career in injury. But a dance degree can lead to other corners of the profession, such as marketing, physical therapy and arts administration. "Parents always say their children need something to fall back on," says Daniel Lewis, former dean of the dance division at New World School of the Arts. "They only see the stage time, applause and flowers. But there's choreographing, teaching, PR—the careers are endless."

Others are more concerned with disappointment. "Your daughter doesn't have to be a major ballerina with ABT to be successful," says Lewis. "If she wants to be a dancer, she'll find the work. There's a certain amount of training you have to achieve before you even get accepted into a good college, so if you have the talent, and the drive, you can make it."

As mentors, teachers can be monumentally influential on students' college decision processes. Read on to hear from three dance majors who feel grateful they chose this path—and share their words with your students!

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Teachers & Role Models
To show her support for local studios, Kelly Berick requires all her students to be enrolled in an after-school program. Photo by Stephanie Csejtey, courtesy of Akron School of the Arts

When Kelly Berick began teaching high school students at Ohio's Firestone Community Learning Center within Akron Public Schools 21 years ago, she was newly engaged, newly licensed to teach K–12 dance and thrilled to land what she considered the perfect job. Her enthusiasm quickly soured, however, when after two weeks of teaching she called a local studio to introduce herself. "The owner told me her students didn't like me, didn't like what I was doing and were going to quit my program," she says. Her class of seven became a class of three.

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