Teen jazz class at Chicago's Gus Giordano Dance School, under the direction of Amy Giordano, has a wide range of students. "Some just started dancing a month ago, and others have been dancing for three years," says Nicole Belanger, dance education director. To maintain a positive environment, Belanger pairs older kids with less experienced ones. "It builds a bond," she says. "Then they're all open to taking corrections and working toward their goals, rather than comparing themselves to the next person."
Teaching a mixed-level class isn't ideal, but sometimes a shortage of space or faculty prompts consolidation. Workshops and open recreational classes may also attract diverse groups in terms of age, level and ability. If the class moves too slowly, advanced dancers might lose interest. If it progresses too quickly, the beginners feel lost. Structuring a multilevel class can be a challenge, but there are some surprising advantages if you manage it right.
You're setting choreography on your class and most of the students are picking it up. One dancer, though, is having difficulty remembering the steps. You review the material several times, but you fear that this is starting to hold back your more advanced students. Still, you're worried the struggling dancer will be left behind. What is the best way to proceed?
Memorizing choreography is an essential skill for dancers. Fast learners have more time to work on the technique and artistry within a combination, and they are often the first to catch the eyes of directors. Like most skills, learning pace can be improved. Encouraging students to develop their own memorization methods will help them approach choreography with confidence.
William Whitener held countless auditions when he directed The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, and he himself learned from legendary choreographers Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse about what it takes to make it on Broadway. Now he coaches ballet students on these skills when he guest teaches around the country. "Auditions require a certain amount of strategy," says Whitener. He holds mock auditions and discusses all aspects of the process—registration, class and even how to make a professional exit. "Practicing for this kind of performance works better than telling dancers what they should do," he says. "They need to actually do it."
Barre is time for ballet students to develop strength, accurate placement and basic technical skills. But it can seem boring and tedious to young or teen dancers, causing them to zone out and lose interest. Sometimes it just takes a few fresh ideas to perk them up.
In a partnering class at the School of American Ballet, Jock Soto teaches his students a lift that requires the boys to lift their female partners by the underarms. Some boys do it correctly, but others hesitate. Seeing this, Soto appeals to their sense of humor: “I'm sure these girls are clean," he jokes. “So put your hands right in her armpits." When the giggles subside, the class tries the lift again. This time every boy has the correct hand placement.
When Laszlo Berdo teaches men's class at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, he sees some dancers who turn very well, but only to one side. “I have guys who can do triples in à la seconde on the right, but they can't do a double pirouette or a single à la seconde to the left," he says. “There's an extreme difference."
When Rosemary Sabovick-Bleich stresses the importance of turnout, she shows her class of 9- and 10-year-old students that the rotation should come from the very top of the hamstring—just under the gluteus maximus. “I told one of the girls that she had to feel that little muscle and pull up from there," says Sabovick-Bleich, who teaches at New Jersey School of Ballet. “Before I touched that spot, I explained what I was going to do."