Utah Dance Artists owner Brooke Maxwell remembers a mom calling to talk about the discomfort her 14-year-old daughter felt each time her ballroom teacher asked her to demonstrate. The mother pleaded with Maxwell to keep her daughter's name confidential when speaking with the teacher, because she didn't want to cause her child more unwanted attention. What was most surprising is that the dancer had been singled out in a positive way—because she paid attention and worked hard. Sensitivity, Maxwell realized, can come in unexpected forms. "When it comes to students being sensitive in class, the only way we can help is to have an open conversation," she says.
These types of situations can be tough to navigate, especially when students are nervous to express how they're feeling. Maybe they have anxiety when they're singled out or cry because they feel frustrated in class—or they're scared to leave their caregiver at the door to the studio. Paramount to easing sensitivity issues is to first correctly identify the source of the problem. Then, teachers can work with dancers in a way that is both gentle and effective, helping them overcome sensitivities and enjoy a positive experience in the studio.
Grace Holmes, director of Kansas City Ballet School, doesn't incorporate gargouillade into her class very often. "I usually teach it as a trick fun step, a dessert or treat for the kids," she says. The uncommon ballet step (gargouillade means "rumbling" or "bubbling" in French) requires intricate footwork mid-jump: a small pas de chat with both feet doing double rond de jambe en l'air. Traditionally a step for women, gargouillade is usually part of a petit allégro combination or a fast variation. When it's done well, it can be a flashy step that surprises audiences and highlights a dancer's combined mastery of articulation, speed, coordination and ballon.
Anthony Jones knows what it feels like to be anonymous in class. “For two years, my teacher didn't know my name," he says. Now, as the school director at Oregon Ballet Theatre, Jones makes it a point to know all his students, even if it means they have to wear name tags for weeks. “It's important to me that I see everyone," he says.
When Tracie Stanfield teaches contemporary class at Broadway Dance Center, she often includes choreographed stretch combinations. Dancers might move from a contraction into a lateral bend and then to a cambré back, before repeating it all on the other side. "I try to maximize their range of motion," says Stanfield. "It's my responsibility to get them ready to dance and not just focus on hitting a picture."
Most dancers want to improve their flexibility, especially if they have tight muscles and joints that inhibit their extension. But they might be preoccupied with the height of their legs and disregard the quality of their extension. Some might even force themselves into unsafe stretches or positions, trying to imitate what they see on social media. You can give students safe exercises and ideas—the right balance of strength and flexibility—to help increase mobility while deemphasizing the need for whacked hips and backs.
At some point in their training, most dancers will likely audition for a summer intensive, school production, commercial gig or professional company. How they present themselves from beginning to end can play a huge role in determining their level of success. Here's a list of what your dancer's should avoid doing.
When Elizabeth Ferrell was a young student, Suzanne Farrell told her something she'll never forget. "She said she was going to paint eyeballs on my eyelids," Ferrell says, laughing, "because I was looking down all the time." Ferrell now uses the same phrase when she teaches at American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. "Students have to make sure their eyes are open and alive, so they can communicate with the audience," she says. "It starts in the classroom."