How I teach pas de deux

Charles Askegard coaching Ballet Academy East students Marisa Trapani and Alexandros Pappajohn

The hall cutting through Ballet Academy East on a late Thursday afternoon is hectic. Students sprawl out in straddles, hovering over math homework, and parents peek through the windows to get a good look at their tots. But the air inside the advanced ballet class in studio five is calm, as is Charles Askegard’s demeanor. He is subtle, yet assured, a quality that carried his dancing during his years as a principal with the New York City Ballet.

Clarity of technique is Askegard’s priority at BAE, where he began teaching last fall, and it’s reflected in his to-the-point approach. “See this tendu? When you’re not so turned out here, you can get by. But when you bring it up here,” he says, lifting a student’s leg in a high à la seconde, “well, that’s not nice to look at.” Combinations throughout the level 8/9 class are short and square, and he’s extremely particular about hip alignment and how the soles and toes of the feet lie on the floor. “There’s so much you want to accomplish in your technique at the pre-professional age, but how much and how fast can students actually learn?” he asks. “I’m not saying to dumb it down, but succinct combinations let dancers really work on their technique. And it’s really important in building their confidence.”

Helping students break down their technique, says Askegard, has sparked curiosity in his own. “I’ve talked to others, and they all say, ‘When I started teaching, my technique got so much better than when I was dancing,’ because you have to be committed to doing it the right way to teach others,” he says. “Teaching is a new adventure, and I’m learning a lot.”

Askegard’s goal is to codify a class syllabus for pas de deux—a skill often praised by critics, as well as his own partners, during his performance career—for both himself and BAE. “Often when students start partnering, the girl is just thrown at the guy, and it’s like ‘OK, go.’ And that’s because many schools don’t have the ability to make a full partnering class viable. But it results in a deer-in-headlights level of fear. Try to squeeze 10–15 minutes into pointe class for some pirouettes and promenades,” he says. “When I was a student, I was the only guy to partner with. And I learned a lot about partnering when I was forced to dance with a girl a foot taller than me.”

Here, Askegard guides BAE students Marisa Trapani and Alexandros Pappajohn through partnered pirouettes:

Charles Askegard began studying ballet at Minnesota Dance Theatre and School (now The Dance Institute) under the direction of Loyce Houlton. At 16, he moved to New York City, where he trained with Maggie Black. He joined American Ballet Theatre in 1987 and became a soloist before leaving to dance with the New York City Ballet, where he remained for 14 years. As a principal there, he originated roles in ballets by Christopher Wheeldon and Peter Martins. Upon his retirement in 2011, Askegard co-founded Ballet Next, a project-based ballet troupe, with former ABT principal Michele Wiles. He has been a guest faculty member at the School of American Ballet and has taught company class for NYCB and Armitage Gone! Dance. Askegard joined BAE’s faculty full-time in fall 2012.

Marisa Trapani and Alexandros Pappajohn, both 15, are students in Ballet Academy East’s Pre-Professional Division.

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Dancer Health

The Feldenkrais Method is a somatic technique created by Moshe Feldenkrais in the 1950s. The method has two parts: hands-on sessions with a Feldenkrais teacher (Functional Integration) or group classes comprised of verbal cues (Awareness Through Movement).

Mary Armentrout, a dance teacher, choreographer and Feldenkrais practitioner, shares three ways that this somatic practice can bolster your students' training.

Keep reading... Show less
Your Studio

Oversexualizing young kids has been a hot topic among dance teachers in recent years. It's arguably the most controversial topic teachers and studio owners are faced with. Deciding which choreography, music or costumes are appropriate—or not—isn't always black and white and can be easily overlooked. Is showing the midriff too much for minis? Is this choreography too provocative? Is this popular song too suggestive for a competition piece? The questions can seem endless with no clear objective answers. Until now.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
To make dancers stronger and less injury-prone, Burns Wilson suggest adding floor barre or conditioning classes. Photo courtesy of Burns Wilson

With a career spanning 30-plus years in the dance field, Anneliese Burns Wilson has cultivated a unique perspective on health and injury prevention for dancers. From teaching ballet to teaching anatomy, she then founded ABC for Dance, which publishes dance-teaching materials. Now through research for her next book, which will focus on training the female adolescent dancer, she's delving even deeper into topics many dance teachers have overlooked.

Keep reading... Show less
Erdmann (left) on set for "Hairspray Live" (courtesy of Erdmann)

When Wicked ensemble member Kelli Erdman was training at Westlake Dance Center in Seattle, Washington, her teacher Kirsten Cooper taught her that focussed transitions would be pivotal to her success as a dancer. Now as a professional, she applies this advice to her daily performances, asserting that she will never let the details of her dancing get blurry.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Khobdeh dancing Taylor's Speaking In Tongues. Photo courtesy of PTDC

For Parisa Khobdeh, music does more than set the tone for a piece—it's enabled her to connect with movement. And once she joined Paul Taylor Dance Company in 2003, Taylor's body of work deepened this connection. "His choreography showed me the music, the architecture and the space," she says. "I now see the music."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz

We haven't been able to stop watching Lil' Mushroom since she popped and locked her way into Ellen's heart last week. We know you've got a long night of teaching ahead, and this is the dance inspiration you need to get you through. Check it out and tell us what you think about her killer moves over on our Facebook page! (She starts blowing minds at about 2:16.)

Keep reading... Show less
How-To

Because the chassé is often neglected during the execution of this traveling step, Judy Rice asks her students to do a minimum of a six-inch chassé before transitioning into the pas de bourrée. She encourages dancers to pay close attention to their shoulders and hips in effacé, too. "Kids tend to open it up. They look like they're fencing," she says. "You don't want that." Both shoulders and hip bones should be facing the corner.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored