How I teach arabesque

Darla Hoover and student Cassidy McAndrew at Ballet Academy East in NYC

"I get goose bumps talking about my kids,” says Darla Hoover adoringly, “and all the teachers here feel the same way. We can’t wait to get to the school because they are so sweet.” As associate artistic director of Ballet Academy East and coordinator of the school’s graded-level ballet syllabus, Hoover seems more like a mother or aunt to her students than a tough ballet instructor. Addressing the dancers by nickname—and consistently praising their talents—it’s clear Hoover respects them and cares for them as individuals. “If students are going to work this hard and be this focused and disciplined,” she says, “they need to be loved as they’re doing it. They need to feel this is a safe place, not a place of intimidation.”

However, don’t let her warmth fool you. Hoover runs a tight ship at BAE, where the graded-level ballet program is serious, not one for the recreational student. Marcia Dale Weary, director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, originally designed the rigorous syllabus, which Hoover brought to BAE in 1999 and adapted to its students. At BAE, every step in the ballet vocabulary is  broken down and taught in the first 5 (out of 9) levels, so the curriculum requires adherence to a strict attendance policy and extreme concentration from the student. “Many people don’t realize how much information young students can absorb, but we never underestimate their intelligence and physical capabilities,” says Hoover. “I believe that a level 2’s tendu should look just like a level 9’s. It’s a basic step, and you can’t move on if the basics aren’t there.” Combinations not syllabus-based are given only after level 6—when students begin to see and emulate the individual nuances of their instructors. But the slow and tedious work pays off. Foundations of clean and perfected movement become so ingrained in a student’s muscle memory that the dancer, Hoover says, is able to do anything.

Here, Hoover and three of her students demonstrate the syllabus’ evolution of an arabesque, from levels 2 to 7.

Originally from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Darla Hoover trained under Marcia Dale Weary at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. At 15, Hoover moved to Manhattan to study at the School of American Ballet and two years later joined the New York City Ballet. Hoover began teaching classes at CPYB when she was still a student and continued to teach classes all through her career with NYCB (1980–1991). Joining the faculty of Ballet Academy East in 1995, Hoover brought Dale Weary’s syllabus to BAE and has been the graded-level program’s coordinator for 11 years.

Ballet Academy East Students: Chloe Harper, 9, from New York; Cassidy McAndrew, 12, from Connecticut; Hannah Marshall, 13, from New York.


Photo by Ramon Estevanell at Ballet Academy East in New York City.

Dancer Health
Photo by Igor Burlak, courtesy of Tamara King

A raspy voice and sore muscles are not obligatory for teachers, but that's often what happens after hours of teaching. Being a dance teacher is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. Unfortunately, whether it's because you're pressed for time or that you're focused solely on your students, self-care isn't always the top priority. You might think you don't have time to attend to your personal well-being, but what you really don't have time for is an injury. Here are seven strategies that will help keep you injury-free and at the top of your game.

Keep reading... Show less
It takes strength and suppleness to reach new heights of flexibility. (Photo by Emily Giacalone; dancer: Dorothy Nunez)

There is a flexibility freak show going on in the dance world. Between out-of-this-world extensions on “So You Think You Can Dance" and a boundaries-pushing contemporary scene, it seems the bar for bendiness gets higher every year.

Keep reading... Show less

When I am lying down on my back with my feet together and knees apart and press down on my knees, my hips pop. It feels really good. However, now when my hips don't pop, they hurt, and my lower back starts to hurt as well. What do I do to get them to pop, and is it even healthy?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Buzz

Bobbi Jene is another poignant film to add to this year's must-see list of dance documentaries.

After 10 years living in Israel and dancing with Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance, American dancer Bobbi Jene Smith decides to leave the company –and the life she's come to know–in search of finding her own path as a dancer and choreographer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Photo by Jim Lafferty; modeled by Sydney Magruder, courtesy of Broadway Dance Center

"If you don't have strong abdominal muscles, you sag into your lower back, your pelvis usually tips and you're hanging out and slumped into your hip joints," says Deborah Vogel, movement analyst, neuromuscular expert and co-founder of the Center for Dance Medicine in New York City. "It just has this whole chain reaction."

The effects of poor core strength can be dire for dancers: from weak and tight hip flexors, which negatively impact extensions, to lower-back discomfort and misaligned shoulders and necks. "Having well-toned abdominals for your posture is the primary reason why you should do stabilizing exercises," says Vogel. "It will allow you to bring your pelvis into correct alignment and good posture."

Keep reading... Show less
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.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
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."

Keep reading... Show less





Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!