Teaching Tips

5 Ways to Take Your Ballet Students’ Dancing to New Heights


Have your dancers reached a plateau? It might be your classes that need a refresh. Here are five great ways to jump-start your teaching.

Reassure students that it's OK to not be perfect in the learning process.

Ballet students often set very high standards for themselves—which can sometimes be counterproductive. "As the technique becomes more advanced, sometimes you just have to go for it even if you make mistakes," says Edward Ellison, artistic director of Ellison Ballet Professional Training Program. "Dancers can get so tense because they're afraid of not doing it perfectly." He encourages his dancers to let go of that fear. "I'll applaud you if you fall, because I know you're going for it."

Integrate humor into class.

Again, students' high standards and laser-focused goals can lead to counterproductive tension. Help lighten the atmosphere of class with laughter. Claudio Muñoz, Ballet Master of Houston Ballet II, says: "When my students relax, they begin to listen and get out of their own way. In this demanding profession, where the brain works so hard, humor helps you to let go of that, to see a problem from outside yourself."

Spend extra time refining the upper body.

The use of the arms, hands, head, neck, shoulders and upper back is an integral part of technique and expressiveness, though students sometimes overlook this. "Putting the legs before the upper body is like a fly on top of a beautiful cake," Muñoz says. Try these exercises to improve your students' upper-body strength.

Reframe common corrections.

Imagery can lose its meaning over time or just not resonate with different students for different reasons. Find new ways to express frequently used corrections. For example, Arantxa Ochoa, director of faculty and curriculum at Miami City Ballet School, suggests that instead of saying "don't drop your elbows," illustrate the correction like this: "If you put a drop of water on the shoulder, it has to go down to the fingers. And if your elbow is dropped, the water gets caught.

Encourage the development of stage presence in the classroom.

Sometimes young dancers are self-conscious about expressing feelings in the studio. Sometimes they concentrate mainly on the mechanics of movement and not the emotion behind it. Darla Hoover, artistic director of Ballet Academy East, likes to use music to help draw students out of their shells. She says: "I'll ask them, 'How does this music make you feel? What happened in your life that fits that feeling?'

Dance Teacher Awards

Who knew that a virtual awards ceremony could bring our community together in such a powerful way?

Last night, we celebrated the annual Dance Teacher Awards, held virtually for the first time. Though it was different from what we're used to, this new setting inspired us to get creative in celebrating our six extraordinary honorees. In fact, one of the most enlivening parts of the event was one that could only happen in a Zoom room: Watching as countless tributes, stories and congratulations poured in on the chat throughout the event. Seeing firsthand the impact our awardees have had on so many lives reminded us why we chose to honor them.

If you missed the Awards (or just want to relive them), you're in luck—they are now available to watch on-demand. We rounded up some of the highlights:

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Rambert artistic director Benoit Swan Pouffer had input on the new Rambert Grades curriculum. Photo by Camilla Greenwell, Courtesy Rambert

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For Parents
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As studios in many areas begin to open up with safety protocols in place, dance students are, of course, itching to get back into class. But just because dancers can go back to in-person training doesn't mean all families are ready for their children to actually do so.

As a parent, it's understandable to feel caught between a rock (your dancer's will to attend in-person class) and a hard place (your concerns surrounding COVID-19). Yet no matter how many tears are shed or how much bargaining your dancer tries, the bottom line is that when it comes to issues of health and safety, you—the parent—have the final say.

Still, there may be ways to soften the blow, as well as best practices for setting or amending expectations. We asked Danielle Zar, a child and adolescent psychotherapist who specializes in parent education, to share some tips for this tricky situation.

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