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?'

Higher Ed
Getty Images

As we wade through a global pandemic that has threatened the financial livelihood of live performance, dancers and dance educators are faced with questions of sustainability.

How do we sustain ourselves if we cannot make money while performing? What foods are healthy for our bodies and fit within a tight unemployment budget? How do we tend to the mental, emotional and spiritual scars of the pandemic when we return to rehearsal and the stage?

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

Keep reading... Show less
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

The Dance Magazine Awards aren't just a celebration of the people who shape the dance field—they're a unique educational opportunity and a chance for dancers to see their idols up close.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.