In January, we observed 60 hours of classes at American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. The idea was to see how the instructors used ABT's new teaching curriculum, and to note movement progression and class structure and themes.
The teachers were extremely precise in their demonstration of combinations, with an emphasis on accents, use of turnout and track of arms. There was no hemming or hawing about counts or about what was expected from the students. The students’ muscles and movement were being almost systematically trained – one could equate it to a sculptor carving out a work of art from a mound of clay. The exercises worked at chiseling specific muscle memories and movement qualities that were then built upon and honed as each level progressed.
There are three programs: Ballet for the Young Dancer for ages 5–10, the JKO school for students ages 12–18 and the ABT II studio company. Regardless of level, instructors made comments about looking beautiful, or performing or presenting the combinations. I particularly enjoyed the use of imagery and the way certain teachers made corrections:
- “You are on balance because the music told you that you are on balance.” (level 7 women’s class)
- “When you lift, the third turn (pirouette) happens. Do two on balance with an extra spot.” (Level 6)
- “When are you going to practice being on stage? When you’re on stage? It’s too late.” (Level 7 modern)
- “Your heels are kissing together.” (Explaining first position in Ballet for the Young Dancer class.)
- “It’s like a beautiful package when you present yourself. You want to see the beautiful wrapping. Not the Scotch tape that holds it together.” (Level 7)
- “It’s not a balance if you’re holding on to the barre.” (ABT II/ABT combined company class)
- “Kiss the knees.” (Cambre forward, levels 5 & 6)
- “Fifth is magic. From there, you can do anything.” (ABT II)
- “Think of having a hot, delicious cup of hot chocolate on your shoulder. Don’t spill it!” (Ballet for the Young Dancer class)