Part III: Level Placement, Etiquette and Discipline
One of the most fascinating things about being a teacher in a summer intensive is what happens inside of the studio. When dancers from all over the country and the world come together to learn, all kinds of issues pop up. 

 

THE TEACHERS:

 

SABRINA LENZI,  Houston Ballet Summer Intensive

 

JOELLE MARTINEC, EDGE Performing Arts Center

 

EMIKO TOKUNAGA, Boston Conservatory

 

CHET WALKER,  Jacob’s Pillow Jazz/Musical Theatre Dance program

 

GERRI HOULIHAN, American Dance Festival

 

THE ISSUES:

 

Etiquette and Classroom Issues

 

LENZI “We address exactly what we expect, from clean tights to cell phone rules, before the very first class in an hour-long session. It tackles problems before they happen that way.”
Houlihan “Students rolling their eyes or leaning on the barre while I’m talking in class sets me off. I ask them to demonstrate what I just said. That usually stops that behavior immediately.”
Martinec “I don’t like when students revert to the way they do things at their home studio. I prefer they pay attention to exactly what’s being asked. And I don’t let students give up in the middle of class. I tell them, ‘At least give it a try—it’s not going to be perfect and that’s OK.’”

 

WALKER “You lose your power if you yell and scream. Be clear. It can’t be a guessing game. Everyone is there to learn and get the job done.”

 

 

Organizing the Levels
 

 

LENZI “We place students during our audition tour, which really works well for us because they arrive knowing where they’ll start. We tend to level down because it is easier to move them up.”

 

TOKUNAGA “We don’t hold auditions. We assign the levels the first day of each session. I walk around for three days to make sure it’s working. It helps that we have no beginning level, just intermediate and advanced. If there’s a level change, all of the teachers need to sign off on it, whether it’s up or down.”

 

HOULIHAN “We have a preview weekend where students take classes with every single member of the faculty. It’s a tricky thing, but this seems to work well for us. Also, having a two-hour class makes a huge difference in dealing with a mixed-level class. I am able to give individual corrections.”

 

MARTINEC “I use assistants to demonstrate, so I can walk around during the warm-up. That way I can size up the levels in the class right away. I keep my eyes roaming and really take in what’s going on in class.”

 

 

Dealing With Different Training Backgrounds

 

LENZI “Our students arrive with lots of different training backgrounds and that’s part of the excitement. There’s a great energy to learn something new and very little resistance when everyone keeps an open mind for the opportunity to change.”

 

MARTINEC “Sometimes I have students who are just here for one class. I’m not going to change their dancing in an hour and a half, so I try to give them one piece of information that makes them think. If they stay longer, there’s a greater chance I can address their habits.”

 

TOKUNAGA “I find that Pilates and Alexander Technique classes are great ways to repattern and reconfigure poor training habits.”

 

 

Cultural Differences and Language Barriers

 

LENZI “I use my hands when I give corrections and it helps that I have a few languages under my belt.”

 

MARTINEC “When I have a lot of international students and I notice the room getting quiet, I know it’s time to let go a little bit and experiment with more freedom.”

 

WALKER “At least half our students are from different countries. I love that we have such an international flock. Dance is not a verbal language, so I put my thoughts into a physical form that the students can see. I also learn ‘Hello’ and ‘Good-bye’ in several languages.”

 

HOULIHAN “I love languages and can count to eight in a dozen languages. I try to have the whole class learn a word like ‘breathing’ in another student’s language. That includes the international students in conversation. I also enjoy using a sense of humor in class. Humor can open up something in dancing. It’s important to be mindful of cultural shyness. Joy can be suppressed by certain aspects of behavior. Asian students tend not to ask questions. Once one person responds, I will reinforce that with positive energy and it will help others contribute.”

 

Part 1: Structuring Your Class

Part 2: Taking Care of Yourself

 

Photo: Sabrina Lenzi (by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy of Houston Ballet)

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