Teaching Tips

Susan Pilarre has been closely tied to the School of American Ballet for nearly her entire life.

From her first class there at age 11 through her 16-year career with its affiliated company, New York City Ballet, Pilarre learned directly from the great choreographer George Balanchine, absorbing the details of his unique style. Sensing her innate understanding of his principles, Balanchine encouraged her to teach; she joined SAB's permanent faculty in 1986. Since then, she has become recognized as an authority on Balanchine's teachings, instilling SAB and NYCB's distinctive speed, clarity and energy into generations of dancers.

Here, Pilarre shares how the specifics that Balanchine insisted upon in class contribute to the strength, beauty and musicality that define his style—and dispels common misconceptions.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Morrissey (left). Photo courtesy of Interlochen Center for the Arts

When Joseph Morrissey first took the helm of the dance division at Interlochen Center for the Arts, a boarding high school in Interlochen, Michigan, he found a fully established pre-professional program with space to grow. And his vision was big, with plans to stage the kind of ambitious repertory he'd experienced during his dance career. But the realities quickly set in. During his first year in 2015, the department was denied by the George Balanchine Trust to license any Balanchine ballets—the dancers were not quite ready.

This early disappointment didn't derail Morrissey. In just four years, he has not only raised Interlochen's training standards, he's staged ambitious full-length ballets and been granted the rights to works by Merce Cunningham, Agnes de Mille and, yes, Balanchine. Guest artists regularly visit, and he's initiated major plans to expand the dance department building. Morrissey is only 37, but it should come as no surprise that he's done so much so fast—his entire life's journey has prepared him to be an artistic leader.

Keep reading... Show less
Trending
Peter Martins and Farrell in Chaconne (1976), performed for PBS' "Great Performances." Photo courtesy of Dance Magazine archives

With her superb musicality, dramatic skills and go-for-broke speed and risk taking, Suzanne Farrell inspired Balanchine to push the limits of a dancer's physical capabilities. Together, the pair helped shift ballet into more creative, athletic and abstract territory.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Bucharest National Ballet's 2013 trailer for "La Sylphide,' via YouTube

Few things are more powerful for promoting ballet performances than captivating trailers—especially in today's visually-focused, digitally-connected world.

We've rounded up some eye-catching ads from seasons past and present that not only make us wish we could have seen the show, but also stand alone as short films.

Bucharest National Opera's La Sylphide

Magnifying the scarf which—spoiler alert—brings about the ballet's tragic conclusion, this 2013 Bucharest National Opera's trailer turns that fateful fabric into a beautiful, deadly web. Its windswept movements form a dance of its own.

Keep reading... Show less
Rozann, chipper as always. Photo courtesy of Apartment Therapy

Sometimes a little video comes along that manages to cheer you on a dreary Wednesday, inspire you to be better and give you all the good feels. Meet Sheila Rozann, an 88-year-old ballet teacher for the National Dance Institute, New Mexico, who's been teaching for more than 66 years (!). She gives great advice on everything from why ballet is so pleasing to the eye to how a teacher can pick out a student destined for greatness. But my favorite jewel of wisdom that she offers is simple, and one that we often hear from the teachers we feature in DT: Dance is something that molds kids into good people, regardless of whether they go on to pursue careers in the field.

Keep reading... Show less

We’re counting down to January 1st with great ideas for your studio and teaching practice in the new year. Check back each day for a new tip!

Well-placed turns enhance choreography and dazzle the audience. When teaching pirouettes, Kathryn Warakomsky has her Texas Ballet Theater School students watch videos of legendary ballerinas Maya Plisetskaya, Alicia Alonso and Galina Ulanova. “They spun like tops,” says Warakomsky, the Fort Worth school’s principal. “The public wants to see that excitement.”

It's All About That Prep ('Bout That Prep, 'Bout That Prep, No Trouble) 

A pirouette en dehors from fourth position typically starts with a plié, with more weight over the front foot (see photo 1). “This style is very RAD,” says Warakomsky, “where everything comes from a good soft plié that sets you up for your balance. You use the plié to push from both legs, so it’s a movement and not a static position.” She encourages students to keep their heels down and use the whole foot on the floor, rather than rolling forward on the arches or letting the front foot slide into the turn first: “You want to go down into the floor and push from the back foot to go up.”

 

Balanchine changed the traditional preparation by having dancers take a wide lunge in fourth position with a straight back knee and outstretched arms (see photo 2). “He wanted it to be a surprise—he disguised the preparation so the audience wasn’t sitting there waiting for you to do a pirouette,” says Gloria Govrin, artistic director of Eastern Connecticut Ballet. When using this deep, elongated preparation, dancers should keep their weight far over the front foot and use their back toes to push into passé.

 

Get yourself a Dance Teacher subscription to start off 2017 right!

Photos by Bridget Lujan, courtesy of Juneau Dance Theatre 

Darci Kistler (right) rehearsing company members

In a black, wide-neck T-shirt bearing the words “Drama Queen,” the legendary Darci Kistler coaches dancers on Peter Martins’ Morgen. “For me, the most important thing is not to put Darci on it,” she says, laughing. The Balanchine muse teaches only the steps and music, she says. Nothing else. She leaves it to the dancer to imbue the role with their own sense of self.

In this episode, we hear from a few of New York City Ballet’s 12 ballet masters. While choreographers create the ballets, says director Martins, “ballet masters maintain the ballets” and teach them to dancers.

Jean-Pierre Frohlich joined NYCB as a dancer when he was 17.

Former soloist Kathleen Tracey talks about the obligation she feels to maintain the integrity of an original work while rehearsing it. She often asks herself, “If the choreographer came into the studio, would he or she be happy with what he was seeing?” When that choreographer is the ghost of Mr. B, it’s a pretty weighty responsibility.

Jean-Pierre Frohlich discusses his multifaceted job as teacher, coach mentor, baby-sitter, psychologist and more to the dancers. Both he and Tracey agree you have to develop excellent interpersonal skills to communicate well with dancers of different ages and temperaments.

But in the end, says Tracey, you get to watch dancers onstage and feel proud knowing you helped with that. That’s a feeling all teachers can relate to.

Kathleen Tracey

Click here to watch full episodes of “city.ballet.”

Original Diamonds cavalier Jacques d'Amboise shows PNB soloist Jerome Tisserand how to properly woo a lady onstage.

To polish Pacific Northwest Ballet’s staging of Balanchine’s timeless Jewels (1967), artistic director Peter Boal called in the experts. He invited the very first interpreters of lead roles in the ballet to offer their guidance to his cast. Once stars of the New York City Ballet stage, these icons continue to shape the dance world as renowned educators and directors. Fortunately, cameras caught clips of them in action during their coaching sessions in Seattle. Jacques d'Amboise, who founded the National Dance Institute, Violette Verdy, who teaches ballet at Indiana University, and longtime Miami City Ballet director Edward Villella offered inspirational nuggets of wisdom for performing the pieces they helped define more than 40 years ago.

When d'Amboise mentors Diamonds’ principals, he demonstrates why less is more and doesn't miss an opportunity to smooch a beautiful woman's (Lesley Rausch) hand:

For Emeralds, the charming Verdy discusses dancers’ motivation and the origin of movements (plus we get to see a nice clip of the beautiful Carla Körbes in motion!):

During his coaching session on Rubies, Villella stresses the importance of making sure the movement expresses Balanchine's signature style:

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.