In a spacious upstairs room in his San Francisco home, ballet teacher Christopher Lam gently holds on to an ironing board as he pliés, tendus and dégagés in his socks on the wood floor. He is leading students in a virtual ballet class on Zoom in light of the San Francisco Bay Area's shelter-in-place order that has closed the doors of every dance studio where Lam normally teaches. After a particularly speedy and challenging frappé exercise with fondus, he steps up to the camera and says, laughing, "Dancers, I think that one was a bit ambitious for home—juggling the slippery floor and ironing board."
Teaching artist Kelby Brown prefers simple piano accompaniment with long sustaining chords. He finds this helps dancers to concentrate and fill in the space with the steps. "I need fewer notes, less music," he says. It's an approach he learned from his teachers at the School of American Ballet, like Stanley Williams, and from his longtime beloved accompanist, Alla. "Her music in Stanley's class was meditative and transforming to me," says Brown, who recalls she used music as a metronome that provided a steady beat and simple chords without imposing too much. "The dancer needs to figure out the music and how to dance within a phrase," he says.
American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside is doing his best to adjust to life at home during the coronavirus outbreak. Watch below for his insights, and see who among the ballet world's best is teaching online, including DT's January cover star and director of The Juilliard School's Dance Division, Alicia Graf Mack (minute 1:07).
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.
Q: I have a 15-year-old student who has problems keeping her heel fully on the ground during a demi-plié. How can I help her?
Adult ballet students come from all kinds of different places—and they attend your class for all kinds of different reasons. Understanding who your student is and what they want is key in making sure you give the kind of feedback that will resonate with them and help them get what they need out of your class. Achieving this type of connection makes for a happy student and for a more fulfilling student/teacher relationship overall.