Teachers' Tools: Charla Genn

Charla Genn (center) gives a traditional ballet barre at Juilliard.

After giving her Juilliard students corrections, Charla Genn often encounters responses like, “How did you notice that?” or “You see everything!” She’s been hearing-impaired for most of her life, so she’s grown accustomed to those reactions. “My sight has had to compensate for the hearing loss,” she says. In addition to her twice-weekly advanced pointe class at Juilliard, she teaches company class at the Metropolitan Opera, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ballet Hispanico, and she coaches professional dancers, sometimes even over Skype.

Because her class is at 9:30 am, Genn takes a full-bodied approach to pointe work. “It’s ballet class on pointe,” she says. “They’re not coming to me after another class, so we have to go through the motions of doing a regular class.” She teaches a traditional ballet barre, paying special attention to engaging the turnout muscles. “If you have one leg turned out and one leg turned in, you have no equilibrium,” she says. “You have to have opposition.” As a friendly reminder, she chants, “Opposition is your mission!”

Genn is a firm believer that in ballet, one size doesn’t fit all. “Someone may have to lean forward more. Another may have to lift her arm a bit higher,” she says. “If I give a correction, I like to walk around and see how they’ve adapted it to their own bodies.” When addressing a student’s mistake, she tries to keep it positive. “I don’t say to them, ‘What did you do wrong?’ I say, ‘What should you have done?’ she says. “Because if you’re always thinking about the wrong, how can you get better?” DT

MUST-HAVE FITNESS SUPPLIES: The orange Franklin Smooth Ball Set (about the size of small grapefruits). “I roll on these balls to massage my muscles.”

RECOMMENDED READING: Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. “This book is so inspiring. There are true stories about people who overcame their challenges and learning disabilities in unconventional ways.”

RECOMMENDED VIEWING: “I e-mail my students YouTube videos on a regular basis. I particularly like Maya Plisetskaya dancing Walpurgis Night, Alla Sizova in Le Corsaire, Marianela Nuñez as the black swan from Swan Lake and Mikhail Baryshnikov in Roland Petit’s Carmen.

TO STAY IN SHAPE: Gyrotonic, swimming and exercising at the gym.

NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: Ballet CDs for private lessons. “I love Steven Mitchell, Whit Kellogg and Josu Gallastegui’s CDs.”





Photo (top) by Nanette Melville, courtesy of the photographer

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