Teachers' Tools: Up Close With Kathryn Sullivan

Teachers share the philosophies and materials that make them successful in their careers and classes.

Peek into one of Kathryn Sullivan’s ballet classes and you might see her pull out her trusty green Thera-Band. When her students at Steps on Broadway or Barnard College struggle to balance on one leg at the barre, she uses the band to illustrate the body’s center “plumb line,” a concept she learned from renowned teacher Finis Jhung. She anchors one end of the band under the ball of the dancer’s foot and pulls the other end straight up along the body’s center. “That is what standing on one leg should look and feel like,” she says. “It has that elasticity of downward and upward energy.”

The former Boston Ballet dancer keeps ballet technique straightforward. “The more I teach, the simpler I get,” she says. She skips mind-teasers in favor of simple barre combinations, and she encourages students to clap or stomp the rhythm to clarify a tricky petit allegro. Her classes highlight a particular step or concept each week—inside turns, outside turns, temps de cuisse. Combinations become more challenging throughout the week, but the goal is for dancers to perfect each step in its purest form, not to get caught up in flowery details. “Having the basics will give you good technique at any level,” she says. DT

A medium-strength Thera-Band can be used to demonstrate alignment.

Sullivan teaches in a leotard, tights and skirt. She prefers canvas ballet shoes by Sansha and Capezio mesh tights.

“I have my Barnard students keep dance diaries. They write down

their corrections or thoughts of the day.” Sullivan enjoys gardening on weekends.

After watching many dancers cushion their heels with towels and sweaters while stretching on the barre, Sullivan invented the Ballet Glider, a fleece sleeve that wraps around the barre to protect the Achilles tendon and allow the dancer to slide with ease.

Photo by Lijie Zhang; flowers and diary ©iStockphoto.com; others courtesy of manufacturers

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