How I teach arabesque

Darla Hoover and student Cassidy McAndrew at Ballet Academy East in NYC

"I get goose bumps talking about my kids,” says Darla Hoover adoringly, “and all the teachers here feel the same way. We can’t wait to get to the school because they are so sweet.” As associate artistic director of Ballet Academy East and coordinator of the school’s graded-level ballet syllabus, Hoover seems more like a mother or aunt to her students than a tough ballet instructor. Addressing the dancers by nickname—and consistently praising their talents—it’s clear Hoover respects them and cares for them as individuals. “If students are going to work this hard and be this focused and disciplined,” she says, “they need to be loved as they’re doing it. They need to feel this is a safe place, not a place of intimidation.”

However, don’t let her warmth fool you. Hoover runs a tight ship at BAE, where the graded-level ballet program is serious, not one for the recreational student. Marcia Dale Weary, director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, originally designed the rigorous syllabus, which Hoover brought to BAE in 1999 and adapted to its students. At BAE, every step in the ballet vocabulary is  broken down and taught in the first 5 (out of 9) levels, so the curriculum requires adherence to a strict attendance policy and extreme concentration from the student. “Many people don’t realize how much information young students can absorb, but we never underestimate their intelligence and physical capabilities,” says Hoover. “I believe that a level 2’s tendu should look just like a level 9’s. It’s a basic step, and you can’t move on if the basics aren’t there.” Combinations not syllabus-based are given only after level 6—when students begin to see and emulate the individual nuances of their instructors. But the slow and tedious work pays off. Foundations of clean and perfected movement become so ingrained in a student’s muscle memory that the dancer, Hoover says, is able to do anything.

Here, Hoover and three of her students demonstrate the syllabus’ evolution of an arabesque, from levels 2 to 7.

Originally from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Darla Hoover trained under Marcia Dale Weary at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. At 15, Hoover moved to Manhattan to study at the School of American Ballet and two years later joined the New York City Ballet. Hoover began teaching classes at CPYB when she was still a student and continued to teach classes all through her career with NYCB (1980–1991). Joining the faculty of Ballet Academy East in 1995, Hoover brought Dale Weary’s syllabus to BAE and has been the graded-level program’s coordinator for 11 years.

Ballet Academy East Students: Chloe Harper, 9, from New York; Cassidy McAndrew, 12, from Connecticut; Hannah Marshall, 13, from New York.


Photo by Ramon Estevanell at Ballet Academy East in New York City.

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