How I teach attitude turns

Susan Jaffe at Princeton Dance and Theater School

Even wearing chunky platform shoes and black corduroy pants, Susan Jaffe is a portrait of ballet classicism. Standing in a tight first position at the barre, the former American Ballet Theatre prima ballerina commands attention—only in this instance her captivated audience is a group of leotard-clad teenaged girls. As Jaffe shifts her focus to her outstretched hand and reaches her torso through port de bras forward and back, they mimic her relentless posture and soft épaulement.

This is the 3 p.m. advanced class at Princeton Dance and Theater School in New Jersey, which Jaffe co-directed 2003– 2010 with former Dayton Ballet principal Risa Kaplowitz. Nestled in a bustling suburban shopping village, just an hour outside Manhattan, PDT has a joint acting studio and more than 200 students enrolled.

As a teacher, Jaffe blends all she learned about her own technique during her performance career with classical ballet’s legacy. And seven years after retiring from an extraordinary 22-year reign onstage, she relishes her offstage job in the studio.

This October, Jaffe will move on to a new role as ABT’s ballet mistress in Manhattan, where she will teach company class, coach soloists and principals and set repertoire on the company.

Though Jaffe was trained in a program based on the Italian Cecchetti syllabus, it was Irina Kolpakova, Christina Bernal and Nancy Bielski who most influenced the way she currently teaches. “I’m a mutt,” says Jaffe. “Kolpakova, who was the last student of Vaganova, taught the coordination of épaulement and opposition. Nancy’s class had an aerobic sense that built stamina.” Bernal offered a healthy approach to training, Jaffe adds. “You learned not to overextend or wrench yourself into positions.”

“My advanced classes are structured in the way I learned as a professional,” she says. Though she does not rely on one particular framework, she relates all movement back to standing in first or fifth position. “Ballet is not rocket science, or luck or talent,” she says. “It’s about following rules.” An advanced dancer, Jaffe says, understands which muscles she engages to stand tall in first position, “and no matter where she is in space, it’s the same experience; the same musculature.”

When instructing a basic attitude, she asks students to imagine both thigh muscles wrapping around the bones. Maintaining that turnout is the secret to multiple revolutions, she says. Here, Jaffe and PDT student Emily Wohl demonstrate Jaffe’s approach to teaching attitude turns—a method she learned from former ABT ballet mistress Elena Tchernichova.

Originally from Maryland, Susan Jaffe joined American Ballet Theatre in 1980. While principal dancer for over 20 years, Jaffe performed and worked with many notable choreographers, including George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Jirí Kylián. She has performed internationally with The Royal Ballet, The Kirov Ballet and La Scala Ballet, among many others. This October, she will join ABT as ballet mistress. Jaffe co-directed the Princeton Dance and Theater Studio in New Jersey 2003–2010 and served as the artistic coordinator of the Youth American Grand Prix. Jaffe received a Dance Magazine Award in 2003.

Emily Wohl, 16, from New Jersey, has studied with Jaffe since 2007.

Photo by Ramon Estevanell

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox