"Fifth! Fifth!" Daniel Catanach shouts during a brisk tendu exercise in his advanced-intermediate ballet class at Steps on Broadway. "That's 'fifth' with a 'th'!" he adds, making several students' tense faces relax into smiles. Watching Catanach in action, two things are clear: He's all about precision, and he wants dancers to enjoy his class. He's a stickler and a jokester, infusing discipline with humor. "What's the worst that can happen?" he asks during a pirouette combination. "You fall?" one student murmurs. "No!" Catanach laughs. "The worst that can happen is that you do it perfectly! Then you always have to do it like that, because you know you can."
The soutenu is a basic step often used in choreography as a transition between turning sequences or before more virtuosic movements. In class, Deanna McBrearty concentrates on the step's coordination.
Here The Ailey School's Peter Brandenhoff teaches Bournonville style, marked by its use of épaulement and quick footwork. Brandenhoff explains that at the peak of the grand jeté, it should look as if the torso is sitting atop the legs, unaffected, and the narrow second position of the arms should be presentational—like you're "giving a little tray of petit fours to the teacher," he says.
The back is an essential focus of Cynthia Harvey's ballet classes, especially as a part of port de bras. Here, she offers "plain," en face port de bras, followed by the same position with épaulement, to show the difference the back (and head and neck) can add to any position. Aspirational imagery helps students find their best épaulement: "Feel as if you have a tiara on," says Harvey. "Don't look like a student—look like a ballerina."
The piqué arabesque is a ballet staple that looks deceptively simple. At Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, LeeWei Chao uses the image of standing on the edge of a cliff to inspire correct alignment, emphasizing a strong supporting side so that dancers avoid tilting and dipping forward. "Your body energy goes up," he says. "Stay on that edge of the cliff. You sense the danger there, but that's the most beautiful moment."