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Increasing Your Students' Ballet Classes

One question I get a lot from other teachers is "how do you get your students to take more ballet classes"?  My first question back is "why do you want them to take more ballet?"  Mind you, I'm not trying to talk anyone out of additional ballet classes, I just like hearing the answers.   The post that follows are some of the reasons I get in response and suggestions on how to achieve those particular goals.

 

"My students want to start pre-pointe or pointe work".  This is an easy one.  The students have a goal that they want to meet and as the teacher / studio owner it is our responsibility to make sure they meet that goal safely.  Ballet is a very specific type of movement pattern. While other dance forms will help us become better ballet dancers, we still need to train in the particular movement patterns that we don't really use outside of ballet before moving on to pre-pointe and pointe.  Studies have determined that consistency, duration and the student's ability to remain mentally engaged during the class are all more important than the overall number of hours being completed in a week.  Additional studies indicate that extended training times can increase the potential for injury, especially in tween and early teen dancers.  Educating the parents on this information can help them to understand why multiple classes are needed. 

Here is a suggestion for introducing multiple ballet classes.  Divide the regular class into 2 components - a technique class that has its emphasis on barre work, alignment, center floor and components of across the floor work and on a separate day a variations class where there is a shorter barre or suitable warm up but with the emphasis of the class on the execution of choreography / variations.  Only the variations class would work on a recital or concert piece, which helps to ensure that the students are getting at least 1 full technique class a week, but students can't take the variations class without the technique class (although letting interested students just take the technique class would be great).  If a student was interested in and ready to participate in a pre-pointe or pointe class, that would then give them a 3rd class during the week.  The technique and variations classes would ideally be 75 - 90 minutes depending on the age and level of the students.  Pre-pointe and pointe - 60 minutes (not all being done en pointe for lower levels).  More advanced pointe students could possibly do their variation en pointe or a separate pointe piece.

 

"Ballet is the foundation for all other dance forms".  I might be opening the proverbial can of worms here, but I disagree with this statement and so by default disagree with this being a reason to have students take more ballet classes.  In many studios, ballet is the one dance form that is taught in a slow, structured and codified way.  It is often the first style of dance introduced to young dancers and as such becomes a reference point by default.  Some of the reasons students complain about taking ballet are:it's too slow, it's too technical, it's boring etc...  If other dance forms were introduced methodically and truly building from the basics up, without skipping ahead to teach tricks, the same complaints would probably be heard about those styles at the beginner level.  

If your goal is to give your students a stronger foundation to carry into other dance styles, incorporating ballet would never hurt, but be a little creative in the implementation.  Forcing a student to take ballet because it's good for their x, y or z dance styles will only encourage students to continue to see ballet as an experience that has to be endured to allow them to do something else.  Your goal should be for the students to begin seeing the beauty of ballet for its own sake.  The trick is to merge these two goals.  

First, determine why you really want to have your students take more ballet.  Is it truly for the ballet technique or are you hoping to improve any of these areas: posture, alignment, strength, flexibility, musicality, body line and / or quality of movement?

Next, develop a class that meets those needs incorporating a mixture of ballet, modern, floor barre, pilates, yoga, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique or similar.  Title the class based on what you want the dancers to gain from it - Strength and Flexibility, Cross Training for Dancers, Dance Conditioning, etc.  Require this class in place of the extra ballet class.  You may find the students more receptive to the information being presented without any negative perceptions of ballet clouding their minds.  The teachers will also gain freedom in class structure since the traditional ballet class format doesn't need to be followed.  Additional time can also be spent relating the movements and theories explored during this class to the students' other dance classes.  An added benefit, your students who enjoy ballet will continue with their ballet training and possibly add these classes as well. 

 

Looking for ways to spice up your current ballet classes without tampering with the format? 

An easy switch is to change up your music.  Once in a while through in some pop, rock or any "non" ballet music or use fully orchestrated selections of classical music for a different sound. 

Students already taking multiple classes?  Once a month replace one of their regular ballet classes with a floor barre, barre conditioning or center barre class. 

Have a reverse day where everything starts on the left side.  It's a fun change of pace and good for the brain.

Theme your classes around a particular movement for the day - this doesn't mean to only use that movement, but relate the exercises to how they help improve that movement.

Find out what your students' biggest aversions to ballet are and see if you can bridge those gaps without compromising their education or your beliefs. 

Include a ballet history day a couple of times a year.  Choose between a classical ballet, choreographer, dancer, company or style.  If you have the ability include a combination of observation through video / dvd and participation.

Explain the hows and whys of the steps and ask the students to explain to you the integration either into more complex steps or other dance styles.  This method helps the dancer to educate him/herself to the value of ballet training.

Recognize students for their progress not just their achievements.

Help students to set realistic goals for themselves each semester. 

Help the students feel comfortable in ballet class.  Become cognizant of which students have body image issues, could a dress code of just leotards and tights be anxiety inducing enough to have students not want to take the class?  Would something as simple as adding a ballet skirt help? 

Have students been told that they have to take ballet because they aren't :graceful, flexible, turned out enough etc in another class? If so they are walking in the door already feeling like they aren't going to be good at ballet because they aren't good at the things that they associate with ballet.

 

It's important to remember that every studio / school is it's own unique community.  What works in one community doesn't always work in another, so finding the best combination of classes for your situation is a bit of trial and error.  What does seem to be fairly universal is that students and parents observe the progress of other students.  When a group of students begins to progress others will look to see what the lead group is doing to make that progress and try to emulate it.  Once this pattern begins to happen, the momentum for the program builds and begins to sustain itself as the new norm. 

Happy Dancing !

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Comment by Nichelle Strzepek on March 27, 2011 at 7:24pm

"Ballet is the foundation for all other dance forms" - a pet peeve phrase of mine. I brought it up on our Facebook page once and it ruffled a few feathers. I wholeheartedly agree that this is simply not true and I like the way you've phrased your explanation. We've put ballet in the position of bearing all the responsibility for technique because it's not being met in other classes/forms in our studio instruction. It makes it harder for ballet students to get to and explore the more artistic (and more fun) aspects of ballet, as well.

 

You've shared many wonderful tips here, Anneleise. I will be sure to share this post with the giveaway entrants who I know will appreciate this response to their own feedback.

Comment by James Robey on March 27, 2011 at 11:51am
Excellent article! The "ballet is the foundation of all other dance forms" myth should be registered as an urban legend. The modern dance pioneers were all "skirt dancers" in vaudeville-like shows that wanted to be taken more seriously as artistic dancers. They did not come from ballet; they were just an alternate approach to ballet as the reigning concert dance form of the time. The same is true for jazz dance which has deep roots that extend long before ballet trained dancers intersected with the form. Thanks for the great article!

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