Give this ballet teacher a piece of your mind

The Adult Beginner received this comment/question yesterday, and thought, why not open this up to the universe?

Love your blog… I frittered away a whole afternoon at work (just kidding, boss!) reading all your posts. So… I’m not adult beginner, but I am going to be a beginning adult beginner teacher (does that even make sense). One of my friends has conned me into teaching a beginning ballet class for teens/adults at the local rec center. I’m excited, but scared because I’ve always been on the other side of the barre! So… as an esteemed adult beginner, do you have any suggestions? Keep in mind that this class is going to be mostly all non-ballet people, so I’m thinking no on the sink or swim method since there won’t really be any people to follow. Would love any thoughts you (or any of your fellow readers) may have. Keep up the awesome blog!

Ok, well first of all, Aw shucks, I’m flattered.
Second of all, I do have some thoughts!
Ok, if they are brand new to ballet, let them follow you. Like, mark the exercise, say the names of what your doing, tell them what the French words mean in English, and then go to the front of the barre and lead them.
Maybe when you work the second side you can call exercises out, and walk along re-positioning people, but don’t worry about them remembering the exercises on their own until they’ve been at it for a while.
My first few classes, the teacher would mark, say the words, then stand back and let us go for it and I’d just be like, oh crap, which leg do we start with?! What exercise are we doing?! Where am I?!?!
Like, there was just so much to think about that I couldn’t keep even a simple series of a barre exercise in my head, and I would cheat by craning my neck around and following the girl behind me, and sometimes get cold-busted.
Also, physically repositioning is really helpful, ’cause, you know, sometimes us beginners can’t quite feel if what we’re doing is correct, and sometimes we’re afraid to check in the mirrors.
And funny ballet imagery rocks!
Adults love a good metaphor!
And make ’em sweat! Endorphins equals repeat business! Works on me!

Ok, Gentle Reader, you got opinions? Oh yeah you do!
Lay ’em down!

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About adultbeginner

Had my first ballet class Ever at the advanced age of thirty-two. Yikes.
This entry was posted in Technique and Class, You Asked for it and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Give this ballet teacher a piece of your mind

  1. amy says:

    This is all really good advice! (I am an adult beginner.) They won’t be able to remember the exercise in the beginning, that’s for sure. And don’t yell “stand up straight” because most beginners don’t have a clue what that means. Go to them and push them forward (gently of course). Many beginners think standing up straight is leaning back from the torso, with weight in the heels. I know I did in the beginning, because I didn’t understand the posture. Yes, that’s right, I couldn’t even stand properly, let alone do a tendu!

    Don’t worry about them getting bored. In the beginning there’s so much to think about, you don’t have time to get bored. Also be encouraging and positive! Point out something they did nicely. But don’t give empty flatteries. Most adult beginners I dance with (we all got hooked on ballet) want to work really hard, improve, and develop strength, grace and style while having fun. If you can give that to your students, they will love you and return!

    Thanks for teaching!!!!!!!!!

    • Yes! Really good point about helping them learn to stand correctly.
      As a kid I was constantly told to “Stand up straight! Shoulders back!”, so I developed this painful posture with my shoulders not just too high but also drawn too tightly together in back. Changed my life when my teacher pushed my shoulders forward and then down and said, “Remember how this feels. This is correct.”
      Of course she had to remind me several times, I mean, it was a thirty-two year old habit. But seriously, if you can do this one thing for your students, you are changing their lives for the better.

      • Devin Durapau says:

        I agree completely with this… what is the point in teaching ballet if you cant even go around and SHOW your students the way they are supposed to be doing it? (No Offense to Smirnoff! Reading this blog still makes him sound like a totally dedicated and awesome teacher!)

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  3. Jessika says:

    I thought I was going to poop my pants my first class. I was mortified!! Actually, mortified is an understatement. My beginning teacher did it right though. She went slow, and by slow i mean slooooooooow. She fully explained the positions, arms (even though we only used 2nd and hands on hips), french/english translation and metaphors, all the basics up front. Talk to your students like they are children but don’t make them feel like children. They might nod their head and say they understand but what they really mean is “huuuuhhhh??”

    Start with therapeutic. We didn’t do it and boy does it make a difference. Most people don’t know how to warm up properly and think static stretching is the way to go……NOPE.

    Everything we did at the barre was done more than once, en croix and always facing the mirror (ahhhh!!) so we could see ourselves and the teacher. There was a lot of shuffling around but it helps in the beginning. At first we felt vain for looking at ourselves in the mirror but it taught us to use it to our advantage.

    For a majority of the year we only did barre, no center work. Instead, our teacher incorporated workouts to strengthen our feet, calves and core. If we did center work, it consisted of going over épaulement and basic arm positions. This was great in the beginning but hurt us when we started taking the intermediate class because we didn’t know how to move. Keep it simple for a few months then get them off the bar so they don’t get cocky. I thought I was awesome….until I realized my death grip was the only thing that kept me from falling on my face.

    I totally agree with Amy, a hands on approach is very helpful but ask before you go poking someone’s tush or adjusting body parts. We joke around with our teacher when she pokes us at the barre but others might not find it so funny.

    Most of all….. have fun!! I met some of my closest friends in my beginning ballet class. It’s been a year 1/2 and we are just as nuts about ballet as we were when we first started.

    I hope this was helpful. Happy teaching!!

    • Poop your pants? Gross!
      I like, “talk to your students like they are children but don’t make them feel like children”
      I say Word to that.
      There is no metaphor too silly. Teacher tells me to zip up my trunk so my junk doesn’t fall out- I’m going to laugh and remember to keep pelvis level.

  4. mkr says:

    I think the above comments are spot-on. Also, in terms of music, I’d keep it really really simple. Even advanced dancers have trouble with tricky counts and such, so really keep it to the basics. They’ll be caught up in what their feet and legs are doing; they shouldn’t have to feel even more overwhelmed by the music.

    • Music is a funny thing. My teacher uses this one phrase of music every time we do pirouettes at the barre. The music is in a minor key. I always feel Very Serious while attempting pirouette.
      Would like to add: be organized with your music. If students have to wait while you find that one song, it just gives them more time to get antsy, slouch, look in the mirror, fret, pull on their tights, feel awkward, you know, all those things that kinda take you out of the positive mental spirit of a ballet class.

  5. candice says:

    One other thing – do the same class every week if you can. At the very least the exact same barre.

    The adult beginner class I took that got me back into dancing was a set class – whether the class was cecchetti grade 3 or 4 varied by season. I still go take that class occasionally – it’s so relaxing to have the barre memorized.

    (grades 3 and 4 are traditionally for ages 8-11 or so. but they work very well for adults.)

  6. Jen says:

    They don’t know anything, so tell them everything, consistently. They’ll get more every time. Point out someone doing it correctly. Have a more advanced student join your class to mark so you can walk around & observe, or wait till the 3rd or 4th class to let them go on their own.

    My first instructor (for intro) talked a ton about making things look pretty. We needed to not feel so self conscious and this was great…hey! That IS pretty! Etc. We did simple balancés for center so we could get used to being without a barre.

    Keep in mind these students have probably never stood properly, and start with the feet as foundations; all 10 toes on the floor, weight evenly distributed, where turnout begins, how to push through 1st & 2nd toe into shin for levee, etc. Little, simple pointers are great.

    Anyway.

  7. Jen says:

    I mean a more advanced student to lead barre after you’ve called & marked it, not mark. Sheesh.

  8. I just came across your blog and boy am I glad!

    My first class was a few months ago, and by the end of it I thought I had made a huge mistake. You don’t want beginner students wondering if they were put in the right class when they leave. We went right into plies, tendues, rond de jambre, etc all in our first class. Alot of people dropped out! It is hard to do a plie without someone showing you properly how to do it first! The best thing for teachers is to understand that we know nothing, and not everyone is there just for a workout, some of us want to properly learn technique and advance just like younger students. We want to be taken seriously too!

    • Yes! We want to do things properly! We want to learn the right way!
      And a well-timed compliment can turn an overwhelming class around. I mean: you’re struggling, the class seems beyond your level, and then the teacher tells you she can see you’re working that natural turn-out, or you have great hands, or she can see you feel the music, and suddenly everything is possible.
      High-five and welcome, fellow adult beginner!

  9. Ballettmieze says:

    Hi everybody!

    My advice for teaching adult beginners would be to introduce them (at least a little/form time to time) to ballet history and stuff like that, too. Most adults show interest in things like “first, ballet has been a matter of male dancers” and maybe for some it is helpful to know, how certain steps have developed and why (e.g. Tendue steps = a movement to travel through rooms at royal courts, pushing away the heavy cloth of your skirt with your feet – turned out, of course, so that people see your valueable shoes/the precious stones attached to them – in order not to trip over it).

    Kind regards from Germany :o), Ballettmieze

    • Oh, I Love! this suggestion!
      Especially the Phantom Costume Syndrome in tendu. Want to learn more about this!
      Do you have any book recommendations?

      • Ballettmieze says:

        well, actually I only know German books on that matter. But maybe you could simply look for books on the “history of ballet”? I think there’s one called “Apollo’s Angels” which received quiet good reviews.

  10. Okay – so I’ve spent a while thinking about this and here are some of my thoughts. I realise that some of these might not apply to a class full of complete beginners but thought they might be useful anyways:

    * Yes, yes, yes to the whole “talk to them like children but don’t make them feel like children” – yesterday one of my teachers told us that she calls passe “raising the flag” in her 5yr olds class. She explained that this was to remind them not to let their foot leave their standing leg when raising it, as a flag doesn’t leave the flagpole. We were all laughing about it, it eased the tension for the first-timers and was actually a really useful metaphor. On the “not making them feel like children” one of my teacher actually asks us what we want to do every so often. Not in a “we want to do some break-dancing moves instead of a tendu combination” but more of a “here’s tendu combination A, here’s tendu combination B, which would you prefer”. This is a nice touch that makes me feel a little more adult in class.

    * Speed of teaching – I’m going to buck the trend a little here and say that I like a fast-paced “thrown in the deep end” kind of approach. My first ever teacher warned me this was his approach in my first ever class and it has worked well for me. He showed me the basic foot positions and we went straight into plies. I treat classes like that as a challenge and as long as you reassure students that it’s perfectly okay not to be able to do everything I think it is a good technique. Also, as in my case, if you have 15 “experienced beginners” and 1 newbie then you don’t want to bore the other students (even though I enjoy and benefit from going over the basics again and again) and more importantly, you don’t want the newbie to feel singled out and the “odd one out”. That all being said – you say that your class will all be newbies, so maybe this technique won’t work out.

    *Consider giving ‘homework’ – Okay, so you might think this sounds crazy, but if you have a student who is keen then consider giving them a little homework assignment. I’m not meaning getting them to do plies and the like at home (especially as this can encourage bad technique) but I had a teacher give me a list of male dancers to search for on YouTube and the next week we talked after class about what I thought of them and what made them differ from each other. This also highlighted the performance aspect of dance – it is very easy to get swept up in technique and forget to perform.

    *Performing – so I’m torn on this one. On the one hand most of my teachers remind us during Barre and especially center work to think that we are performing to an audience and I find this really helps. Just the thought of having people watching (although thank God there is no parent observation week for adult classes!) makes me bring something extra to class. On the other hand I have taken a couple of classes with a new teacher recently who concentrated a little too much on performance for my tastes. In the run up to Christmas she had us put on Nutcracker “shows” each week – pretending to be soldiers then snowflakes. Because there was the performance aspect the combinations were really simple (verging on tedious) and I just felt a little stupid saluting a non-existent audience. Maybe that’s just me being self-conscious but hey-ho!

    *Attire – this is kind of a biggie. I don’t know if the school you teach at has a dress code, it seems most places don’t for adult classes. It also seems like most places don’t mention this on their website etc. If you can, let the students know beforehand how you want them to come – even just saying something like “yoga wear + ballet slippers” will do. That being said, give students the option to dress a bit more “Ballet-y” if they want. As a guy, I wear black tights, black slippers and a white T-shirt: I like the formality as it shows I’m taking it seriously, but there are people who turn up in shorts and a logo-ed T-shirt and that’s fine too. Oh, and if you have any guys turn up, please take them to the side to check if they have a dance belt, and if they don’t give them a little advice or send them to sites like BalletForMen.com for more info – they do not want to take class without one!

    *Make sure you have fun! If it seems the teacher is having fun, then I’m more likely to have fun. Have a little joke with your students. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or forget your own combination. This shows us you are human too. As children we want to see teachers as infallible fountains of knowledge, as adults we want to see you as human. In fact, this is a really useful way of pointing out common errors – “When I first started I used to…” or even “I still have to work really hard not to..”

    Okay these are my current thoughts – if there are any more I’ll be sure to post them!

    David
    DaveTriesBallet.com

  11. Johanna says:

    Adult beginner wrote: “A well-timed compliment can turn an overwhelming class around. I mean: you’re struggling, the class seems beyond your level, and then the teacher tells you she can see you’re working that natural turn-out, or you have great hands, or she can see you feel the music, and suddenly everything is possible.”

    I could not spell it out any better. Still applies 17 years later.

    Also: a teacher who seems happy to be there and has a calm authority about her. Understands that while we dance for our own enjoyment, we have not come to class to pretend-play, but to learn proper ballet to the best of our present and future abilities! (Did that sentence make any sense? It´s really late..) Whew. To finish:

    Thanks to my first teacher Jill, for introducing me to ballet and encouraging me at every step along the way. I miss you dearly.

  12. jenniferc says:

    I would suggest you watch everyone (not just the ‘advanced’ dancers) and give everyone corrections they can ‘work on’….nothing too unrealistic. (I had a teacher once tell an adult ballet class everyone’s first position should be 180 degrees, completely turned out, unless you were over 80!…I never went back to that teacher). Even if someone is an absolute beginner, give them one suggestion (work on softening their fingertips, or something they can work on improving) even though they seem completely lost in their legs/arms/head/feet/hips. Focusing on one thing and improving on one aspect can be encouraging for an adult ballet student, who can feel overwhelmed with all the things we need to remember in ballet =)

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  14. Pingback: Adult Ballet Beginners on Schedules, Attire, and Blogging | danskinshorts.net

  15. Marianne Almon says:

    What type of ballet qualifications do you as beginner adult ballet teacher have? I have such a passion for ballet but only went as far as Pre Elementary many moons ago but for the last 3 years done a mixture of grade 6, intermediate foundation, intermediate and little of Advanced. And, now think of starting my own adult ballet classes with what I know. What ya think?

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