Thursday, May 23, 2013

Is it "Beginner" or "Basic" or "Adult" or "All of the Above"? The Trouble With Labeling Adult Ballet Classes

**Please note, I added to this post below with another great response from dancer/teacher/blogger Carla Escoda.  

Not long ago, Jamie Benson (instructor, performer, and choreographer - and blogger!) wrote a great article for Dance Advantage about Recreational Dancing for adults.  Specifically, the piece was for teachers of adult students.  It was terrific and naturally, I posted a link to it for all of my own students to see.

But what was equally interesting to me were the comments on the article.  One adult student posted about the changing makeup of the Beginner Ballet class she was taking.  She was frustrated that a new teacher had made it difficult for her to keep up and that there were advanced students taking the class, which she believed led to distractions for brand new students.

I really wanted to respond to this comment since this is an on-going issue for most teachers of drop-in classes. Unlike a college course or an intensive which has an end date, drop-in classes require constant monitoring of students so they can be beneficial to all who attend. I couldn't put into words what I wanted to say but fortunately, Jamie responded with a terrific answer, which I asked him if he would allow me to quote (thank you, Jamie!). You can go to the original article and scroll down through the comments for more but I wanted to highlight his reply for you:

"I applaud your venture into dance & hope that you take another step or two (both physically & metaphorically) before giving up on the notorious "beginner" / mixed level adult ballet class. You're bringing light to a real issue. Just today, I attended a mixed level ballet class where the instructor sort of fritzed out due to the varied levels of the participating students (horrific really). 

First of all, THEY the instructors should be "reading the room" so to speak & offering less experienced dancers slight modifications to the combinations. Even though they need to keep the class moving they also need to be throwing out very descriptive language for even simpler movements. The more experienced dancer needs to hear that too in order to be more expressive and refined in every moment. I would go directly to the instructor and/or staff of the studio and make suggestions of this nature. The studio is there to accommodate you as a student & the structure of these types of adult classes need to continually adapt to the students that want to take them. Because they're ALL different. 

As someone who sort of prides himself on teaching adults of all shapes, ages, & backgrounds, I can attest to that truth. Yes, some self sufficiency is important on the student's part as well. Take dance into your daily life a bit more. Bone up a little with very basic 10 minute instructional videos on Youtube. Familiarize yourself with more basic ballet content & don't forget to ask questions while taking class. Most importantly, don't be too hard on yourself - sounds easy but... Carla, who is awesome, is absolutely right. Whether it's because of time away from dance, an injury or just a need to focus on technique & not complicated sequencing, more seasoned dancers need to get back to basics too. It can be an opportunity for everyone involved. Hell I found myself quietly helping those that had not danced before during the class I took today. They may be your best ally."

Please note Jamie's suggestion that students also be "self-sufficient," that they do some legwork themselves (no dance pun intended!) to understand what ballet is about.  I often tell my new students to look at my instructional YouTube videos and go through my blog posts to get familiar with terminology and class procedure.  If you've never been in a ballet class, there are certain things we do in every class that, if you have some advance knowledge, you will have one less reason to be anxious!

So whether the class is called "Beginner Ballet" or "Adult Ballet" or in the case of my classes, "Advanced Beginner" and "Basic," please understand that there will always be a variety of students in there, from the complete newbie to the advanced dancer, and they are all there for very different reasons.  We want to make it a fun and educational experience for everyone so it helps all teachers if you keep an open mind and remain flexible too (another dance pun!). Happy dancing~

**Addendum: Carla Escoda, whom Jamie refers to in this comment, previously replied to the same woman who asked about her Beginning Ballet class.  This is Carla's fantastic and focused response (thank you, Carla!):

"There’s a big difference between ballet classes for adults that are labeled BEGINNER and ABSOLUTE BEGINNER – the former are almost always mixed-level, that’s just the way the economics of the studio business work out. Hopefully, teachers of mixed-level classes offer modifications to make the combinations easier or harder, but when they don’t, students have to figure it out themselves. To make a combination easier, you can turn pirouettes into balances, or do 4 slow ronds de jambes in place of 8 quick ones, or keep the arms in a low 5th position instead of doing a more involved port de bras… that kind of thing. 

Advanced dancers usually don’t show up to ABSOLUTE BEGINNER classes but they will sometimes come to mixed-level BEGINNER classes because they want to focus on some specific aspect of technique without having to deal with the complicated choreography in a more advanced class – it’s a good habit for them to occasionally take class at a lower level. And it’s valuable for the beginning students to have good visual role models – you can learn so much from watching someone whose technique is more proficient than yours. No matter how good a teacher is, he/she can only give you ONE view of what a step looks like!"

[As always, thanks to Nichelle at Dance Advantage for hosting Jamie (and others!) and for providing really helpful dance resources for teachers and students!]

1 comment:

Zoe (Mummarina) said...

Lovely article. Thank you.