I believe in student-centered teaching. Education of any kind, whether academic or artistic, is about the growth of the student, and my primary goal as a ballet teacher is to contribute to the holistic development of each student I teach. Classical ballet serves as a means to this end by improving strength, flexibility, grace, and coordination, but also by developing creativity, personal aesthetic, and the ability to express oneself artistically. Finally, studying ballet encourages discipline, perseverance, confidence, and the desire to reach for ever-higher levels of excellence.
My secondary goal as a teacher is to build in my students an appreciation for the art of ballet as they train to become the best dancers they can be. I work to give each student a thorough understanding of classical technique and to help them develop their abilities to the fullest, but I realize that a professional career is not for everyone. My desire is that, regardless of my students' dance ambitions, they will value ballet as an art form and enjoy the process of learning about and refining their technical and artistic performance.
My classes are based on the Vaganova syllabus. This methodology’s slow, systematic approach to introducing the steps in the ballet vocabulary gives students a solid understanding of the foundational concepts of technique on which more advanced steps will later build. To further achieve this end, I give the same combinations over a period of several classes. The repetition of exercises allows for maximum concentration on the execution of each step rather than on simply remembering a sequence.
Ultimately, the purpose of the ballet class is to prepare the dancer for performance. To this end, I also strive to maintain a theatrical environment in my classroom by emphasizing the use of the upper body, by making frequent references to the stage or the audience, and occasionally by using nontraditional musical accompaniment that the students find relatable or inspirational. This emphasis encourages the development of artistry as well as enhances the enjoyment of the class routine. Stage presence does not come naturally for many performers; artistic expression must be practiced and mastered in class along with every other aspect of technique.
My primary modes of instruction are verbal directions, physical corrections, and in the beginning levels, demonstration as necessary. Young dancers and students who are new to ballet often need to see examples of correct lines in order to understand the ballet aesthetic; however, as they mature, spoken as opposed to visual cues train students to be more attentive and quick-thinking. Physical corrections in a dance class are often necessary for the student to attain a kinesthetic understanding of correct placement or execution. There are no mirrors on stage, so the student must know what the right position feels like in order to produce it.
I strive to conduct my ballet classes in a safe, positive environment. Rather than raising my voice or using harsh words or insults to give correction, I encourage my students’ efforts and correct them in a positive way so that I can demand excellence from them but also build their self-esteem. I also believe it is far more profitable to train students to correct themselves and think independently than to force them always to rely on the teacher for guidance. Therefore, I frequently ask my students questions or have them evaluate their own or each other’s performance to help them learn to analyze and problem solve.
Studying classical ballet is serious and challenging work, but I also want my students to enjoy class and to see the studio as a place to expand their knowledge in every area. At the primary level, I rely heavily on the use of props, games, and creative movement strategies to develop motor skills, attentiveness, musicality, and individuality. With older dancers, I like to incorporate age-appropriate academic concepts into class, whether it's identifying the shapes the body makes in various poses, calculating the total number of jumps in a petit allegro, translating French terminology, or discussing the history behind a given step. I love to see students make connections between what they learn in school and what they learn in the dance studio – it teaches them that every moment is a learning opportunity.
A good teacher, in my opinion, is always a student. I am continually seeking to expand my knowledge about dance techniques, history, choreography, and kinesiology, and I hope that my passion will inspire my students to love learning as well. The ballet studio itself provides ample opportunity for this. A teacher of mine once told me that ballet class is a science experiment, where you can explore ideas and try new things just to see what's possible. In my teaching, I hope to help my students see ballet class from this perspective, to approach each class with a sense of adventure and curiosity which will lead to the wonder of new discoveries.