We’re halfway through first term, and as usual my students vary in ballet and dance experience from absolute beginners to people who danced through their childhood, teenage years and beyond. One of my new beginners explained they wanted clear goals to work towards. What kind of goals are appropriate for a beginner adult ballet student?
A good place to start may be what my goals as their teacher are. A bit of brainstorming brings up lots more than can be learnt in 10 weeks! But I hope to at least touch upon each these in those first 10 weeks. They can be roughly divided into physical skills and concepts.
Safety – using your body in a safe way during doing ballet, and what that entails.
Body awareness – body awareness is a journey rather than an end point, always developing. Even students with good body awareness for other movement disciplines need to learn how to apply it to ballet principles.
Experience the basic structure of a ballet class.
Class etiquette – there’s a long tradition of doing things certain ways. Most are designed to train the dancer to be good at performing on stage, from those moments actually on stage, through to the discipline and attitude needed to become a performer. I want my students to at least get a glimpse of the inherent beauty of these traditions.
There are more prosaic traditions too, like managing a class within the space of the studio, how to use the barre etc.
The history of ballet – an appreciation of ballet as a cultural tradition. I especially emphasis how the aesthetic (especially of what is an ‘ideal’ ballet body) has changed through time. I’ve found this is a great way of freeing up students ideas as to how their own body can interpret ballet.
Ballet is fundamentally a body movement discipline, not a body size or body shape discipline. As the teacher I’m looking at how their muscles, joints, and skeleton are moving, not at their weight or shape – and I’m certainly not judging them or their bodies in any way! No one else is judging either – they’re too busy working on their own learning!
The mirror is a wonderful tool to help them understand their alignment, not a torture instrument to make them feel bad about their bodies.
Performing – to start gaining an appreciation of ballet as a performing art, and how the technique helps build performance skills.
Musicality -A basic ability to hear the form and structure within music that ballet is based upon.
Ballet body versus gym (or other) body. Adults usually have extensive experience with many things beyond ballet. They need to differentiate between these and ballet, developing a concept of their ‘ballet body’ and learn to leave their ‘gym body’, ‘yoga body’ etcd outside the ballet studio.
Effectively warming up and cooling down – many students have plenty of movement experience already, and thus know this. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t make sure they knew.
Correct body alignment – the correct alignment of the entire body is essential both for technique and safety. Students need to understand what this is, and how to achieve it while moving, preferably in a ballet exercise!
Pointing feet – articulating the foot, and how apply this in different steps in ballet.
Demi-plie (ie knee bend)
Simple saute (ie jump!)
Start developing a beautiful line in port de bra (ie the arm movements),
Most of all though? I really really hope to inspire in my students a love dancing, and love ballet. If they already have this, to encourage and nurture it.
Of course these things evolve over time, but in 10 weeks a basic understanding does develop. I see it in my students’ faces and the look of understanding in their eyes.
I know it’s all starting to fall into place when (around the 6th lesson) the student says ‘Oh that was hard work!’ They can be doing the exact same exercise they did in their first lesson, but suddenly, they’re beginning to understand how to dance this ballet thing and are thus starting to do it properly – which makes it a lot harder, but infinitely more satisfying.
But what of my students’ goals?
Again perhaps the best place to start is with my own goals. I have been a beginner in many forms of dance, including ballet at the age of 15 – I remember it well! What were my goals as a beginner? I’ll explore these in my next post!