Syllabus. Curriculum. Dance Teacher Training.
These are terms, which have garnered some negative attention in the ballet world as of late. I have witnessed school directors and teachers back away from them as if they were dirty “four letter words.” I believe this is simply because ballet teacher training has rarely been required in our current American dance culture. Simply having an amazing performing career does not constitute one’s ability to be a successful teacher, and vice versa.
Teaching is an art, and it is one that must be cultivated. Yes, there are those to whom it comes more naturally, but still, just as one needs to know their ABC’s before being able to form words and sentences, the vocabulary of ballet needs to be taught correctly, and in proper order before one can truly grasp its intricacies and become a ballet dancer.
For the beginning student, ballet needs to be taught slowly and with much repetition. Many teachers give class rather than teach class. Combinations made up on the spot from class to class do not instill the correct muscle memory for a dancer, and they become confused.
I have heard the argument, “How will the dancer learn to pick up choreography if they are repeating combinations?” To this I reply, “How many times did you write your own name before learning to write someone else’s?”
A tendu is a tendu is a tendu. If a step is properly taught, learned, and executed over and over, students will recognize the steps when they are presented with different combinations and choreography later on.
Why the resistance?
I believe that the resistance to teaching a ballet syllabus or adhering to a curriculum simply comes from the fact that many teachers have not researched and received proper teacher training. I was definitely one, who like many, taught during my ballet career and after, and I now realize that my classes were built on my own memories from being a professional dancer – not a student. It wasn’t until I began taking teacher training courses that I began to reconnect with what it really takes to make a dancer from scratch.
Freedom in structure
Teaching takes discipline, preparation, and continual self-education. When I look back on the teachers who were the most instrumental in my training, I see one common thread. While they may not have come from the same background, they all had a clear class design.
Carefully designing one’s ballet class and sticking to the structure allows the instructor to hone in on the details of training and help the student perfect their craft. Time spent “choreographing” a combination on the spot is time taken away from the student, and thereby, class becomes more about the teacher.
I encourage ballet teachers and directors who are reading this to think about what a gift it is to pass on the language of dance to the next generation. Let’s speak that language as clearly as we can. My most influential teacher, Duncan Noble used to say, “There are only two types of dancers: Good or Bad.” I know now how true that statement is and how crucial the instructor’s role is in that statement.