Ballet is hard, and seeing students discover this fact is both exciting and painful at the same time. Once serious ballet training begins, a student will spend a lot of time facing the barre, and in most studio settings, this means they’ll be staring at a blank wall for months. So how does one instill the joy of dance and foster that passion from the first class to the final bow? Here are a few ideas.
Training isn’t entertaining. Allow the hard work to hook students.
Sadly, in our insta-culture where everyone gets a trophy, many teachers fall prey to the “ballet is boring” trap, and they try to keep their students engaged by bribing them with theatrics or prize rewards.
Guess what? Ballet is engaging on its own if it is taught correctly. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Dancers love to work hard. The excitement and eventual satisfaction a young ballet student feels when required to work on a step over and over is brand new to them. Allowing a dancer (of any age) to fall in love with hard work is paramount to falling in love with ballet – for life.
Encourage personality from the beginning
“The world doesn’t need another mean ballet dancer,” I tell students. First impressions are key. What we say with our faces sets the tone for the entire experience for the student, the teacher, and eventually the audience. I firmly believe that encouraging expressiveness is key to helping the ballet dancer enjoy the work.
What we say with our faces sets the tone for the entire experience for the student, the teacher, and eventually the audience.
When concentrating, we often forget about facial tension. The muscles are memorizing an expression of the face at the same time as gaining the strength to stretch the legs, hold the arms, etc. Proper epaulement uses the head, so why not also use the eyes? Not only is it engaging to watch, but it helps the dancer begin to discover their artistry.
I explain to ballet students that the difference between looking like a student or a professional is often as simple as the facial expression you’re making. In an audition, if there are two dancers of equal ability, but one looks pleasant and the other looks nervous, guess who’s more than likely to get the school acceptance or the job?
Focusing primarily on the performance is an opportunity missed for joy
We live in an impatient society, and with all of the instant access to everything; we’ve lost the joy that comes from anticipation. Ballet students need to be encouraged to see the work in the classroom as rewarding in itself, and then, when they finally make it to the stage, they will have the entire experience to relish for life – not just the time from curtain up to curtain down.
Performing is a goal. It is a reward. It is the cherry on top. But in the training of ballet dancers, if we don’t teach how to enjoy the journey in its entirety, our artists are going to miss out on the chance for a huge love affair with ballet.