Danseur Ignoble (Again!): A Teaching Tip I’m Totally Going To Steal

Tonight, I went and rocked out Ballet Essentials (even though The Divine Ms. M playfully scolded me: “What are you doing in this class? You should be in the other class!” I explained I was saving my toe against Wednesday’s Intermediate class).

We had a raft of new dancers and a lovely, simple barre. At center, we worked the basic port-de-bras and positions of the feet, then did chassees (a droit, a gauche, et avant), then did a little combination in two versions: a simple “chassee avant right, chassee avant left” for the really new folks or a swift-traveling polka for those who had been dancing for a while.

You guys, I love polka (if you’re wondering, here’s a basic example: chassee avant right, hop [kind of a saute passe, really], chassee avant left).

Here’s the thing, though, that I’m going to steal: after everyone had traveled across the floor, Ms. M asked even the newest students to try the polka step — and then she said, “Imagine that you’re Clara in the party scene of the Nutcracker — or, for the gentlemen, that you’re Fritz. Get into character!”

At the same time, she demonstrated the characteristic steps for each part.

Suddenly, everyone had permission to play, to perform — and we did.

When you’re teaching adult beginners, especially, there’s a kind of play barrier that you have to knock down. Adults feel as if they must master technique, and they focus on it so hard that they forget to play and have fun and pretend to be Clara or Fritz.

You guys, I have to tell you — everyone in that room looked a hundred times better immediately once they jumped on that bandwagon. Even me.

I got my Fritz on. I thought about the character, about embodying that spirit of Sassy, Irritating Little Brother-ness (because, frankly, that’s a role I know pretty well; I’ve only been working on it all my life) and about how sometimes when you’re a little sibling, you do this thing where you both mock your big sib and show off at the same time. And then I danced that, and it looked cool.

You guys, it was fun, and I think we all enjoyed it.

So I’m going to remember that, and I am going to steal the heck out of it. Talk about “one easy trick!” It’s a nifty workaround to get adults to lighten up and enjoy themselves.

Which, of course, leads to better-looking ballet, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier today.

About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2015/07/27, in balllet, class notes and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. i completely agree about adults beginners needing permission to perform – and how it’s so much more fun when we actually do For the longest time I felt silly trying to perform because I knew my technique is definitely less than perfect, and I was more concerned with making sure that foot was pointed than actually dancing. But you’re right, people watch dancing to watch the dancers dance, not just admire their technique (oops was that from the last post, lol). I also spent some time youtube-ing gynmastics and I saw that difference between the artistry and just technical perfection. Now, while (gynmanstics) tricks aren’t necessarily art like ballet, they sure do make my jaw drop regardless…

    • You know, it’s funny — the foot-pointing bit was exactly what Ms. M mentioned in class! She was like, “Don’t even worry too much about pointing your feet!”

      This seems to be one of the mental things that really makes it hard for people to just move and enjoy themselves. I’ll have to remember that when I’m working on Complete N00b Dance Theater at Burning Man!

      • She sounds like an amazing teacher for adult beginners!

      • She really is! We have great teaching staff in general, but Ms. M has a real gift for teaching new adult dancers. I think it’s partly because she’s not afraid to embrace her own inner child.

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