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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.

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