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Thoughts OnTeaching Dance

me and gabby acro (2)
At age three, my mom brought me to dancing school. Not to make a career of dance, but because I loved to twirl around the living room while my parents listened to the great movie musicals of the 1950s and 60’s on their Hi-Fi. I danced around to the songs of The King and I with Yul Brenner and Debra Kerr, Oklahoma with Gordon Mac Rae and Shirley Jones and South Pacific with Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor. Little did she know that in the year 2015 I would still be dancing!

As a child and into my teen years my focus was to dance on Broadway, but always when I was with my best friend, we would spend time choreographing dances, from as early age as I can remember. We would dance for our class in elementary school at all the holiday parties and chorus concerts. Dances we would make up ourselves in the basement of her house or mine. The two of us were friends from our first day of dance school at three years old and our parents became friends during during those years.

We were close friends all through high school. Still attending the same local dance studio besides attending the New Jersey School of Ballet. We would also go to New York City to take class together at the various different profession studios. Her dance focus became stronger and stronger for performing as mine leaned towards teaching and having my own studio. As we approached our senior year in high school and after we graduated, we went to audition after audition in New York City. Together we passed several auditions that were touring companies of Broadway shows. Needless to say our parents gave us a hard time about leaving home. She eventually became a Radio City Music Hall Rockette, and was able to still live home, being only a short bus ride into the city.

While we were in our Junior year of high school, we began studying for our teacher certification exams for Dance Masters of America and Dance Educators of America. Two of the most prestigious dance teacher organizations of the United States. We both passed our exams and after graduating high school, I began teaching at my teachers’ studios, which at this point, they had three schools. My friend’s mother also found a teaching position open at a local music school who had spare space and wanted to add dance to their list of performing arts. As I dove in head first to this area of dance I grew to love it more and more. Working at all these schools became over whelming and the music school’s dance department began to grow rapidly. I needed to leave my teachers and go it on my own at the music school.

After being married at age 22, my husband and I opened our first dance school, T & C Dance Company, in Bloomfield, NJ . I did the teaching and he took care of all the business. He built the props, helped me order costumes and dancewear, and together we set my childhood dream a float. By age 30 and two children later, we opened a second school, ninety miles away from the first one. At the beginning of the 1990s I had a third child and I also began teaching dance ministry at our church. Those dancers were not only learning to dance but also to worship God in dance.

Through all of those teaching years I have found out that the bond between teacher and student can be a tight one. I am still in contact with students from back in those music school dance days and one of my original teachers from when I was 3. I keep in contact with the dance student that bought my New Jersey studios and my other dancers who went off to open their own studios. My school that I sold in Bloomfield, New Jersey, is still in operation and has just had their 27th show. These bonds are so important to me. I believe that I would never be as happy as a dancer in New York City as I am as a teacher.

Upon moving to New York State, I took on several teaching positions as a staff teacher. I have made more dance friends and more memories, that I could never have made as a performer. I cherish these relationships. And now with the opening of yet a 3rd school, Otsego School of Dance and Performing Arts, I have found a new home and formed new relationships that I call “family”.

Looking back at my life as a dancer, I believe that I chose the right path in the dance profession. The chance to make a difference in someone’s life The height of my leg extensions are not what they used to be, nor is my flexibility, but teaching dance instead of performing dance is much more rewarding…I am leaving a part of me in all my dancers….. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Locating A Dance School For You….

ballet dancers at the barreWith the new dance season coming just around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to discuss how to locate a good dance school…….

The first step to finding the right dance school for you is discovering what you truly want to do with dance in your life. Realize what your goals, dreams and desires are in respect to dance. Do you just want some exercise? Do you just want a social activity? If your focus is purely social and a little exercise, then your journey is much more easier than you thought. Just ask around.

But, if you absolutely love to dance —if you eat, think, sleep and dream dance — and have the thoughts of a professional career, either on stage, as a teacher or choreographer, then your goal is to find a school with teachers who have a focus on those same ideals. A teacher who has your dreams in their heart as well.

Once you know what kind of a dance school you are looking for, it will be much easier to find it. First, talk with the owner of the school. Do the teachers who work for the school have some type of certification or are on their way to one? What kind of experience do the teachers have? Where did they study? Don’t just be impressed with rows of trophies, since to be judged is always just someone’s opinion. Not all schools with rows of trophies have the dancer’s heart first and foremost in their value.

One thing to think about is dress code. Dress codes have multiple benefits for dancers in a class.  Not only do dress codes create uniformity and unity among dancers, it helps in teaching students the beginning basics of discipline and “dressing the part’” that is so important as a dancer.  When dancers wear the same attire, it minimizes distractions for students and creates an atmosphere of focus and energy.  Dress codes are also extremely important in helping instructors see mistakes in a student’s technique and body positioning, therefore allowing for better corrections and education. Dress codes are a form of “dancer discipline”. Is discipline a part of the school’s criteria? It should be. Dance is discipline.
Well rounded dance programs should offer an array of classes with the main focus on classical ballet and ballet technique with possibilities of pointe work in the future. Jazz, tap and modern should be second on the list of classes to search out. All of these classes contribute to the building of a well rounded, well informed dancer.

Does the school offer a graded syllabus where the dancer will progress to a certain level from year to year? This is an important question to ask. Just as you would graduate from grade to grade in school the same should be for dance school.

Does the school know what method of ballet that they offer. You would be surprised that some local dance schools have no idea that there are different methods or the differences between them. I teach the Cecchetti method, but some of the others that are foremost are the Russian Vaganova method and the Royal Academy of Dance method. We will discuss their differences in a future post. It is good for a school to focus one method instead of combining methods as many do. The variations in the syllabus and the technique can confuse a dance student.

Are you interested in an end of the year performance? Are you interested in dancing in a Nutcracker at Christmas time? Although these two aspects of dance school are important for learning stage presence they should not be the focal point of the studio, learning and increasing your dance technique should be the main objective.

Some signs of quality dance training are:
-Proper placement in class and focus on correct fundamentals
-Emphasis on correct execution of steps, with focus on clean lines, strength and stability,.
-Technical proficiency of a majority of students in the school. -Graduating dancers with intent to continue dance.
I am hoping that this dance season will be your best one ever, learning good solid technique, gaining strength, progressing and having fun!

Have You Heard This Before????

 

straight knees

 

 

Ballet class can get quite repetitious. You hear the teacher say the same phrases day in and day out. Why? Why do you hear these same corrections over and over again? Maybe, just maybe because you are NOT hearing them. You know, not fully paying attention in class. Is your mind is else where. When you are in class, be in class. It is just as nerve racking for your teacher to repeat the same thing over and over again as it is for you to hear it.

One correction that comes to mind, daily, or should I say, every class, is Pointe your feet! Honestly, the most beautiful of dancers looks like a sore thumb with un-pointed feet. When I see un-pointed feet I feel that the dancer is lazy. Stretch through the entire foot beginning with the ankle. Feel the stretch in your arch and reach with the toes. As soon as that foot disengages form the floor the stretch needs to be felt.

Since we are discussing the feet, the next step up the leg which gets me is the knee. To feel a full extension in your leg, your knees also need to be stretched. Pull up in the leg and straighten those knees. Achieve proper pull up in your releves by stretching the backs of your knees upon releve. When the knee is relaxed the leg appears bent.
Which brings us to, plie. This little word is so important to ballet training and performance. Without proper use of plie, no combination of steps can be executed properly. Whether it be adagio or allegro combinations, plie is there. Be sure you open the knees out over the toes to maintain correct body alignment. A simple plie is most important when dancing en pointe. The spring of a plie upon releve to full pointe essential and the coming back down to the floor is softened by a simple plie. How would you become air born in those beautiful jumps that you use in a grand allego, without a good foundation of a plie. Learn to plie correctly, remember it is the first thing you do at the barre upon the beginning of class.

Spot! Spot! …You are not Spotting! How is it you are not dizzy? Or are you dizzy? Spotting is an important technique during the execution of turns…all turns. Its’ goal is to attain a constant orientation of your head and eyes. In order to enhance your control and prevent dizzines As your body rotates at a constant speed your head rotates faster and waits for the body to catch up. Use it! Every time you turn. It also makes a cleaner looking turn….all turns

Well I know I have not exhausted my normal teaching complaints…there are many more. But I must say that these are the ones I say most often and the ones that I am sure you have heard many times. Lets get with it dancers pay attention to yourself. To the beauty that can be yours if you work at it and listen to what is taught every ballet class time.

Why Dance?

teacher and ballet student

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dancer develops in more ways than one can imagine.  A dancer develops  physically, artisticallyintellectually and emotionally.

 

And also Dancers develop socially, as they build relationships with in their studio. They join an artistic family. Within that family they will develop friendships and nurture a passion for the arts.

 

While having fun, dancers gain many benefits.

 

Dance is…

 

Physical Which involves….

  •     Balance
  •     Coordination
  •     Athleticism
  •     Correct posture
  •     Alignment
  •     Strength
  •     Flexibility
  •     Kinesthetic awareness

Artistic The dancer achieves…..

  •      Creativity
  •      Self expression
  •      Communication
  •      Aesthetic awareness
  •      Musicality

Intellectual Dancers develop…..

  •      Critical thinking skills
  •      Problem solving
  •      Time management
  •      Concentration
  •      Focus
  •      Self-discipline

Emotional A dancer gains…..

  •      Confidence
  •      Commitment
  •      Determination
  •      Self-respect
  •      Joy
  •      Excitement

In future posts I wish to elaborate on each of these topics, beginning with Posture and the necessary component – balance… And this is why we dance……

Thinking The Ballet Way

baby ballerinas

 

This past week, in a ballet class of dancers 6 to 8 years old, which we call our Novice Ballet class, a wonderful discussion came up out of a simple question. …..”Miss Teri, there are so many names that you say to the steps that we do. How can we remember all these names?”
Adorable! I just loved the question and saw a need for a very simple discussion…….So I proceeded to explain why I teach them all these strange words…..and we had a wonderful discussion!

Taking ballet class is beneficial at an early age. Ballet is a progression of many, many levels. The amount of levels and how the dancers progress is depending on the teacher and the school. Dancers should be taught simple and gradual in the beginning, to prepare the building blocks that they need to become the advanced dancer.

One of the most important things in ballet training is basic terminology, and the technique of those steps taught at the dancer’s particular level. One way I like to do that is have the dancers keep a journal, which we work on monthly. Very simple at the Novice level that I was speaking of in the beginning of this post, but more informative at the upper levels.

I prepare work sheets with vocabulary words (ballet steps and terminology) and also a diagram to paste in their journals, for the Novice level and the next level up the Mini level. (Older groups go on to dance history and more facts about ballets along with their level of terminology and syllabus.)

Along with our journals, that most of the dancers take pride in, I continually talk in ballet terms during our class times together. In breaking down their steps, I always speak in correct terms. Using the numbered walls and corners (Cecchetti method) and the terms upstage and downstage, stage right and stage left, is part of learning our steps. In learning choreography, traveling in the correct direction is just as important!

Just as learning a foreign language, which as we all know that ballet terms are in French, immersion of the correct terminology is essential in order to keep these terms and steps deep in their little brains and close to their hearts. Just as a child learns English, or any native language, the conversation in kept in that language or in ballet class, the terms are constantly used. Conversation, or terms, may be simple at first, but always used as communication.

Along with correct terminology, always Thinking the Ballet Way, we must use correct musical phrasing. Learning to keep rhythm and proper timing to music is essential to any piece of choreography. Most often, tap class is suggested as a method to learn simple timing. I agree with this method of teaching. Nothing better than some metal on the bottoms of those little feet to get the dancers to learn timing. Even as the dancers grow in age and ability, tap dance is one of the basics to feeling musicality, and a joyful way to just dance. I myself love tap, always have and I enjoy teaching it!

Another way to teach rhythm at an early age is through clapping or using rhythm sticks. Where the dancer learn patterns of timing using wooden dowels. Almost as a drummer would learn their skill. I like this method at the Pre dance level. They seem to enjoy it, but I prefer teaching tap instead since the rhythm is directly in the feet.

Terminology and Musicality…essential for Ballet class…..
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Teaching with a Set Barre

ballet black and pink 2

 

 

With the beginning of each dance season, in September, I teach a set of barre work that we will do each class for the entire season. The set of barre work is choreographed according to the level of ballet that we are beginning and is advanced as each season begins. A barre syllabus to be more explicit. Dancers often ask me why, we do the same barre work for an entire year. I will begin here, why and the necessity of a Set Barre.

To begin, in many small local studios, ballet class is a once per week maybe twice per week class. I am not an advocate of this method, but many families are on a set budget, and to allow their dancer to experience several styles of dance, only one or two ballet classes per week is their only financial option. For this primary reason, is why I like a Set Barre. The dancer who only takes a minimum of ballet classes per week will get to memorize the sequence in the beginning of the season and will eventually be able to correct themselves, and bring their work to excellence without having to concentrate on barre choreography.

Using a Set Barre allows the teacher to rotate some combinations. For example, some barrework will be done every class, such as plies tendus, ron de jambe and grand battements. Others every other class and some just here and there to review as the season progresses and gets more complicated with center and across the floor work. This enables the teacher to save time during the period of the year when the dancers are cramming to learn choreography for a performance. By repeating the same concepts the dancers have time to actually master the skills and their body has time to memorize positions the feet need to be in.

Another reason for a Set Barre is that when using a graded syllabus, the barre exercises correspond to the grade. In other words as the dancer moves up level by level each year so does the set of barre work. The barre combinations, needless to say, become more difficult and complicated with each level of ballet training. This is a proven method, that shows results in training, of how a dancer progresses at a slow continuous rate, as ballet training should be.

Learn your barre combinations each year so you may do them without thought of choreography, but just a thought of a good warm up. A warm up to excellence…..