Many dance teachers don’t really have a true, thought out method for maximizing class time and teaching their students efficiently. They come in and warm up the class, they know they will do barre that day, center work, across the floor, etc., and they have their class pre-prepared with a combination and music. And perhaps that day’s class will include the introduction of a new ballet step or ballet term, and the teacher thinks, “Well, I’ll introduce this today, and they’ll get it eventually with the repetition of coming to class over and over.” While this is true, why not speed up the process and teach in a way that really sticks? Teach efficiently, so your students progress quickly! And what better dancers they can become if they are on the fast track!
Follow this method, and let’s see what kind of dance artists we can raise this generation.
- Write the word. Note that your students must be of a reading/writing age! Otherwise, skip this step. If you have a dry erase board, great, otherwise you can put it on a piece of paper and stick it to the front mirror.
- Say the word out loud. Since ballet terms are in French, it is key to know your proper pronunciation! This also helps the auditory learners.
- Have the class pronounce the word. Listen for mistakes here. It’s embarrassing when you find out as an adult that you’ve been saying something wrong for 20 years, and it happens!
- Explain the step carefully. Often, in the process of performing ballet steps, the dancer must pass through another position to execute it properly (such as grand battements en cloche, which should pass through first position). This needs to be explained to students, because they probably won’t see it when they are seeing a step for the first time.
- Demonstrate the step carefully and correctly. Be sure to set a good example. Use an advanced student or a video if you are unable to execute an advanced step properly. Talk them through what you are doing as you are demonstrating.
- Have the class perform the step. I recommend teachers let students try the new step for a few moments in their own space, and watch themselves in the mirror. They can feel it, and it’s good to give them an opportunity to correct themselves.
- Identify common errors or tips, and tell the class what to be mindful of. For example, I give the following two tips for tendus to make students mindful of their turnout. I tell students to try to lead with the inside heel of their working leg when extending to the pointe in first position tendu, rather than leading with their toe. The toe is arriving first, but the effort should be focused on the heel to maintain good turnout. I also say the dancer should lead with the outer portion of their working toe when closing the tendu, rather than the heel. When closing, the heel arrives first, but the effort should be focused on the toe to ensure good turnout.
- Have students re-perform the step mindfully. Now, walk around and give individual praise and critiques, or have them perform it one by one and allow their peers to watch.
- Use the step in several sections of class that day. Repetition is an excellent, proven learning tool. Try to incorporate your new step at the barre, in the center work, as well as across the floor, if possible.
- Review at the end of class, and at the beginning of the next class. If you want your students to forget what you taught, teach a step one day, and don’t mention it again for several classes. If you want them to remember – review. Reviewing is another proven tactic for successful learning. It only takes a moment, and should never be skipped as your class syllabus moves on.
So there you have it – my tried and true ten step method for learning ballet steps and ballet terms. Happy teaching!!!