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Teaching ballet beyond the classroom


Anjuli_Bai
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When we discuss how dance is taught, overwhelmingly we tend to talk about teaching methods, how many hours of class, when to begin pointe work, stretching, and other elements of ballet class. But I think there is another very important element to teaching ballet - teaching it as an art form, not simply as a set of steps, poses, movement, structure.

 

When I was dancing, I always had in the back of my mind an image of a dancer I admired and it was to that image that I projected myself. For me, it was Margot Fonteyn. I had seen her dance and that is what I wanted to look like.

 

I think it is important to stretch the student's view beyond the classroom - to inform them of the history and to see themselves as part of the continuum of that history. Diagelev thought it was important too. He took his dancers (his dancers being the greatest of their time and the foundation of much of today's ballet) to museums, art galleries and encouraged them to seek out all kinds of art - beyond their daily scope.

 

Today, with the availability of DVD's, this is much easier. When I was teaching, approximately four times a year, I would have my students meet in the studio on an off day, or come to my home and show them the tapes I had of the great dancers of the time - and also history. I was fortunate to have a huge collection of tapes - but many are now available in public libraries or can be bought on E-Bay, etc.

 

I wanted my students to see themselves as part of this history. I didn't limit the showings to the "exciting" parts - but included many of the softer and slower sections such as the Kingdom of the Shades section from La Bayadere or the beautiful adage for Siegfried at the end of Act I, Swan Lake.

 

To my happy surprise, I found that my students had no difficulty falling under the spell of the "quieter" moments. The spectacular stuff was not excluded but was part of the package.

 

This kind of connection with the art form can also be included in the daily class - by not only teaching the "how to" of a step - but its history. And, when the students perform, to let them know they are now part of this long - over 500 yr - history. The history of the stage.

 

So - this brings me to.....are the studios/schools which your children attend offering this kind of "beyond the class" view - are they being shown the bigger - and deeper - history?

 

Are they encouraged to attend performances?

 

There are also some wonderful books with pictures - are they encouraged to read them? Is there discussion of line and shape in those pictures? We used to sit on the floor with some of those pictures and actually measure out the triangles created by a beautiful lift or a lovely arabesque - so they could see what made it - not just "correct" - but beautiful. We also discussed how to photograph ballet which was helpful to them when they needed to send off a picture for an audition.

 

Are they encouraged to read the bios and autobios of famous dancers?

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My little dd loves watching ballet.She has a big collection of dvds..When her friend come around she wants to share it with them but they are not impressed!

Also our local dance school has a libary of dvds,you can take them whenever you want.

We recently watched Orpheus and Eurydice and she loved it even though she didnt understand it.

At school recently the children had to pick a famous person and do a project on them.She picked Anna Pavalova.She made a presentation and then danced part of the dying swan,well her own version!

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My little dd loves watching ballet.She has a big collection of dvds..When her friend come around she wants to share it with them but they are not impressed!

That reminds me of an occasion when my DD was about 5 and had a couple of little friends round to play. One of them wanted to watch a DVD, and DD, being the dutiful little hostess, asked what she would like to watch. "Have you got Cinderella?" asked the visitor. "Oh yes", replied DD pulling out a ballet DVD and putting it in the machine. The guests were a little non plussed and asked if she had the "proper" DVD. Slightly exasperated, DD ejected the ballet, and rummaged around in the cupboard til she found the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. If I recall rightly, they did sit and watch that one but it clearly wasn't what they were expecting!

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This is very interesting. I have lots of lovely ballet books,many i used to have as a child, or borrowed from the library, and have recently bought my own copies to keep. They are a treasure, with some beautiful photos in them.They inform and educate about the art, the difficulty of the training, the correct physique required, etc. I recently got into two separate, heated discussions with people in the States, i think they were. I`m not a snob, at least i don`t like to think that i am. However, there was a female on Youtube who was calling herself, and everybody else in her ballet class, a ballerina. I replied to her comment that,unless she was a female principal dancer in a professional company, she couldn`t or shouldn`t really give herself such a title, especially since she remarked that she was still training. She told me i was stupid, and that everyone in the class called themselves a ballerina,"Because that`s exactly what they were", and if they were not ballerinas what were they, trolls? This ignorance just made me cringe.! Another, recent comment was by another "Ballerina", on Youtube, who hoped that Ballet was going to be included in the Olympics one day, as she hoped to be good enough to be in it. I replied to her comment, saying how can ballet ever possibly be included in the Olympics,when ballet is an Art form, not a sport.? She replied, rather nastily, that i i needed to "get with the times", as ballet is now considered to be a sport [news to me], and that it therefore could be in the Olympics in the future. These two recent examples make me wonder what on earth their teachers teach them, apart from the mere steps during their ballet classes, that they are so misguided? If they were to read the books, [A Dancer`s World by Margot Fonteyn, springs immediately to mind,] they would be informed exactly what it takes to become a professional dancer,and they would understand , hopefully what a ballerina was, and that they, as students , were most definately not it. !! I don`t think it is enough to be proficient in performing and executing the steps required in ballet.You have to know its history, its former great dancers. And you have to know that ballet will never be a sport, for goodness sake.! I`m dismayed that there are young people taking regular ballet classes that don`t seem to have a clue.!

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What a fascinating post Anjuli. Not something that ever happens in my daughter's school. The closest she's come is via repertoire classes at Easter and Summer Schools.

 

Luckily we have a wealth of DVDs at home, ranging from LCB's productions to Royal Ballet. We take dd to see ENB every year, along with Ballet Central's tour and - when we can afford it - Royal Ballet. Don't even get me started on all the ballet books at home and posters on dd's wall! :-)

 

Anjuli, I wish you lived near me and could give DD the odd lesson...:-)

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What a wonderful subject! Thank you Anjuli.

 

I too use the visualisation of "real" dancers performing to inspire my own attempts at ballet. If I have difficulty with a particular step or sequence I will try to find an example in something I have recorded. Beautifull batterie or gliding courrus in Giselle, graceful port de bras of a swan or perfect arabesques in the shades. I imagine myself as being one of those beautiful dancers (tutu and everything) and tell myself I it is possible: therefore I should (with practice) be able to do it too!

 

When teaching then, I also try to give the students examples of where the steps we are learning have come from, which ballets they can be seen in or particular dancers who were famous for executing or devising them. A portable DVD player can be helpful, especially in getting across the feeling/ look of the step in a real-life situation and not just the sometimes sterile (syllabus or free class) exercise. Hopefully they can gain inspiration and an understanding and passion for the artform too!

 

Off to the Cinema tonight to see the RB Romeo and Juliet... can't wait to be inspired all over again!

 

RK

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"can't wait to be inspired all over again!"

 

That's what it's all about.

 

 

One of the things I used to do for myself when I was dancing and for my students when I taught was to see an audience in the mirror. Yes, the mirror is a tool to check oneself....but I would also pretend that it was an audience and thus the idea of a stage was always present. The classroom became a stage. When we did our reverence at the end of class it was to that "audience."

 

I felt this encouraged me and my students to dance "outward" - not inward....to give it away.....as a gift.

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Anjuli, you sound like a marvellous teacher! Some of the things you describe are how it's done in DD's school too - group trips to see the live screenings of ballet at the cinema, visits to the ballet, DVDs to watch, suggested Youtube videos to study to compare how dancer X and dancer Y do the same variation, or the differences between company X and company Y.

 

Spanner, the Royal Ballet needn't be expensive. We used to have free or highly subsidised tickets through the Paul Hamlyn Foundation - you need to see a Paul Hamlyn family production first, which are invitation-only events for non-traditional ballet audiences, then you become a member for, I think, three years. But otherwise you can see the Royal Ballet for a tiny amount of money if you sit high up in the slips - and don't mind if you can't see all the stage!

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I will investigate Paul Hamlyn performances, thanks Rowan. We did get to see one opera and one ballet (Johan and Alina in Giselle!) a few years ago as part of the old "Family Performances" scheme. That scheme finished and unfortunately because of my back injury and mobility problems, I need the most comfy and accessible seats I can get, with the most legroom. They don't tend to be cheap! :-)

 

But we saw the Mariinsky at the ROH last year and are seeing La Fille this year, so haven't done too badly. :-)

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Spanner, I dont know if you are aware that you can get a reduction in all theatres if you have a disability. My son is disabled and we have always had a reduction on his ticket price and also the carer. Your dd could easily be named as your carer as there is no age requirement. I have never been asked to provide a disability badge or even evidence of my sons disability. The Opera House is the only theatre that requires you to fill in forms and evidence of disability.

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Thanks Primrose. Yes, I am a member of the ROH Access scheme (but not a Friend, so by the time I get to book most suitable seats have gone!) and get a good discount at The Coliseum for ENB. Thank goodness - the discount goes a little way to making up for the pain! :-))

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We managed to get Paul Hamlyn tickets to watch The Nutcracker at the ROH last December via the Sun newspaper! We paid £9 for fabulous 2nd row circle stall seats. The notification to register interest appeared in the Sun around the middle of November, keep your eyes peeled everybody! :-)

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Kitschqueen_1, what I was actually thinking of was called the Paul Hamlyn Club, and not the Hamlyn Performances. I've posted a link to an article about it today on the Performances and General Discussion forum. Unfortunately, the club doesn't exist any more!

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