Jump to content

Unmusical teacher. Help!


FullContretemps
 Share

Recommended Posts

I have just come out of class and my usual go-to person for rants wasn't there so sorry if this turns into a rant!

 

Does anyone have any tips on how to work with unmusical teachers?! One of my teachers is a great teacher in most ways - technique-wise etc but she is unfortunately not very musical. It's not her fault - she tries but it's just not the way her brain works and I'm not sure whether she's even aware that it's much of a problem. As someone who is naturally musical and mathematical, came into ballet via music and has a music degree, this sometimes causes me issues! Mostly I can switch off the pernickety part of my brain to work out what she wants us to do rather than what she says she wants us to do but occasionally there are problems with syllabus work.

 

We are working on Advanced 1 RAD at the moment and one thing that bugs me is that every week she tells us a different timing for the ports de bras on the plies and gets frustrated when we don't do what she thinks that week that we should be doing but at least she is sometimes right and I think we're finally coming to an understanding in the class of possibly how they're supposed to go (if we all do it together sometimes she doesn't notice if it's not what she thought it should be!). But on the fouette and rotation exercise it drives me up the wall because there is a fouette on count 6 where you have to whip round (surprise surprise!) and she keeps on repeating that it's on 6 but she counts 6 on 5 and a half! And then gets annoyed if I do it on 6.

 

I've tried trying to explain it to her but don't want to get too forceful because I don't want to be disrespectful, especially in front of the class, and I know there's relatively little chance of actually getting her to understand that she's not counting the counts evenly. Do I just grin and bear it and do it on 5 and a half and pretend that's right (the OCD part of me dies a little every time...) and then just do it on 6 in the exam if I ever do it. I don't really think doing it on 6 anyway is an option because that annoys her (I think she sometimes thinks I'm awkward - probably because I do point these things out though I try to do it in a respectful way!). Or try and talk it through after a lesson but I just don't think she'll understand!

 

Also, because I also do adult tap with her and there's another musician in that class and sometimes there are different words used between tap and music - accented/syncopated/dotted rhythms etc - she just thinks it's a 'musician' problem and that I am not understanding her and that I am wrong!

 

So, sorry for the long-winded post, but does anyone have any advice for how to work with an unmusical teacher?!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That does seem a little unusual and I guess my question is how well does teacher know syllabus? I can see how it can and does happen when choreographing as things can change and evolve but the timing for most exercises is very clearly written in syllabus books (am assuming it is RAD).

Maybe try saying you are confused re timing and asking if the whole class can go through specific exercises to ensure they have more clarity. Does this teacher teach syllabus classes often as it does sound like vagueness may be due to uncertainty. Just my thoughts based on teaching RAD but this might not fit with your experience.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry can't really help but your post made me laugh :P

I think I'd be tempted to buy the DVD, check things on there and then if she says something is wrong you could very innocently (i.e. non confrontationally) say "oh sorry, that's what they did on the DVD...but maybe it's changed...?" - shouldn't really be necessary though of course!

  • Like 4
Link to comment
Share on other sites

You have my heartfelt sympathy and I too would be driven mad by a teacher who wasn't musical. In fact I wouldn't stay with a teacher who wasn't musical and it would certainly be very detrimental to be taught exam exercises by such a teacher. Is there anyone else you can take lessons with?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know exactly what you mean. An old boyfriend and I once went to a jazz class at pineapple in London and the teacher kept counting the music wrong. She would say "5,6,7,8" and the counts would be on "3,4,5,6". My boyfriend and I kept waiing for the right count and being behind everyone else so the teacher kept laughing at us! We of course were respectful and didnt say anything but we never went back to her class again. Its a tough one but to be honest I think its important to get the timing right. I would agree with Aurora and maybe try and get the DVD and say you were confused at the different timing and get her to look at it to "see if she can help you get it right" if you see what I mean.

 

It would definitely drive me mad too so good luck!

DS

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for the responses :) She does teach us this class regularly - twice a week for at least the last year though we sometimes do free instead. It's not usually that she doesn't know the syllabus (if it is we usually do things like you have suggested, say we don't understand and get her to check) but particularly on that exercise she knows the count it's supposed to be on but just counts it in the wrong place! Legs eleven I do go to another teacher twice a week too, for a different examining board but I do really enjoy both teachers, seeing the different insights etc as discussed on other threads so I don't really want to leave her (they are the only 2 teachers teaching at this level in our city). Guess I will just grin and bear it and try and explain every now and then at a good moment!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The problem is with a set of ballet exercises to music especially when getting more advanced there is often more than one way of interpreting the music!! It's difficult without getting into long winded descriptions to illustrate what I mean! But you can keep everything on a more even count but sometimes the emphasis in the music can mean say.....you hold an arabesque that fraction longer and then speed round in a pas de bourree en tournant into chasse into 4th......but it depends on how the music is ........a bit of anaemic plonky plonk or some more meaty emotional or dramatic piece!!

 

I don't know with most RAD grade exam type exercises whether expression to music is really taken into account(perhaps in Advanced 2 level?) so everything is just counted evenly. Certainly in some BBO petit allegro s they are quite fast and you have to sort of almost start moving before the music starts to fit the whole thing in and this could be where confusion could arise sometimes. Certainly with the grade 5 syllabus it was just the odd enchainement which seemed to cause problems because of its speed!

 

Is this similar in your class or is it happening in most of the pieces?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The syllabus book will be cheaper and have the counts clearly marked. Maybe this could be introduced from the keen perspective in terms of buying the book to practice at home and then asking questions coming from this perspective in class. You should be able to order online and having it written may help aid discussion in class more than a DVD?

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest chinafish

Yes, both written with counts, separating legs vs arms and head/epaulment. Benesh is on the opposite page.

 

They say if in doubt, Benesh is the master version.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What about asking her privately after class and simply explaining that you are having trouble with the count - maybe take the pressure off her and say something like "I'm worried I'm not getting it - perhaps it's something I'm doing wrong, but...." and that way she can answer your question without feeling you're questioning her in front of the rest of the class.

 

She may admit she's gotten it wrong before and clarify it for you, she may open the syllabus book right in front of you and you can look together. I'm sure she would appreciate this more than asking outright in the class and there may be a good reason for this. Maybe she's inexperienced and doesn't know she's been getting it so wrong?

 

I know I am guilty of having done the same thing (blush) and it's VERY embarrassing and I should probably just come clean to my class but professional pride and worry gets in the way and I try and muddle through, but I'm quite a new teacher. I don't mind questions but it's the exchanged looks, giggles and raised eyebrows that throw me off my game and make it worse. As a teacher I feel I should not fear saying "sorry, my bad" or appearing human, but it's not easy, perhaps the grace to do that more comes with experience! But that's another topic...

 

Good luck either way!!!

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's much easier to admit any mistakes as a teacher (ballet or otherwise) as you get more experienced and confident in your job.

 

Nobody is going to get every little thing right all the time!!

 

I would personally prefer someone to be a bit more expressive even if timing slightly out......but I do mean slightly.....no great indulgences with the music!! If someone has perfect timing but not much expression then that's not so interesting but this is talking about straight ballet grade type exercises. Obviously for exam purposes one must stick to what the book says for the timing .......but then this has only been compiled by human hand and can be odd on occasions!!

 

There is a lovely reverence in the BBO grade 5 syllabus and I disagree slightly with the official timing of this at the end!! Sometimes we do it just to end Saturday non grade class even though not doing grade 5 now and I love doing it then because now can do my own timing with it!!!

 

Sometimes where choreography is concerned especially in a comic role the timing of an action or step....before/on /after the beat in the music is more crucial. Alains role in Fille comes to mind.....those little petit pas de chat movements he makes across the stage at the end to retrieve his umbrella must be perfectly timed with the music.

Edited by LinMM
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I thought interesting too.....perhaps a rush to get their longer limbs around the steps!!

 

I thought some of the BBO grades petit allegro is definitely aimed at little 9and 10 year olds.....eg normally doing grade 5 for example but us adults are not quite so nimble on the whole......and especially us taller ones!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Is this the new adv 1 syllabus or the old? Because the RAD are now saying try to not count the exercises as they are designed to fit the music, especially as some of the pieces of music are deliberately challenging eg the intermediate adage is incredibly difficult to count, and that's from someone who IS very musical! There are musical choices made in the new work purposefully to stretch both teachers and students.

 

If I understand what you're saying correctly your saying the teacher knows the movement should be on count 6 but can't count the music correctly? In that case looking at the book won't help, apart from confirming that said action should occur on count 6. The DVD will help you know that you're right, but won't help in class. I like the idea of getting the DVD - maybe even ask her if she's got a copy that you could borrow?! and then saying "oh that's how they did it on the DVD, but maybe it's changed..." (I like that suggestion Aurora!) but short of you counting it out loud this is something she must have issues with.

 

On the note of making mistakes teaching - I'm a naturally self deprecating person so I find it quite easy to make a big deal of things and say "oh for goodness' sake, aren't I being dozy! Sorry everyone, that was a total blonde moment" etc. Pupils value the fact that your human, and that you can laugh at yourself as long as it's not happening all time! It's much better to show them you know you've made a mistake rather than to try to gloss over it, because believe me, they'll have noticed it and that's when you get the exchanged glances and rolled eyes.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes she is tall Anjuli! I certainly wouldn't have thought of that!

 

Yes I've tried the 'I don't quite understand' method and it often does work to get things sorted out (especially as it's just as often me that's got it wrong as her when it comes to steps/setting) but sadly not this time! As drdance picked up, though we regularly refer to the written syllabus if you just can't count it time it's not that helpful, but the DVD idea might be useful. One other student picked something up off the DVD that we'd all (including the teacher!) forgotten about and that was fine, so might see if I can get hold of a copy to look at.

 

In answer to some of the other questions, she is pretty experienced but a bit insecure which is why I don't feel I can be too pushy in class. Perhaps I'll see if I can look at it on the DVD and then find a moment with just her or at one of the adult classes where she feels less under pressure to always be right!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That's an interesting point Anjuli, have you come across this before?

 

Do you know why taller people would jump the count?

 

Yes, I have read about this.  I am tall - 5'7" - and often found myself tempted to jump the musical count especially - actually only - when jumping.

 

The book in which  I read about it was "The Physics of Dance" by Kenneth Laws.  There are a couple of editions of this book.  I don't remember which edition my copy is  - and I can't get at it - it's in the next room - and with this attack of sciatica and a herniated disc - I can't reach it.  

 

Anyway, as I recall, the author (a physicist) explains that a taller person usually has a longer foot.  It takes a nano-second or two  longer to peel that foot off the floor.  The taller dancer doesn't reason this out - but feels the imperative instinctively to "get going" a bit sooner.

 

My apologies to Mr Laws if my explanation is not perfect - it is to the best of my recollelction - I read the book about 20 yrs ago.

 

When I became aware of  why I felt this impulse I was able to counter it by using more energy rather than taking more time.

 

I hope this makes sense.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes she is tall Anjuli! I certainly wouldn't have thought of that!

 

Yes I've tried the 'I don't quite understand' method and it often does work to get things sorted out (especially as it's just as often me that's got it wrong as her when it comes to steps/setting) but sadly not this time! As drdance picked up, though we regularly refer to the written syllabus if you just can't count it time it's not that helpful, but the DVD idea might be useful. One other student picked something up off the DVD that we'd all (including the teacher!) forgotten about and that was fine, so might see if I can get hold of a copy to look at.

 

In answer to some of the other questions, she is pretty experienced but a bit insecure which is why I don't feel I can be too pushy in class. Perhaps I'll see if I can look at it on the DVD and then find a moment with just her or at one of the adult classes where she feels less under pressure to always be right!

 

 

I didn't see this post whilst I was typing - but her height could have something to do with it.  

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sort of makes sense.....you could also substitute "older" for "taller" in that getting the foot peeled of the floor business.

 

So if you're older and taller......well timing will be well out. I also suspect when you're older you may start ahead of the beat but end up still behind it in the end especially in allegro sections!!!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe that explains why I tend to be slightly ahead of people. I thought it was just because I wanted to be bang on the music, but maybe I'm starting early (esp on jumps like you say) to try and give my legs and long feet time to fit the jumps in. I'm 5'7'' and she is taller than me. The annoying exercise is an adage one so doesn't really apply there but fascinating stuff to think about. Do you think it's a habit to try and kick or is it necessary in order to keep the jumps in time?! Or sometimes OK and sometimes not?

 

On a positive note, we had a really good class with her today. Only 3 of us so we worked really hard and she gave us loads of good and useful stuff to work on and I tried to show her I was enjoying and working hard on the corrections so hopefully she'll forgive any forward-ness that might have escaped yesterday!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...