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How do parents choose a teacher? (or know if they're getting good teaching?


drdance
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This is a question for those of you who, before having DC's who danced, had no experience in dancing. How did you choose your school? How would you know if your DD or DS was/is getting good training or good enough training for their love of dance?

 

It seems like there are a lot of parents here who's children are already looking for careers in dance, even at age 8. I touched upon this in the RBS JA thread but if you as parents don't know (like my parents didn't know), how can you tell if the training your DC's are getting is going to be good enough? My teacher sent a handful of us off to audition for JA's back in the day. There were only a couple of centres then. I didn't get in so I took that as "ok I'm not good enough". There was nothing like this forum saying 'try again next year'. Once I moved to secondary school I discovered the world of festivals and eventually learned that my training up until that point had been substandard. But by age 14 the damage had already been done.

 

Nowadays - there may be parents sending their DC's to auditions, the children not getting accepted but trying again year after year without making any changes. Sometimes these children are in great training and are subsequently successful, but what if they aren't in good training? How do you know?

 

Sometimes I see dancers at auditions who have poor ballet technique. Of course you never know if it's the teacher or the learner affecting this, but if they're coming to auditions at other places you'd assume they're keen. I wonder how many very keen young dancers are being limited by 'average' teaching (as opposed to excellent teaching)? It is not very professional to criticise another dance teacher or suggest a dancer find another teacher but sometimes I wonder if parents would rather hear this message?

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Our 2 eldest DD did a summer school in the UK once about 4 years ago, their first, a small one, no audition but in one big vocational school... At the end of the 3 days, the head came to talk to me and cleverly but not straightforwardly asked the question of their dancing and what they wanted to do with it.

 

When I told her they both wanted to be dancers, her attitude changed and she told me very straightforwardly they had potential and we had to find a better school for them, one that pushed them more with better teaching or it would be too late. She even said it might be difficult for them to get into a vocational school because of bad habits they had already developed. They were then 12 and 10.

 

We followed her advice, were immensely grateful she gave it to us. Their dancing grew so much with the new school.

 

They both applied to Tring the year after, both got in. For financial reasons, they ended up not going but now DD1 is in a musical vocational school in Paris and DD2 is following suit in a ballet vocational school in Paris in September.

 

The best bit of advice we ever got! And I discovered this forum just after...  :)

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When my 5 year old asked for ballet lessons I did what I imagine most parents do. I looke for lessons that were a reasonable distance, at a time that suited us and at a price we could afford. We chose the closest teacher who did ballet lessons without requiring her to do tap or modern, as she wasn't interested in anything but ballet. I imagined a little girl twirling about in a leotard or tutu for a few years at most before getting bored and wouldn't have had a clue how to check if the teacher was any good. We were, however, fortunate to stumble on a ballet school where the teacher with vast experience of JAs and vocational training, with students who have gone on to White Lodge and Elmhurst, who spotted potential in my DD within the 1st half term. Now aged nearly 9 she is a JA at Elhurst. Not something I would have imagined when we started.

 

If you know nothing about ballet I don't see how you can know if the teacher is any good. When you start out with your child so young all you are looking for is somewhere they can enjoy the experience, and as long as they seem happy I don't suppose most people would question if the technique was good. How would the average parent really know?

 

I'm glad we struck lucky, although I still feel out of my depth, and guilty that she doesn't have the opportunity to benefit from summer schools - they aren't financially viable for us with the cost of JAs. I wish I was able to help her, but I think that's best left to the professionals although I hope am learning more from these forums.

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Dds first dance teacher was chosen due to recommendations / reputation. Unfortunately that dance school closed. The next dance school was chosen after some research but partly as class times fitted with other things we were doing. There were good aspects to this school but teachers aims seemed to change & we realised it wasn't the right school for dd anymore. Now on third dance school. There are different teachers for different genres, it has strong connections to first dance school we used so already knew some of teachers, and all teachers experienced& qualified.

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As a teacher, on another note, we hope that a parent would recognise whether a school is under the umbrella of one of the reputable examining bodies. However so often this does not seem to matter to parents, who often look for convenience and, as I noticed on a social networking site, one parent who did not want a "serious" school. She actually wanted to know if there was a "good teacher locally who taught 'proper classes' but not a serious school" but that did exams and her DD was quite keen on dancing as a career?! I didn't respond but I think Dr Dance this is a very interesting topic and my only other comment is that the ones that are meant to make it find their way eventually. And I don't believe it is always too late. I had a lovely girl who joined me at 12 like Bambi and gained a DADA at ENBS at 16 but it was probably cutting it fine!! :)

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I think there are two issues here - the teacher and the subject matter/curriculum.

 

You judge the teacher as you would any other teacher - doesn't matter whether it is math(s) or ballet.  

 

You judge what is being taught by gaining knowledge of what needs to be taught.  You read, ask questions, observe other students, go to performances (both school and professional), observe classes, see what the students look like, 

 

I would not judge a teacher by affiliation to any dance organization/body - it is no guarantee by any means.  There is no one teacher, organization, school, etc., which has "the way."  

 

No matter how deep the teacher's knowledge base, no matter how many certificates are on her/his wall - it's how it is taught - the classroom environment - relationship to students, communication with parents, accessibility, overall school environment that is important.

 

We have all probably known teachers with every credential possible - who still can't teach what they know.

 

The class has to be about the student - not about the teacher - or the teacher's ego - and certainly not about how her wall is decorated.

 

It is not unusual for one to move around a bit before finding a good fit - both academically as well as environmentally.  And even you do find a good teacher - expect to move on after a few years - or add another teacher to the schedule.  No one teacher has all the answers.  Good learning involves variety.   A new voice, a new eye, another way to approach the same material.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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DS was 'spotted' at after school club aged 5 and I was told that he should be doing ballet. I was completely taken aback and it was about 6 months before I decided to try and see what happened. I rang around several schools and made my decision based on

convenience and the fact that she seemed genuinely pleased to have a boy, stating that she specialised in boys work. It never

occurred to me to ask about qualifications and I had no idea that there were different examining boards with their own syllabus

We were very lucky in that she is an excellent teacher but she is the only ballet teacher and so the amount of time she can give is limited. Having said that he has been accepted at one or more schools every year that he has auditioned and only finances have

prevented him going away so she's obviously doing something right!. I knew nothing and it wasn't until he had been dancing for about 18 months that she spoke to us about his potential. He did 2 associate schemes and auditioned successfully for CAT at 13.

Had I known anything about the ballet world I would probably have tried to get into an RAD school because there seems to be so more opportunities for competitions, festivals etc. but of course that would have been no guarantee of quality teaching.

I'm not sure at what point I might have known if the quality of teaching hadn't been up to scratch, I think either the child has to aware of something lacking/not getting what they want out of the classes or they have to go outside of the school - to summer school or associates so that another teacher could suggest a change to you or you can see from the other children that yours isn't at the same/similar standard.

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How did I choose a school? 

 

In common with very many others we found a convenient one in the local church hall and dd started just before her 3rd birthday.

 

How did I realise that the teaching wasn't quite all it might have been?

 

By the time dd was 9 she was becoming really keen. She did tap and modern at another school (long story) and she had one or two extra ballet classes there too. The teacher there said that if she got obsessed with ballet she had the potential to go a long way. It made me briefly wonder why her original teacher had never said anything whatsoever like that to me at all.

 

Shortly afterwards I saw in the local paper that there was an audition coming up for EYB. I mentioned it to her ballet teacher who was absolutely against it, said she would NEVER get in and said she didn't like any of 'her' students doing anything else, she actively discouraged it. Two years went by and EYB came round again. This time we went to the audition anyway without telling her and dd got in, much to our delight. We decided to tell her of dd's first audition success, and she was furious, saying (in front of dd) "Of course she got in. They only want her for your money".

 

That was the beginning of the end for me.

 

We began to casually look around for somewhere else, and I found myself being told (during 'trial' lessons at other schools) by several different teachers:

 

"Huge potential, but she's not using herself properly"

"She got WHAT mark in her last exam??? She should have got 10 marks higher than that at least"

"She's not getting enough of the right sort of correction"

"Beautiful feet, but she's not USING them"

 

The penny finally dropped. It took us a while, but we found a marvellous new school and teacher, and dd is a different dancer entirely.

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I asked my sister in law (who was an RAD teacher but not near us) and she said look for an RAD teacher. As it turns out we had a good school round the corner and struck lucky (not perfect but good). I'd never heard of JAs when it was suggested to us so I've got a lot to thank them for.

 

Friend of ours from JAs had a suggestion from the head of JAs that they find another teacher. I think parents would rather that than have left in the dark.

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I certainly agree with all you say, I probably should have elaborated but didn't want to take over the topic plus I was feeding my 13 week DD who was wriggling!

The thread I followed with the 'mother' had a reply from two local 'dance' schools who ' do not follow a syllabus' the teachers in question have no formal qualifications and we regularly 'gain' students from them with very worrying problems. Reports were the classes were like a bun fight with students running riot. I was quite upset really that (and I am very confident in my teaching ability) those of us who do have quals and continue to train and absorb new info and learn etc etc and who are good teachers are sidelined as being too serious. But hey we are not desperate for students. I just feel sorry for the parents swept in to those schools. And the majority of our once a week parents would not bother to read up on anything. And as I say the ones that do end up walking through our door.

 

I think there are two issues here - the teacher and the subject matter/curriculum.

 

You judge the teacher as you would any other teacher - doesn't matter whether it is math(s) or ballet.

 

You judge what is being taught by gaining knowledge of what needs to be taught. You read, ask questions, observe other students, go to performances (both school and professional), observe classes, see what the students look like,

 

I would not judge a teacher by affiliation to any dance organization/body - it is no guarantee by any means. There is no one teacher, organization, school, etc., which has "the way."

 

No matter how deep the teacher's knowledge base, no matter how many certificates are on her/his wall - it's how it is taught - the classroom environment - relationship to students, communication with parents, accessibility, overall school environment that is important.

 

We have all probably known teachers with every credential possible - who still can't teach what they know.

 

The class has to be about the student - not about the teacher - or the teacher's ego - and certainly not about how her wall is decorated.

 

It is not unusual for one to move around a bit before finding a good fit - both academically as well as environmentally. And even you do find a good teacher - expect to move on after a few years - or add another teacher to the schedule. No one teacher has all the answers. Good learning involves variety. A new voice, a new eye, another way to approach the same material.

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My DS was spotted by his nursery school teacher who said she was sure he was destined for the stage after a Christmas nativity where he was a dancing angel ...She later mentioned that she knew a good ballet teacher if I was interested , however at age 4 1/2 he started propper school where there was baby ballet after school in the gym so he wandered away from after school club and joined in !

After a term the teacher call me aside and told me I'd best find him a propper ballet school !

At this point I remembered his nursery teacher and called them up !

I was given a glowing reccomendation as her son has started his career in ballet there .

When I called up the teacher sounded genuinely delighted at the prospect of teaching a boy and said to bring him right away for a class to try out .

It was a perfect fit - dancer and teacher loved each other from the start . Age 7 we were told that she wanted to send him to audition for JA's as soon as he was old enough . The fact that he was being pushed and could not get enough led me to feel that he was in the right place , that she wanted him to get more teaching as an associate re- assured me , and then at 10 she was encouraging him to move on vocational school , in spite of their great friendship. I think you can tell that a good teacher who wants the best for their student will pass them on to those who can offer them what they need to fulfil their potential

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My DD went to the only local dance school at 5 years old where everyone in the local area goes. At the age of 9 she started asking to do more ballet. We were told that one 40min lesson a week was more than enough. There was nothing on the web like there is today - I didn't even know that RBS or the associate programme existed. I eventually found out about a regional associate-type scheme that was starting up and asked DD's ballet teacher (school owner) if she could go and was told no as it would take my DD away from her school lesson on a Saturday and then everyone would want to do it and she would lose income!

 

I nervously let my DD audition in secret and it was only when I saw how good some of the other girls were in other dance schools (and I didn't need any ballet expertise to see this) that I realised how short-changed my DD was. I know exams aren't everything but my DD was studying grade 1 whilst they were studying grade 4. There was a massive gap.

 

My DD said that she wanted to change schools to get better training and we did, even though it was a 45min drive away. The other students and parents at the first dance school were quite mean to us and we still get comments today about how we think we're too good for the local school, even though my DD is now at vocational school, something that would never have happened if she'd stayed there. It still makes me cross now to think of other talented children there today who are not supported and parents who don't find out until it's too late. Hopefully with all the schemes now available and widely published information on the web, it should make it easier to find someone that suits your child's aspiration.

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I should have said that as time went on and I educated myself more about the ballet world I made sure that the school was teaching recognised syllabus -RAD , And compared the standard and technique of similar age children at festivals , however I think what is more important is a teachers passion for dance and a passion to see their students fulfill their potential !

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I didn't mention in earlier post that i knew nothing about syllabus /exams etc when she started.

I found it difficult getting info from dance school so turned to internet and examining bodies to get info (dd does both idta and rad). That meant i had some idea what questions to ask when looking for second school, but until having lessons you can't be sure. Dds current teachers encourage /support and give corrections. Most importantly we can see the improvement.

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My DD went to the only local dance school at 5 years old where everyone in the local area goes. At the age of 9 she started asking to do more ballet. We were told that one 40min lesson a week was more than enough. There was nothing on the web like there is today - I didn't even know that RBS or the associate programme existed. I eventually found out about a regional associate-type scheme that was starting up and asked DD's ballet teacher (school owner) if she could go and was told no as it would take my DD away from her school lesson on a Saturday and then everyone would want to do it and she would lose income!

I nervously let my DD audition in secret and it was only when I saw how good some of the other girls were in other dance schools (and I didn't need any ballet expertise to see this) that I realised how short-changed my DD was. I know exams aren't everything but my DD was studying grade 1 whilst they were studying grade 4. There was a massive gap.

My DD said that she wanted to change schools to get better training and we did, even though it was a 45min drive away. The other students and parents at the first dance school were quite mean to us and we still get comments today about how we think we're too good for the local school, even though my DD is now at vocational school, something that would never have happened if she'd stayed there. It still makes me cross now to think of other talented children there today who are not supported and parents who don't find out until it's too late. Hopefully with all the schemes now available and widely published information on the web, it should make it easier to find someone that suits your child's aspiration.

I really dont understand teachers who dont allow students to do associate schemes or summer schools. Being able to recognise what a student needs is, to my mind, part of being a good teacher and Id rather recommend other good teachers if a students needs are not being fully met than risk them going "in secret" to a school whose methods may be counter productive to a particular student.

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DD actually started with a friend 9 months older than herself who was too nervous to go on her own.  There was only one ballet class advertised locally so we tried it out.  My DD was only 2 1/2 so obviously it was not really ballet at that stage but just movement to music but the teacher was excellent with little ones and I had no complaints.  It was obvious after a few months however that there did not seem to be any classes past aged 6-8 year olds.  We started asking around, talking to other mums and soon had another school recommended.  DD's friend left straight away - my DD had to wait a while to be old enough but word of mouth was the way to go.  The school never advertises but never goes short on numbers.  It is in yellow pages but most come on recommendation.  Like most new to the ballet world I had no idea if DD was progressing as she should.  She often seemed to be a grade lower than school friends who went elsewhere but as soon as she ventured out into the bigger ballet world, it was clear that she was.

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Without causing trouble, my daughter had a poor ballet teacher in her first year at vocational school. I could actually identify this as my daughter normal dance school was excellent with a very good reputation. It was actually margarita Porta who said our daughter had potential and said BUT where is she training. We said no more, auditioned her else where and her journey continued. Now her first vocational school had some excellent ballet teachers in it, but the first year teacher sadly was no where near up to scratch compared to her little dance school.

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I have to add that when our daughters were told they had to change school to get better, they were in a renown vocational school! They left to go to a small local school before they were at the level to go to better vocational schools!

 

Local doesn't necessarily mean less good! In our part of the world, it actually meant better!

 

 

Edited to add that most parents in the first vocational school believe we thought we were better than everybody else and didn't understand our choice... We tried to explain and finally gave up...

Edited by afab
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DrDance, as we live in France, apart from POB where it is a full time boarding school, the other schools are vocational in the sense they have an agreement with normal academic schools where kids study half the day and then they go and dance for the rest of the day in their vocational school. No boarding, one has to find a host family or another solution.

 

Our DDs were in one of those vocational schools.

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I would suggest being a RAD teacher does not guarantee good teaching. I used to have a RAD teacher who told me that, 'Some people's feet just look wrong in pointe shoes and I was an example of them', but she would happily allow older teenage students, who had just started back in ballet, buy pointe shoes and do pointe work. The teacher also got the class to gather round me, where she raised my leg in seconde and told the class I was an example of someone with almost turnout. It was awful. I was also confused because other teachers have commented that I am flat turned out in the hips! Same teacher said, of the RAD vocational exams, that the examiner just looks at your top half and your face, and doesn't bother looking at your feet!

 

Another RAD teacher I came across told the class what exercise to do at the barre, turned on the music, and then would look at her phone for the duration of the exercise. There was one girl in the class, who said she hated barre work, and would always say, at the same time for each class that she needed to go to the toilet. It was her way of missing a good chunk of barre work. But the teacher just let her get away with it. This was an intermediate class, so the students weren't once-a-week students. But a lot them seemed to like the teacher because she let them get away with things.

 

In my opinion, if parents don't know anything about ballet, I'm not sure if they could really judge if a teacher's teaching was any good or not.

 

As an example, I used to take piano lessons. In a conversation with my teacher one day, she told me about a 10 or 11-year-old boy, who came to her with his mother for piano lessons recently. The boy had already taken several years of piano lessons so he wasn't a beginner. In his first lesson, my teacher realised that the boy's former teacher had taught him to play by memorising where to place his fingers. He just had to copy where the teacher placed her fingers, only playing tunes with 2/3 fingers. The boy learnt nothing about reading music. And the mother had thought she was paying for proper piano lessons for her son for years! How very sad for both of them.

 

I think it's technically possible for the same kind of thing to happen in ballet.

 

Also, I have seen parents and dancers assume that a teacher must be a good teacher or a better teacher than all others because he/she had been to vocational school and had a career in a classical company. One of my teachers, who used to dance professionally herself, said that a lot of professional dancers are unable to teach because they themselves have the correct physique and can't describe to someone else how to do something. I saw this for myself one day when I attended a drop-in class taken by a former dancer from a well-known (non-UK) classical company. Some of the adults in the class were not very experienced dancers. After the tendu exercise, the teacher tried to explain how to do a proper tendu; she had noticed that some of the adults were sickling their feet. However, she struggle to find the words to describe how she kept turnout doing tendus herself. It's not that she was deliberately teaching badly, it's just that she herself had the ideal physique, feet and facility to do ballet. How could she explain how she did 'things' that came naturally to her?

Edited by Dancer Sugar Plum
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Some of these posts sound very familiar! I started dancing at a local school aged 10, half an hour of ballet a week alongside other disciplines. When I was 13, I saw Swan Lake, and decided then that I wanted to pursue a dance career. However, with my dance teacher seeing dance as a hobby only for us, I still hadn't taken my Primary exam (!!!!!). I asked her if I could audition for White Lodge- she bluntly replied "fine, but you won't get in, you need to be at least grade 5 standard" her refusal to help me reach such a standard, added to the realisation of how far behind I was, prompted me to change schools. Dance teacher number 2 was mortified that 13 year olds were studying Primary- she put me in a Grade 5 class, alongside grade 6, idta inter, RAD inter foundation, and pointe. The following year, I decided to reapply for White Lodge- my teacher said "of course, I think all auditions are a good experience. You do understand that there are very few places though? I wouldn't want to give you false hope". Her encouraging response was wonderful- and I noticed that, in the classes after that, she gave me a lot more corrections; we both knew I wouldn't make it to White Lodge, but she wants to help me be the best dancer I can be :)

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I recall hearing about a ballet teacher who was supposedly 'rubbish' because not one of her 10 year old pupils knew how to do pointe work.

Yaffa

[edited for typo]

Edited by Yaffa
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I recall hearing about a ballet teacher who was supposedly 'rubbish' because not one of her 10 year old pupils knew how to do pointe work.

I know of one where none of her students start pointe until they are about 15.

 

There has to be a happy medium somewhere!

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When my daughter was 14 I found her a fantastic ex professional ballerina to teach her. This teacher really suited my daughter personality and learning style. She unlocked so much hidden abity in my daughter. This teacher worked her student extremely hard, and this prepared my daughter for the hard work that is expected at Central. I really truly believe that without this private teacher, my daughter would not be where she is today. My daughter is so appreciative of what this wonderful teacher did for her.

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I guess it's hard for parents who don't know anything about dancing, and I have seen some children at schools who could be amazing, but just aren't getting the teaching. I guess festivals help some in this as you would see other children at a much higher standard, and with better technique and may start to wonder.  

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I'm not sure most parents would necessarily know what's good technique or not. It would be easy to dazzled by the child who can do multiple pirouettes and not even know about, never mind see, poorly held turnout or sickled feet. There is a world of difference between the attitudes "Why is she learning pliés? She already did those last year," and, "The plié is the first thing you learn and the last thing you master".

 

When DD was about 11 and getting very serious about ballet, she tried various dance schools, including an RAD one. I wanted her to do the RAD one for all the reasons that people have stated: the standard pathway of training in the UK, the exams run by a regulatory body, the UCAS points, etc. However, she rejected that one - large-ish classes and poor behaviour of some other students was a factor - in favour of a much smaller, more serious school taught by ex-professional ballet dancers but not associated with the big exam boards. She was adamant which was the better school.

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