The Guide to Pas De Deux

It’s here! The Guide to Pas De Deux!! The first book in the Ballet Education Standardized Ballet Training Curriculum. 24 pages of information including 15 illustrations, vocabulary and mapped out curriculum! Click the book below to purchase.
The Guide to Pas De Deux Cover

Or click here to buy!

Advertisements

What Makes a Good Ballet Teacher?

There are so many types of teachers out there, it is important that parents and students know what they are getting. After working across the United States and talking to parents and students, I’ve realized that when it comes to ballet, a lot of people are getting ripped off, majorly ripped off. It is almost depressing. So, what makes a good teacher? What makes a great teacher? What are the differences in teachers? And how, as a dance teacher, do you make yourself better?

What makes a good ballet teacher

What is a Ballet Teacher? This is such a vague term… like such a vague term. Some teachers use certificates to justify their credentials… like the ABT National Training Certification or the RAD levels… Unfortunately, this doesn’t make them good teachers. Also, just because they were a principal dancer… that doesn’t make them a good teacher either. And, just because you have a Russian affiliation doesn’t make you a good teacher. And just because you graduated from a top ballet school doesn’t make you a good teacher either. Additionally, just because you have a college degree in dance or dance pedagogy or something random like a BFA from a random school; doesn’t mean you are going to be a good teacher.

Being a ballet teacher is hard because ballet itself is diverse. The pedagogy, ideology, and science differs accordingly based on each person. Sometimes this a good thing, sometimes it is a horrible thing and waste of money for parents. Not all pedagogies are created equally. and not all bodies can do any pedagogy.

What makes a good ballet teacher?
Multi-tasking: A good ballet teacher usually is someone who can inspire an entire class, while concentrating on the individual needs of each student, all while maintaining a precise curriculum.
Good Eyes: A good ballet teacher has a keen eye for body placement, alignment and can find minuscule errors when a child dances.
Good Ears: A good ballet teacher understands music and can hear multiple melodies and rhythms within a song.
Educated: A good ballet teacher understands anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology. Teachers should be able to prevent injuries with healthy technique and should guarantee well-shaped bodies.
Experience: Has experience within the professional world of ballet. It is important to have these experiences so you can help guide students into the professional world.
Connected: A good ballet teacher is still plugged into the ballet world, so they understand what is happening and what the industry is needing, wanting and demanding.
ballet-teacher-problems-3

What makes a great ballet teacher?
A good sculptor
: An exceptional ballet teacher can see beyond what is directly in front of them and can reshape the body and pull out the ballet technique from their students. This quality is actually very hard to find.

Don’t get me wrong, we need regular ballet teachers out there… but the problem is, that in today’s market of dancers, teachers have to be exceptional and create exceptional dancers. It isn’t good enough to just teach a plié by saying it means “to bend” and then demonstrate the bending of the knees. You physically have to get on your hands and knees, and explain that it is a constant action because it is a verb. It never stops, and it isn’t initiated from the knees, a plié comes from the pressure in the hips rotating outwards and the muscles rotating back, without strain, so much that it causes the knees to bend. The fact that the femur head has to be inside the pelvis, the weight placement has to be so precise. And the depth of the plié has to be controlled from the achilles without pronating or “rolling” of the feet.

  • If your ballet teacher just walks around the room and gives general corrections… bad teacher.
  • If your teacher sits in a chair and just directs and yells… bad teacher… maybe better off to be a director.
  • If your teacher can’t explain the physics and science behind ballet… bad teacher.
  • If you are noticing your muscles shaping to be large or bulky… super bad ballet teacher.. and if they tell you it’s genetics… just walk out.
  • If your teacher tells you that it’s normal to be injured and you have to work through it… HORRIBLE TEACHER!! GET OUT BEFORE YOU BREAK YOUR BODY.
  • If your teacher tells you that you will never be a dancer… definitely get the hell out there.

What is a Master Teacher? a master teacher is someone who has dedicated quite a bit of time and energy on their craft of teaching and has become recognized as one of the greats. Usually, these wonderful people are specifically focused on technique. This title usually refers to someone who has honed their skills as a teacher, and was able to create a method to improve or change the ballet technique for the better. They are everything mentioned above and magnified. To note some of America’s best: Bruce Marks, Finis Jung, Willy Burmann, Marcia Dale Weary and the late David Howard. (I’m not claiming I’m a master teacher, but this is the category I have fallen into, not really by choice.)

…Faculty– Faculty is usually associated with a school, specifically a school with a solid curriculum. A faculty is usually pieced together based on educational credentials, and each faculty member brings something different to create an overall aesthetic or pedagogy of teaching.

…Coach– A coach usually focuses on one thing. Each coach has a specialty, like stretching or port de bras, artistry or turns.

…Ballet Master/ Ballet Mistress– by definition this person is employed by a ballet company to teach and rehearse dancers. Note, you have to employed by a ballet company… a real one. These professionals have usually danced a full repertory and they share their experiences with other dancers in terms of coaching for a role. (Such hard work, I do this too… and it’s exhausting.)

…Répétiteur– Is someone in the craft of staging and translating ballets. Being a répétiteur is one of the hardest jobs in ballet because you have to know everyone’s part, and what is going on at all times on the stage. Their focus isn’t really technique, but production and precision. (I have just started staging full ballets and translating them onto companies and schools, and I have to say, it is a lot of work. Like a lot of work.)

…Director– Someone with a vision… This doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best teacher. Directors have the ability to see an artistic vision and execute it. Usually, they are also decent teachers, decent repetiteurs and have ballet mastered at some point.

…Guest Teacher– Usually, a big name dancer/teacher coming in to share experiences, tips and more. Guest teachers usually have a different take on students as they are there for 3 hours and then they are gone. They are brought in to supplement the training and inspire students. Guest teachers help try to assess and push the kids as hard as they can in a very short amount of time.

If you are a teacher and you want to better yourself, for your school, students and your own self fulfillment.. If you are interested in the Ballet Education Curriculum or Ballet Education Teacher Training Workshop, feel free to contact me here.


Don’t forget I’m teaching in Los Angeles today!! Click the Image to Pre-Register!
downtown los angeles ballet

When in Doubt… Turn Out

when in doubt turn out ballet turn out

“Turn-out. Turn-out. Turn-out.”

“Use what you have.”

“I don’t see you even trying.”

“What was that? That wasn’t even ballet.”

All corrections we may have heard. Turn-out in ballet is the most important thing. I remember a teacher once asking me, “Is it more important to have straight knees or be perfectly turned-out in a tendu?”  My immediate response was something like, “Have straight knees so you can lengthen the muscle and work correctly.” I was then told I was wrong. Now as a teacher, I realize what she was talking about. In ballet, the most important thing is turn-out, it is the thing that makes ballet so difficult, and separates ballet from the rest of the classical dance forms. Turn-0ut is the outward rotation of the hip joint. The goal is 180 degrees (90 degrees on each leg).It is based on the stance in fencing. So, turn-out is the one thing that defines ballet. If you have biscuity feet, you can kind of hide it by turning out. But, what makes turn-out so amazing is that by properly rotating the leg from the hip, and using the muscles and tendons properly, it changes the shape of the leg. Which is why turn-out is the most important thing in ballet. Unfortunately, if you don’t have close to perfect turn-out… ballet might not be for you…

And no, it isn’t about just standing there in a nice turned out position… It is about dancing 100% of the time turned out. ABT’s Zhong-Jing Fang at the Prix de Lausanne. She won in 2000. Unfortunately, she is still in the corps… but that is some killer turnout.

Dancing turned out all the time puts a ton of stress on the legs, and can cause the ligaments to overdevelop and compensate for other ligaments. So, it is really important to get into pilates, or go swimming. Turn-out is ten times more important than body proportions because turn-out is the first deciding factor for the potential of a ballet dancer.

5 things your teachers will never tell you… and they should

how to do ballet real ballet

If you are ages 11+ and you are training in ballet, like seriously training… Not like the, I dance ballet twice a week, supplemented with 4 jazz classes, leaps and turns and competition rehearsals… Like REAL TRAINING… Meaning you are taking at least 3 hours of ballet a day, and you are pushing yourself constantly. You parents are breaking the bank and paying for privates and coaching… You might be aspiring to go the YAGP, (the finals start tomorrow BTW in NYC), you might have your hopes on next years summer programs, or you are going to a summer program this year… This post is dedicated to you… and your parents.

1. “This is not the right place for you.” There are a million different schools out there, and each have their own approach, way of thinking and pedagogy. The reality is that not every body type is meant to dance, every technique. If you are at an ACTUAL super Russian school… Your body has to be gifted with turnout, feet that overly point, and a back that is hyper mobile… If you don’t have all those things… Russian technique is extremely difficult, and your muscles build the wrong way… You get bulky, instead of having that long, rangy Russian look. The reasoning behind this, is that dance studios are businesses and need you to pay the bills. They don’t want to lose students.

2. “You are too good to be here.” Studios again are a business, and so they like to keep dancers around as an “investment”… If your child shows potential, and is the best one at the studio or school, then it is time to move on. Sure, you can still learn things, and become stronger, but the reality is that a student has to challenge themselves. If there isn’t competition in the room, how are they striving to be better? Yes, ballet comes from within oneself, but the reality is, when you are around better dancers, you mentally try harder… Also, you need to be around peers that are at the same level as you, and are experiencing the same things, and struggling with the same things.

3. “You need to diet.” No, I’m not talking about starving yourself. I am talking about what a dancer should actually be eating to ensure a healthy body. The word diet in ballet is so taboo, but the reality is, dancers are burning X amount of calories, and shredding their muscles on a daily basis… So higher proteins, less carbs is a good thing. The amount of fruit and veggies are just generally good, I mean who doesn’t love a detox… Also, eating clean means healthier looking skin, so that is a plus.

4. “Ballet isn’t your thing.” So many times, I have seen girls prepped and primed for the world of ballet, but really they should have pursued jazz or modern. It takes a lot to be a ballet dancer: the right body proportions, the right turn out, the right feet, the right everything… Granted there are variances by company, by AD’s preference, but the reality is…. Turnout, hyper extended knees, a hyper mobile back, and feet that shape well are pretty much required. With the caliber of ballet dancers that schools are cranking out, there really is no room for anything else. If you don’t have all those things, there are other genres that are more relaxed… and if your child LOVES ballet, and dreams to become a professional, than find every possible thing to help make that come true… Private lessons, stretching coaches, pilates, foot stretchers and strengtheners (besides a theraband, but that too!)…

5. “Most of you will not become a prima ballerina. In fact, most of you will not go pro.” Hard reality to accept, but it is the truth. I have gone to some pretty amazing schools, and seen some pretty amazing, technically sound, musical and artistic dancers… but the reality is that most of them did not get a job… Those who do get jobs are BEYOND exceptional… And even those who did get a job in a second company, and then promoted into the first company, most of them were only there four a couple of seasons, if that, and then their contracts weren’t renewed…
From one school I went to in SoCal, which had a very high enrollment, and has produced really great dancers… I think, that 4 eventually went pro out of the senior division, and I think only two are still dancing in major companies. Both are still in the corps…

From another school I went to in SoCal that was a very small school, but offered great training… I think of the 12 students in the highest level, I think 4 of us went professional, but currently only still dances in a major company… still in the corps… I think the rest have gone into teaching… Now CPYB on the other hand… I think like everyone who stuck it out, and pursued dance seriously went pro…

The odds are really slim.

and… to throw in a extra one…

6. “I don’t know.” Very rarely will a teacher admit to something they don’t know. Which is a shame, because no one knows everything about everything. Most teachers very rarely go out and find new ways of teaching, or they don’t bother to go take anatomy courses (unless they go to college) to really explain muscle, ligaments, and tendons… They don’t go out and research how to teach towards ethnic body types, or late starters who’s muscles and bones have already set, or they don’t go out and stay current on how things are done in ballet. Most of them teach the way they were taught, which was passed down from some crazy soviet russian era teacher with a cane… I mean obviously not relevant but whatever. A good teacher goes out constantly in search for new ideas, new ways of approaching technique, and finding the understandings of different body types, ages, etc… (This last post was geared at ballet teachers at random schools, not teachers at professional or pre professional schools.)

What is Good Ballet?

What is “good” ballet?

I have been asked this a lot… and frankly I was avoiding this conversation as it is super subjective. It is like asking, “What is good art?” There isn’t a definitive answer, which is why I try to explain my opinion. First, we have to go over the context in which good ballet is used.

“I just saw Paris Opera Ballet, and that was good ballet.”

This is referring to a company’s caliber. A good ballet company, doesn’t have to be a big ballet company. A good ballet company has to have numerous artists who are all striving for a vision, in a specific performance. I will say, in order to be a good company, you have to have a strong technical backbone, dancers that can actually move well, and all generally have the same sense or approach to musicality. Some would say they all have the same body type, or body proportion but that is a bold face lie. It really is.

“She is a good ballet dancer.”

This is referring to a professional dancer’s achievement within the art. Just because you are technically sound, that doesn’t make you a good ballet dancer. A good ballet dancer isn’t even defined by turns, or leg up, or ridiculous air time (ballon). A good ballet dancer is an artist, someone who shapes their body to the music, and give the technical steps an emotion, a purpose, and place. A good technical ballet dancer just doesn’t fling their body anywhere in a jump, they have a very specific placement, within a time frame, moving in space, with an intent or emotion.

“This is a good ballet program.”

Referring to the education a dancer is receiving. I think this is the big question that everyone wants an answer to. What is good ballet training. So what, your school didn’t make the Big Ten List … There are plenty of great schools out there… like these ones I wrote about earlier… Well, anyways there are actually two types of good ballet schools. There are ballet schools, and then there are finishing schools. A good ballet school is a where you learn your body, turn out, foot articulation, placement, and clean basic technique. If your school doesn’t emphasize turn out in every combination, it probably isn’t a good school, and probably below mediocre… Turn out is the most important thing in ballet… Unfortunately. A good ballet school teaches you how to use the floor, learn a full ballet vocabulary, teach you how to warm up properly on your own, overly stretch you out, condition you ridiculously, teach you about nutrition, cross train you in pilates, yoga and a secondary form of dance, and educate your parents about summer programs, scholarships, colleges, and careers.

Now, a good finishing school is a school that teaches advanced technique and those ridiculous jumps and turns that no one did give years ago.. Haha just kidding, not really. But a finishing school is where a student really becomes a dancer. They learn how to use their technique to really dance. Some finishing schools focus on a specific style, breeding you for their company… like School of American Ballet. Some finishing schools focus on the strength of technique aka Houston Ballet.

It is really hard to actually say what is a good ballet school, because the reality is, a good ballet school will start and finish you in their company. If your school doesn’t have a company attached, what was the point of being at that school? To train their way and leave? It really doesn’t make sense, and at the same time it really isn’t fair. Paris Opera, National Ballet of Cuba, Vaganova School, are prime examples of start to finish schools… At the same time they are all state funded, which is cause for a whole different post in which I am too tired to get into right now. Plus, I am having a conversation via Facebook with a friend about it. Haha.

Buenos Noches everyone— and cheers to “good” ballet.

The Big Five… (summer programs pt IV)

A lot of you concerned parents and students have written in about summer programs… While some of you have already gotten your acceptance letters, and have made your choices; others have gotten numerous rejection letters and are now distraught. First, we need to talk about the big five, which are the five summer program courses that everyone auditions for… Usually… maybe… most likely… The big five in terms of summer programs here in the US are, and in no particular order: San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, School of American Ballet, Boston Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. (For some, the big five will swap out PNB for Houston, or swap out San Francisco for Joffrey.)

Now, as you probably have experienced, that at the big five auditions, there are hundreds of kids… But this is why I encouraged all of you to make sure you come up with a plan ahead of time. When we (my friend and I) were training we would do the big five auditions, followed by 3 summer programs that are smaller, and then programs we thought we would be scholarship to (safety net)… For me the big five were ideal, but I wasn’t stupid… I didn’t have the ideal body type or natural facility. So, even though I went to those auditions, I would make sure to get to: Miami City Ballet, Orlando Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre, Chautauqua, and Suzanne Farrell. In addition I would do all of the smaller companies like Ballet Met, Cincinnati, Carolina Ballet… And I would randomly throw in regional companies like Sacramento Ballet, and Colorado.Obviously I didn’t do this when I was 13, but come sixteen… It started to really count.

You see, when you are sixteen and a school offers you a scholarship, they see a lot of potential… And at sixteen you probably should be training at a school affiliated with a company.. or have kick a$$ reputation (CPYB, Ellision, Yuri Gregoriev, Cuban Classical of Miami etc). The ideal situation for someone who is sixteen and going away for the summer varies, but this is the reality:

You want to get asked to stay for the year, and if they offer you a scholarship to stay for the year even better.

Summer programs are no longer a chance to get stronger, but the platform in which school directors watch your work ethic.

At sixteen, your primary focus should be landing a job, so you have to be realistic. Not everyone is meant to be in New York City Ballet, so there is nothing wrong with going and looking elsewhere…

In ballet, you have to be smart, and there is nothing wrong with going to a school that adores you and wants to work with you, but most importantly see your potential as an artist.

So, while the big five of summer programs flourish, you can be smart about this summer. Go to a program that is going to make you better, stronger, and most importantly, give you the attention you need. I remember when I went to a summer program that shall remain nameless… I went on a full scholarship and was told I had a trainee spot… we were placed in level 8. After getting there… and entering the first class… There were probably 40 others who were all promised the same thing. The studios couldn’t accommodate so many dancers, and we even had to do barre in groups. 3 days in, I said F it, and packed my bags and left for CPYB. Don’t get me wrong, CPYB was packed, but from the very first class I was singled out, given corrections, kind of humiliated, but pushed to my limits.

Lastly, there are hundreds of programs out there… You have to find the right fit. I remember one summer a girl I knew went away to Kansas City, who wasn’t all that great, but when she came back from summer course she was ridiculously flexible and had leg up. In terms of newer summer programs like Gen Next, Ellision, and so on… I am not really sure, just because when I was training they didn’t exist… haha. Now, I always say, look at the alumni… If their alumni are all uberly talented, and all getting jobs… that’s great and all, but anyone with natural facility, or have a hint of prodigy… they will always find work. period. If their alumni come in all shapes and sizes, then it s a different story. I am currently working on saving/ raising money to go travel the US and watch all of these programs… Soon enough, I will be able to help give you guys more in depth profiles into each school and program.

Manly Ballet… 5 misconceptions about male ballet dancers

Male ballet dancers get the worst reputation… And there is a reason why…

Honestly, it comes down to tights and a dance belt and for some reason that equates to effeminate, which equates to gay. But, if you look at the spectrum of dance, ballet is probably the most manly when it comes to repertory, with the exception of Dresden SemperOpera’s version of bluebird… That one is just… well… flashy… (click here to watch the youtube video)

The roles for men in classical ballet are the following: prince, cavalier, slave, pirate, prince, cavalier, lover, prince… you get the gist. Because of these roles, the vocabulary is limited, say compared to a jazz dancer. Now, because the way the music was written, and male variations are these extremely heavy, weighted variations, the steps a male ballet dancer usually performs are… well limiting. While women are known for their pointe shoes and flexibility, male ballet dancers really only do the following (via my doodles):

male ballet drawing

So, because I have only posted twice this month (it is LA FASHION WEEK, and fashion month so my real job has been taking up a ridiculous amount of time… okay, and also it happens to be my best friends’ birthdays… so I have been traveling and such)..

Here is my 5 misconceptions about male ballet dancers:

1. Male ballet dancers are weak and frail like girls…

mmmm... Alexandre Hammoudi photographed by NYC DANCE PROJECT... he is my baby daddy....
mmmm… Alexandre Hammoudi photographed by NYC DANCE PROJECT… he is my baby daddy…. (okay that was gay.) Ken Browar & Deborah Ory for NYC Dance Project.

 

2. Male ballet dancers prance around all day… actually bro, we lift too.

Actually bro, they lift too. They usually are lifting all day.
Actually bro, they lift too. They usually are lifting all day.

3. All male ballet dancers are gay…

nyt wedding ballet dancer tiler peck
Actually, we marry hot ballet girls. Tiler Peck and Robbie Fairchild, via the NYT VOWS sections. Both are principals at NYCB

4. Boys in ballet just want to be girls…

Actually, quite the opposite. No male in ballet aspires to be a girl. In fact, unless you are going to join Trock… you will never dance a girl role. Again, you really aspire to be a prince. I mean that is really the only role you can aspire too… I don’t think any boy saw Drosselmeyer and was like when I grow up I want to be that crazy loon. Do I think that boys see professional men jumping and turning, and lifting girls… yes. Do they become intoxicated by the beauty, maybe.

5. Men in ballet are not athletic.

While skateboarders do 720s using momentum v-force… men in ballet do it from a static position.

While track athletes jump hurdles that stand at 42″, ballet dancers are clearing more air while looking relaxed. (Granted track athletes are on a time constraint.)

While football boasts the manliest sport, they are still basically wearing tights…

While wrestlers are wearing less than ballet dancers and touching each other, very rarely do two men ever even touch in ballet.

While soccer players are drilling for foot speed, ballet dancers are are drilling for foot speed at a faster pace, and in exact positions.

While regular guys are at the gym lifting and taking selfies, male ballet dancers are lifting women for 8 hours without straining their necks, and making ugly faces and grunting.

While hockey players are gliding down the ice, well… that is just a hard one to find a comparison.

While baseball players are coordinating catches, male ballet dancers are coordinating catching women.

And finally, while joe schmo is sitting eating a pizza and drinking a beer… well,

male ballet dancers are probably doing the same thing… unless they are about to do a ballet in white tights.

mens ballet guide