"My main goal as a teacher is to create opportunities for my students to pursue their own questions and engage with their bodies thoughtfully and intentionally. I also emphasize that the reach of dance education extends far beyond the studio setting, and has valuable implications for my students' everyday lives and goals outside of dancing. Through the model of dance training, students collaborate, communicate, pose questions, forge meaningful relationships, and learn to stand in the world with assurance and aplomb. I encourage students to contend with and delight in the unknown."
Some thoughts on teaching Ballet-
Although ballet technique is codified, I do not see it as a fixed and unyielding form, but rather a porous model through which one is able to encounter ballet’s explicit central tenets as well as its implicit philosophical code. I understand ballet’s explicit tenets to be shape, rotation, verticality, rhythm and weight. These principles are crucial to ballet technique, and are apparent to an untrained eye. As a teacher, however, I seek to examine the more implicit holdings particular to the ballet form as I have come to understand them: opposition, readiness and a fluid relationship to time.
With regard to opposition, one of ballet’s foundational and defining aesthetics is the outward rotation of the legs and feet, often referred to as “turn-out.” I prefer to cue my students to rotate from the tops of the legs rather than to command them to “turn out,” refocusing on the origin and the action of the legs’ orientation in space. Beginning with the femurs spinning away from each other in the hip joint, even and equal rotation of both legs offers the student a proprioceptive sensation of opposition. Equivalent rotation in both legs leads to an understanding of another of ballet’s pervasive paradoxes: the task of anchoring weight and finding stability on the “supporting side” in order to allow mobility in the “gesturing side” (often referred to as the “working leg”). I often suggest that my students bore down into the earth when executing a pirouette high on one leg, or that they lift their upper bodies as they land from a jump. I create my ballet classes in order to sensitize and attune dancers to the physical sensation of opposition, which also prepares students to identify oppositional continuums that are not specific to ballet: knowing and not knowing, articulation and expression, repetition and novelty.
Another priority in my teaching is my insistence upon readiness. This readiness reads as potential: a dancer in fifth position plié is prepared to do any number of steps in the ballet idiom, and does not indicate what she is about to do before she begins. This readiness must exist both in beginnings and endings, or “attacks” and “finishes.” I apply this sense of readiness to the beginnings and endings of each class, each sequence and each step. The end of a turn, the landing of a jump, the last moment of a developpé extension of the leg must be just as ready for new potential as the first. I spend little time refining static shapes in class, choosing rather to qualitatively focus on gesture, “a shape,” as Anne Bogart defines it, “with a beginning, middle and end.” A sense of readiness also cultivates the ability to process new encounters, and alertness to the benefit of repetition. Each iteration of a step has a new beginning, middle and end in time. Exact repetition does not exist. There is always more to know from a step in ballet, and I encourage my student to be ready to receive that information as it comes in their studio practice.
Ballet also animates a fluid relationship to time. Rather than measured time, dance calls upon what Maxine Sheets Johnston refers to as “felt time (Johnston, The Phenomenology of Dance).” Ballet, especially as it progresses toward an advanced level, often relies on neuromuscular patterning in order for dancers to execute steps that are too quick to consciously think through, but which do not escape sensation. These sensations feel like dancing precisely because our “felt time” in the ballet studio differs from the measured, unconscious time by which we live our daily lives. This is also present in slower adagio movements, which demand us not to rush from one thing to the next, but rather to take all the time required of the step (which can feel like a radical notion for students who are embedded in a multi-tasking, fast-paced culture). I encourage my students to consciously fill in the melodic contour of the step, or the rhythmic edges of the phrase, rather than staying neatly inside them. A shift in relationship to time can distinguish proficient dancing from virtuosic dancing. In my estimation, a good ballet class asks us to reconsider our default modes for experiencing time. I also believe that there should be no “holding” in ballet. I prefer to refer to moments of relative stillness as suspensions, encouraging an active relationship to time, rather than a static one, or worse, one that purports to stop time altogether.
I believe that the logic of ballet has many potential applications outside of the classical prerogative, and I most enjoy teaching students who are engaged with other movement forms as well. With that demographic in mind, I attempt to remove triggering language cues from my teaching, particularly “turn out,” “hold,” “supporting leg and working leg” and “repeat,” and although I do set exercises to counts, I also encourage students to experiment with their timing and musicality within the framework of the musical phrase. Throughout my class, I emphasize the importance of working within one’s anatomy, rather than forcing shapes that are only required for careers in the professional ballet domain. My classes de-emphazise excessive muscular action and re-focus ballet’s unique framing of opposition, readiness and time.
Current Teaching Affiliations:
Pioneer Valley Ballet
Beginning through Advanced Ballet, Contemporary Ballet and Advanced Repertoire
The School for Contemporary Dance and Thought
Hatchery pre-professional training and choreographic laboratory (age 13-19)
Keene State College, Department of Theatre and Dance
Ballet and Experiential Anatomy (Spring 2017)
Modern and Composition II (Spring 2017)