Posted by Rebecca King on 07.22.2014
Dancers all know that more work is put in offstage than onstage. The same goes for young people studying ballet. Though they may not be assigned “homework” as they are in school, education outside the studio is just as important as the education they are receiving at the barre.
There are many small dance studios across the country and around the world. Not every aspiring dancer has the great fortune of attending a professional school where the tradition of ballet surrounds them day in and day out. Not every student has access to professional quality performances, showcasing generations of beloved productions. However, in today’s high-tech society, students can now immerse themselves in ballet without even leaving home. But the question is, do they know what to look for, or what they are looking at? This is where their teachers come in.
This summer during my different teaching projects, I have learned that opening students up to the broad world of ballet might be a teacher’s biggest responsibility. Ballet exists outside the microcosm of a small studio. In fact it exists in a capacity that is hard for these young people to wrap their heads around. Educating them on what is out there is not only important to their dance education, but inspires them while giving meaning to their dancing.
Families play a huge role in a young dancers’ development. Often it is hard for parents to understand what they are looking for when they attend a performance. To them it is very foreign, but to their children it is sacred. Breaking this boundary is essential. Parents want to understand their child’s love for dance, but short of attending class each day, how will they come to grasp this concept? This is where schools should come in and help these parents see behind the curtain.
Earlier in the month, after teaching students in a summer intensive, I participated in a studio demonstration for the parents. Through short descriptions, the school wanted the parents to get a taste of the kind of education that their children received over the course, to illustrate the process of ballet class, and to explain the history behind the classic choreography they were seeing in the demo. I had the opportunity to give a short background on Balanchine and his technique. My students demonstrated how he stylized different steps that they had learned with me. They went on to demonstrate the variations we had worked on.
The response from the parents was wonderful. They were so grateful to learn a little about ballet and to be able to see the different elements in the choreography. I could tell that they felt a real connection to what their children were doing. They wanted to go home and watch videos, to Google Balanchine, and to purchase tickets for upcoming Balanchine ballets in the area. It was then that I realized that this is what the parents are thirsting for. They just don’t always know where to start.
Local ballet schools should be invited by every local company to bring their students to performances. For many students, without the invitation of a company, they may not have the opportunity otherwise. This benefits the companies too: it adds to their proverbial family. These dancers and their families are prime candidates to become diligent followers of the organization. Even if every student don’t grow up to be professionals, a love for ballet has been instilled in them through their classes, their teachers, and through attending performances. The hope is that they will continue to be patrons of the ballet and to eventually even support the company. There is a much bigger cycle here than meets the eye.
Public School’s Role:
Outreach to public schools is important in recruiting potential ballet students, or audience members. Once those children begin to start taking classes, they have already demonstrated an interest in art. It is then up to companies, teachers, and parents to foster this love, making them lifelong ballet lovers, and adding them to the proverbial ballet “family.”
As teachers, it is up to us to spread the good word.