Summer Teaching Diaries: Performance Quality in the Classroom

Posted by on 06.24.2016

It’s summer time, which usually means sun, pool, beaches, and the like. But for ballet students, it’s time to get into the studio without the pesky distraction of academic school. Summer Intensives are wonderful opportunities for dancers to focus on their training: often their best work over an entire year is accomplished in the summer.

For professional dancers, often summer is our off-season. So again you would imagine sun, sand, and surf, but instead we find ourselves drawn to the studio, but in a different role.

This week I started my summer teaching position, which has been enriching my career and view of the art form over the past few years. I find that these students teach me so much each day. It’s one of the amazing things about teaching ballet as a current dancer; you see everything from a totally different perspective.

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Former Balanchine Ballerina Violette Verdy in class discussing placement of the head.

This week I was talking with my students about use of head, eyes, and upper body. I always like to bring the concept of performance quality into class. It’s very common to be staring in the mirror while dancing. In fact it shows that they are focused on what they are doing. But then, this static head position transfers to the stage.

One of my fellow Miami City Ballet dancers used to say, “don’t forget about the people in the last row of the top tier. They likely don’t have much money, but they wanted so badly to be there that they would take any vacant seat. They are the ones who love ballet the most, so dance for them.”

That’s truly a lesson that has always stuck with me, and something that I think is important to incorporate into the classroom. For example, if you only use your eyes to look at your hand, the people in the last tier won’t be able to see it. But if you use your head and upper body to establish your focus, it translates much more clearly. A clear focus creates intention and artistry.

Ballet is a visual expression of a dancer as an individual and technique is merely a vehicle for this expression. What really affects the audience, the teacher, or peers is in the intention behind the movement. As an audience member you are not most affected by the person who executes the steps most accurately. In fact many may not know what makes a step technically proficient. But what people identify with is the passion and humanity that a dancer exudes.

So while we spends hours upon hours working tirelessly on technique, while important, it is essential to take a step back and help students infuse their dancing with something more: to help them find their art. Developing who they are as artists is just as essential to their education as their perfect tendus.


For a more in depth discussion of Summer Intensives, don’t miss TENDUS’ new podcast, “Conversations on Dance” streaming now!

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