Move from Within
Over my career I have taught classes as if every student in the room aspires to become a professional dancer. I realize there are students who enroll in my classes for other reasons such as drill team, to be with friends, or sports. Doctors often prescribe ballet classes to patients with scoliosis. Whatever the reason, a professional ballet master’s class will never change in intensity to cater to hobbyists. It has been my experience that probably one out of 100 students will actually become professionals, but that should have no bearing on the quality of training they receive.
While in Southern California I had a student, Andrea Luna, who wanted to apply to Juilliard after high school. She had a few strikes against her like body proportions and weight, but she made up for it in style. For an audition piece, we chose to set a modern piece of choreography to Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky. We called the piece Screamer, and in the three minute piece she goes through a complete mental breakdown before finding her inner peace. The piece was a stretch for both of us and was accomplished by our close communication.
Andrea and I worked physically and interpretively on the inward and outward choreography. I explained what the character felt at each segment of the music which, by the way, is sung by Claire Tory—no words—only screaming and moaning. She wore a white non-defining dress to resemble a strait jacket. Her hair was in her face and mussed as if she hadn’t seen a comb or brush in days.
I felt that because her natural build was not that of a classical ballerina, we would highlight her strengths which lay in her intense and moving style. She was accepted, not in the dance department but in drama. The unrestrained dance piece served the purpose of an acting audition.
I have placed a handful of students in schools such as Boston Ballet School, in Massachusetts, State Street Ballet in San Francisco, and Juilliard in New York. There may be others of whom I am not aware. My point is that many students who enter a ballet classroom may not have the same incentive after a few years of intense training and gaining a better command over their body. As their proficiency improves, their reason for training often changes.
Students who are privileged enough to train with a variety of accomplished teachers strengthen not only their technical skills but their style. When I was a student I achieved skills with various teachers. David Howard instilled in me the ability to find my balance, which then improved my ability to turn. Roni Mahler, now a teacher at Juilliard, gave me my understanding of style.
There are teachers a student will train with who will give them a good workout in class improving their external strength, flexibility, and development. But other teachers have the ability to teach the student how to internalize their revelation to fit their own body. Helping students to move from within is a distinctive feature of my teaching style. Communication between student and teacher is of the utmost importance in dance training and I would think that would apply to any vocation.
On a closing note, I have had parents ask me how to select a dance school for their son or daughter. There are so many to choose from. My answer is always the same: credentials! Anyone can open a studio with little or no knowledge of dance. So it is up to the consumer to look for the credentials of the teacher. There are dance organizations that certify dance teachers by test such as Dance Masters of America, and the Cecchetti Council of America. Trophies presented by organizations that merely showcase performers regardless of training, such as Showstoppers or America’s Got Talent, are not credentials; they are marketing tactics to incentivize unsuspecting dance studios to continue spending money with their organization. Another way to judge the teacher’s capabilities is to look at their physical body. Chances are their students’ bodies eventually will have similar ailments and imperfections after applying that teacher’s training methods.