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Friday, February 7, 2014

Steps I Can't Teach

I've been doing this dancing thing for a long time. 

A very long time.
Ballet never came naturally to me as a student--I had to work harder than many of my peers to gain the flexibility and strength required of me. For years, I worked against forces in my body I couldn't control, like the arches in my feet (or lack thereof) and the tightness in my back and hip flexors.  That extra work pushed me to really think about the way my muscles had to engage or move in each step and position. Little did I know that the frustrating experience of studying ballet in a non-ballerina's body was preparing me for a career in teaching. 

As a dancer, I have to be able to perform steps correctly. As a teacher, I have to understand the mechanics behind every position, shape and action in ballet. Furthermore, I need to be able to relay that information clearly to my students.

There's a whole separate language of movement, a vernacular specific to ballet, at work in every classroom. When teaching beginners, I'm acting as a translator. For the most part, I think I'm okay at this. Of course I'd like to improve. I'm obsessed with researching new teaching methods and reading about what other respected teachers are doing in their studios but teaching itself has come pretty naturally to me--with a few exceptions. There are a few basic, easy steps I absolutely fail at teaching. 

I really struggle with teaching balancé (a simple waltz step) and petit battements (a small beating movement of the foot). I love both of these steps. I find them fun and straightforward, but frustrating to try to explain. Maybe these movements feel so organic to me, so much a part of my body after so many years, that dissecting them piece-by-piece gets me all garbled and confused, like when you say a word so many times it loses its meaning.

 I demonstrate the step slowly. I have students mimic me as I do it. I look at each moment in the step and probably use some stupid metaphor like, "Swim through the jelly, dancers! Swim through the jelly!" to clarify. The metaphor does not clarify anything. Students look at me like I'm insane. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Am I alone on this? Do any of you teachers out there struggle with teaching certain steps or concepts? 

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