Not everyone can teach, and not everyone should. As I press on in my journey as a ballet instructor, I find the truths found in the “Level 1 Curriculum Book” to be so very pertinent and timeless. What does it really take to be an excellent ballet teacher? What skills have I perfected, and what are the areas where I have failed? These six “must haves” for teaching ballet will help move you forward in your teaching approach.
1. A course of study that has a proven record of success and is designed for gradual, continual progress that is correct for the ages being taught.
The first tool a ballet teacher needs is a dependable source of appropriate material to teach, arranged in levels of progress that make sense, and work. Most teachers accomplish this by following a set syllabus chosen by the school or by the individual teacher, if necessary. If the material is also designed for the potential enjoyment of the students, so much the better.
With a good syllabus to base the lessons on, teachers can draw on their own creativity to make the learning fun. Having a constant source of ideas and creative dances/choreography to draw from will make the class planning much easier as well!
2. A background of knowledge and experience in ballet, including the highest level you plan to teach.
It is preferable for the teacher to be very well trained in ballet. Experience as a professional performer is not necessary, but a teacher should have studied ballet through the “basic professional” level in order to prepare students for possible professional study. If your background is not this thorough, there are ways to make up the difference, even as you teach. There are lots of teacher workshops and certifications you can pursue, and some studio owners will even help to pay for their teachers to get these credentials. Meanwhile, it makes sense to not teach above the level that you yourself have been correctly taught.
3. An understanding of the material to be taught.
Ballet teachers need an understanding of the how’s, why’s, what’s, and when’s of ballet technique and artistry. Knowing which muscles are used in a demi plié is good. Knowing why learning a demi plié is so important is better. Knowing at what age a child is able to begin to feel and use these muscles correctly is better still. You need to know how to recognize incorrect muscle use and teach students how to use the correct muscles.
When teaching young children, it helps to know why a movement is done, what details of execution are important, where it fits into the development of coordination and skill, and where it fits into ballet later on.
4. An understanding of the students to be taught: their abilities, characteristics, personalities, and needs.
Lessons that fit are like clothes that fit: comfortable and attractive. With a good understanding of their students’ general characteristics, teachers are able to obtain correct results without stress or strain on themselves or the students.
Many times, the teacher that finds teaching young children exhausting and difficult is the one that has not done enough research into how the children operate at different ages. When you understand the difference between the social development of a five-year-old versus a seven-year-old, you are able to understand some of the behaviors that come up in their classes. Knowing the amount of physical and emotional pressure that a three-year-old can handle will help you know just how far to push them, and when you’ve crossed the line.
5. An understanding of teaching skills and learning skills: what contributes to learning and what does not.
Today’s teaching skills and methods are far more refined than they were even a decade ago. Many students today will not put up with poor teaching in dance class when they are used to better during the day, at school. They don’t consciously know why they feel uneasy, but they may become inattentive, rebellious, or quit dancing altogether.
Similarly, some parents can sense when the teacher is not really “teaching” a dance class, but is just demonstrating steps. Some parents will sit and take notes and then teach the material to their kid at home! The skills of effective teaching are just as important in dancing as in any other subject.
6. A love of ballet, a love of the students you teach, and a love of seeing the progress they make.
Teaching ballet will be fun and rewarding for you and your students! The philosophy of our curriculum is based on what we call the “child benefit”: the teacher’s responsibility to teach what is beneficial for the students in ordinary life as well as in dance. Your influence as their teacher will go much further than you can imagine. Invest in these young lives with a full understanding that you are shaping the minds of the future, and the responsibility is very real.
- How Young Is Too Young?
- Challenge? Or Frustration?
- Understanding Your Student’s Growth Process
- Improving Behavior with Consequences