My fifth year of teaching was a tough one! I had a class of 9-11 year olds that really stretched me and taught me a lot. One of my biggest challenges was that the students just weren’t getting it! How is it that I could explain a simple step over and over and they still couldn’t execute on a consistent basis? Was I a bad teacher? What kind of training had these kids had!? Turns out, it wasn’t them; it was my expectation that proved to be a frustration.
They Can’t Learn If They’re Frustrated
In teaching anything, remember that learning does not usually occur at the frustration level. The idea that you must somehow “challenge” students with something they cannot do is not a valid learning principle. Learning that comes easy is learning that the student is ready to do. It is also easier on the teacher when the learning comes easy!
A student’s movement background and neuromuscular (physical) maturity determine what they can learn in movement. Nearly all dancers are “smarter than their muscles” and can understand movements that they cannot yet do. Not all movements are safe for them to try. Teachers must use their judgment on what is good and productive for them to be learning and what should be left for later (See “Why the Rush?”).
Pushing Them Too Far Can Be Unsafe
One of the most disappointing things that so often shows up in mid teens in those who study ballet is the over-development of muscles which were worked too hard and/or too soon on technical ballet. In “Understanding Your Student’s Growth Process” we covered the principle of over-stretching that is so damaging to our young dancers. Once the ligaments are stretched out, they will never return, so preserve their important internal processes by taking things slowly.
Ballet movements, positions and steps will be correct only when the muscle use is correct. Until a muscle is mature enough to be consciously controlled, they really cannot learn the correct way of using that muscle for ballet.
Young dancers need to be taught without stress. For safety and effectiveness, limit the number of repetitions of any one movement without rest. Use the length of the exercises in the Curriculum Books as an example of how long the exercises should be for most beginners (usually anywhere from 30 seconds to about 1 min., 20 sec.)
If their bodies—muscles and nervous systems—are ready, they will learn a new step in rudimentary form in one or two lessons. If it is taking longer, they are probably not ready for it. Wait a few weeks or months then try again.
Nothing encourages learning more than success! Nothing encourages teachers more than seeing students successfully learn what is being taught!
- Why the Rush?
- Understanding Your Student’s Growth Process
- Why the Wait?
- The Power of Teaching Progressions