So, what do you do when your 7 year-olds don’t want to practice tendu, they want to saut de chat across the room like the beautiful ballerinas they saw in recital last year? I’ve had more than one conversation with that age group about how important it is to do everything at the right time.
Way too often we seek the finished product without wanting to allow the process to take place!
Take Control of Your Classroom
A common attitude at this age is impatience. They feel ready to do so much more than they physically should, and their minimal understanding of their bodies can just make things worse. I usually stop the class to explain that the things they see the older dancers doing are coming at some point, but until then, it’s my job to make sure I do all that I can to get them ready. Once they understand that my intention is in their best interest, and that I’m not just being a party-pooper, they will usually take a step back and also develop a deeper level of trust for their teacher.
This excerpt from the Level 4 Curriculum Book explains why we must wait and allow our students to progress injury-free and at a proper pace through their training.
Take The Time For It To Happen Correctly
It will take most students two years to learn the basics contained in the beginning grades of ballet. Good ballet, and bad ballet, is like money in the bank. The notes mature at about age 15 to 16. Then you get back the quality of what has been put in. Students and parents both sometimes expect to see the results faster than that, but it just doesn’t happen that way.
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.
So, what are some ways teachers can slow things down? Well, for example:
1. WAIT until age twelve to fourteen to begin pointe work. Starting sooner can increase the risk of damage to growth plates in feet, ankles, knees (See “Is My Student Ready for Pointe?”).
2. WAIT until about age fourteen to sixteen to do any “serious” flexibility-type exercises. Keep the legs off the barre until the hips have acquired their adult size, or nearly so. Splits may look cute, but they can be a very damaging activity.
Ballet requires strength to go along with flexibility. The ballet exercises themselves are designed to encourage a parallel increase in flexibility and strength. Stretching for long periods of time or in unnatural positions can be seriously damaging to the students in the long run. They need to gain flexibility in each area as they’re getting stronger in each area. This concept is key in injury prevention (See “Avoiding Injury with Correct Muscle Use“).
3. WAIT until age ten or eleven, with two or more years of good ballet, before using full turnout ability. Forcing the feet and legs out too soon can overstretch important protective ligaments in the foot, ankle, knee and hip, limiting strength.
Technique Without Stress
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. Incorrect muscle habits are nearly impossible to change as the student gets older. Even when the muscular control is finally there, the old habits will persist.
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.)
Paint the Picture of Excellence for Them
Encourage your students often with the promise that they are well on their way to all those beautiful steps they desire to try; all in good time. It is very rewarding to see the beautiful results that can happen from taking things at a correct pace: the graceful shaping of the muscles, the graceful movements that are possible after six to eight years of consistently good ballet. Let’s give our students a chance to experience it.
- Understanding Your Student’s Growth Process
- Why the Rush?
- How Much Should We Expect?
- Correcting Errors in Muscle Use