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Creating a Sneak Peak of Future Success in Ballet Class

So much of successful teaching is creating a positive classroom (and studio) culture. Knowing proper ballet technique and introducing concepts/vocabulary in a supported progression is only the start. If you've been reading here a while you know I am a huge fan of Daniel Coyle's book The Culture Code and I've written several posts about ideas from this book. Today's gem is the idea of the Sneak Preview.


The cover of The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Sneak Previews are "small but telling connections between now and a vision of the future" (p. 88). They help students see the pathway from where they are to where they could be. These don't take long to deliver but the are important because they help dancers see a great possibility for themselves. The Sneak Preview includes phrases like:

  • When you get your pointe shoes

  • When you are performing on the big stage

  • When you show your parents during observation week

  • When you start doing double and triple pirouettes

  • When you audition for summer programs

  • When you work on variations

  • When you are dancing in college

  • When you are dancing professionally


These words outline a picture of the future for your students and then you help them fill in the details from there. Here are some examples of how these phrases can be used to inspire students in various divisions:


FOR THE BEGINNING DIVISION

  • "Super-straight knees are super important. When you get you pointe shoes you will do so well because you're practicing that now!" This draws a line between the dots of the simple exercises they are doing now and the dancers they can become.

  • "When you are performing on the big stage, there are lots and lots of things going on. I am so glad you are practicing your ballet manners so that when you hear an instruction in rehearsal you will be able to follow it right away just like the big dancers do." Ballet manners is the key principle in the Beginning Division and describing to dancers how what they are working on today will help them be like the big kids they admire is powerful positive reinforcement.


FOR THE ELEMENTARY DIVISION

  • "When you show your parents during observation week, I am so excited for them to see how much you have improved this year!" The jump in expectations from the Beginning Division to the Elementary Division is pretty massive. Reminding kids of how much they have progressed is important and the lesson sticks in their brains better when you couple it with the excitement of showing off to family and friends.

  • "When you start doing double and triple pirouettes you are going to be more successful because of all the attention to aplomb you give when we pirouette from 5th." The Elementary Division is all about developing aplomb (with the key principles evolving from stability to alignment to aplomb). Students can pretty easily see the application in adagio, but helping them see how this hard work will help the "flashier" steps can be a big motivator.


FOR THE INTERMEDIATE DIVISION

  • "When you start auditioning for summer programs being able to use your épaulement is going to help you stand out as a candidate." Getting accepted to a summer program is a big deal. It doesn't have to be a big, famous one; the experience of putting yourself out there and then being chosen is really gratifying every time. Sneak previews like this one set the expectation that A) your students will be brave and audition and B) your students are strong candidates and that they are skilled dancers that summer programs will want to work with.

  • "When you work on variations, your clean technique in your weight transfers will really add finesse to your performance." Variations can be great teaching tools at every level but the Intermediate Division is usually when we stop adapting them and students start dancing the "real thing." Setting the expectation---out loud---that your students will dance the same steps as their favorite ballet stars really helps brings students' focus back to their love for ballet and potential as dancers.


FOR THE ADVANCED DIVISION

  • "When you are dancing in college, I am so excited for your professors to get to work with you. They will love how focused you are."

  • "When you are a professional dancer your skill with dynamics is really going to help you switch between different ballets and choreographers."

The Advanced Division is a hard one to Sneak Preview in because it always is a prelude to goodbye. The next phase for your dancers is with someone else. But it is still an important time. Transitioning into adulthood is hard and scary; it is very meaningful to these students to hear that you see a future where they are successful. We usually use Sneak Previews to make a connection between now and the future with the emphasis being on the future, but when you use this technique with the Advanced Division the two are more evenly balanced. That way your students know that your classroom is a place they can always return to.


You may have noticed that Sneak Previews are always positive. You can just as easily flip a few words around to make them Ominous Warnings. "Those knees aren't going to cut it en pointe!" or "Your parents are sure going to be disappointed if you dance like this during observation week." But learning doesn't happen as well in negative environments. Sneak Previews are a tool to help you "catch" students doing something well, reinforce their progress, and get them excited about future success.


If Sneak Previews are new to you and Ominous Warnings are how you were taught, take a minute before you start teaching and write down at least one Preview per class for the day. (I'm a fan of sticky notes for this because I can keep it by my music or lesson plan.) It's okay if they are for things you are 100% certain your students will do well. The point is to practice finding opportunities to Sneak Preview. Changing habits is hard so set yourself up for success just like you're setting your students up for success.


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