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I can't believe I've slacked off about these key tips in ballet teaching

Updated: Jan 12

cover of "The Culture Code" by Daniel Coyle

Yeah, okay, so in my last post I talked about how I'm struggling to connect with a couple of ballet students and how I'm not sure the best way to help motivate them. Then I read Daniel Coyle's The Culture Code and was reminded of some critical steps I haven't been super-consistent about in my teaching. I got so busy worrying about how people might be feeling in class (which is important) that I forgot to make sure I was being incredibly clear about what they should be doing in class. Here's what I mean:

  • What is the priority? I am so red-faced about this because one of the things I am most proud about in the Geeky Ballerina curriculum is the fact that every level has a key principle; a touchstone to come back to again and again. I know what the top priority is for each of my classes but I forgot to tell my students. For the record, the key principle for the class in question is stability.

  • What are my expectations? I know that the littlest dancers need the expectations repeated in each class but I drastically underestimated how often tweens need them stated and then repeated. According to Coyle, in order to develop high proficiency the leader (teacher) needs to over-communicate expectations. Like, really over-communicate. Over-communicate so much that it starts to feel campy or corny. For this group, I expect that arm shapes will be held throughout the combination and corrections will be applied to the best of their current understanding and ability.

  • How do the dots connect? I see how dancers are progressing and how they will get from where they are now to where they want to be (usually on stage in a great costume). I have not been showing students how the dots from here to there connect. I have been asking them to work very hard and just trust me. These kids have known me a total of 12 weeks. They don't really trust me yet. And it is so simple to connect those dots for them, to say "what we are doing today helps with X." I am going to start explicitly drawing more connections. For example, I am going to explain to students that when they hold their arm shapes given in an exercise (the expectation) it helps build strength which leads to stability (the key principle/priority), especially in _______ (turns, jumps, adagio, whatever seems to be the interest at the moment. Proper arm placement is pretty fundamental). I'm sure that we'll develop a code phrase that will help cue them without a lot of jibber-jabber from me. (Am I the only one thinking "Arms, Clarey!" from Strictly Ballroom?)

We only have a few more classes before winter break. I'm certain doing these three things will have a long-term impact (Coyle has done the research) but I'm curious to see how quickly these additions make a difference.

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