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Tips for Teaching Beginning Adult Ballet, part 1

adult ballet students at the barre

I love teaching adult classes! It's a completely different vibe from kids and teens. Adult classes are gaining in popularity (yay! Ballet love for everyone!) but it can be intimidating to start up a new class. Most teachers are either comfortable with beginning material or older students. Combining the two is definitely a skill. If you're thinking about starting an adult beginner ballet class, here are a few tips I've learned over the years:

Class structure tips:

  • If you are marketing the class as a beginning ballet class, keep it beginner. You probably will have intermediate+ dancers attend as well but don't raise the level of the class for them. Beginners are already worried they aren't "good enough" to be there; if you let the material become beginner/intermediate some dancers will interpret that as confirmation that they don't belong. On the other hand, intermediate dancers are either there because they want a beginning level class or they will self-direct and modify combinations to satisfy their goals.

  • Keep barre work to about 50%. Adult attention spans can maintain a longer time at the barre, but what makes it emotionally feel like a dance class (instead of an exercise class) is moving through space.

    • Adagio and fondu are particularly physically demanding. I do not include both in a class, and sometimes I don't do either. Adult dancers are challenging their bodies in very new ways (which is so wonderful!!) which means that every exercise is building strength. Keeping that in mind and adjusting class accordingly will help avoid excessive second-day stiffness. You don't want students to drop out from frustration.

  • Center work is quite different for beginning adults.

    • I do not do turns in every class and when I do have a turn in a combination, I usually only have one turn in one combination. Here's the deal: spinning is an underrated skill. I tell my younger students "anyone can spin, only dancers can pirouette" but that isn't exactly true. Adults don't spin the way kids do. Kids think they spin because it's fun but they are also developing their sense of balance and postural control. Adults don't play the same way and turning is much harder when you haven't challenged your body in that way for years (or even decades).

      • When I do include a turn I ask students to either focus on picking up the designated foot or on turning in the designated direction. Getting both correct on your first try is extremely unlikely. Give adult students permission to focus on one thing at a time.

      • Turning en dehors is more intuitive for most people. Soutenu is a great turn for beginners.

    • Jumping for beginner adults will be very limited. Most adults don't have the stamina to do a lot of allegro work, many adults don't have the core strength + joint stability to enjoy large jumps, and dancers who have been pregnant often do not have enough pelvic floor strength to do a lot of jumps in a row.

      • Relevés in the center are a good alternative to petit allegro. I usually do only relevés for the first few classes and then add in some jumps. But you will need to have a relevé-only alternative for people who, for whatever reason, do not want to jump.

      • Pas de chats work well for adult beginners, and grand allegro is usually something like temps levé in arabesque, temps levé in retiré . . . fancy skipping, really. And feel free to describe it as such. Adults are more aware of details than younger learners so take advantage of every opportunity to show the simple concepts in combinations.

    • With turns and jumps limited, most of center work for adult beginner dancers is variations on gross locomotor skills. Balancé, glissé, temps lié, pas marché, and waltz step are all big players in your lesson plan. If you're not sure what's appropriate, I recommend Level 2 in the Elementary Curriculum for beginning adult and teen dancers.

  • Incorporate stretching at the end of every class. I don't mean encourage people to stay after and stretch. Lead a stretch sequence for the class to do all together. A) These are adults with commitments and things to do. They rearranged their schedule to come to class and probably don't have time to stay after. B) Beginner dancers (at any age) usually don't know very many stretches. You leading a sequence designed to release the major muscle groups the dancers worked in class will be much more effective and people will wake up the next day feeling much better.

Adult dancers are so much fun to work with! They are motivated and eager to learn. I am so happy that adult classes are becoming popular. I lost track of how many people told me "I wanted to take ballet when I was little but . . ." No buts--ballet has been waiting for them and it's wonderful that they are in class!


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