Class Levels

I would like to address the issue of dancers and class levels. I have had countless conversations with students, their parents, and dancers, regarding what level of class would best suit the dancers’ needs.

With respect to children: Studio owners and teachers take great care in evaluating a student’s talent, ability, progress and work ethic, and will place the student in the level where they will receive the training that they need in order to grow as a dancer and as an artist. And very often parents are not happy. It seems as if being placed in a higher level class is a badge of honor. It seems as if being placed in a lower level class is an insult. It seems as if many parents think that they know better than the teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard The following statement: “I know my child, and I know that my child will thrive when she is challenged. Besides, she is very mature for her age and she always does better with older children.” Well this parent may know his or her child, but what this parent doesn’t know is how to train a dancer. I would like to assume that this same parent would not tell their physician how to remove their child’s appendix. That doctor trained many years to learn the science and art of medicine and knows things that that parent couldn’t possibly know. Well I happen to know for a fact that as a ballet dancer and teacher who has trained as long and as hard as I have, with the finest teachers available in New York, I have clocked more hours of training than a physician. So why would you presume to tell me how to teach your child? (I do realize that what I’m doing isn’t life or death.) I have been told by tennis players that if someone plays tennis against a player who is more advanced than they are, they will typically improve. But ballet is not a sport. And if a student trains in a class that is too advanced for them, what ends up happening is the student learns nothing. Actually that’s not true. The student will learn steps; not how to dance. Building a dance technique requires rigorous training in a methodical way. You have to build the foundation for the house to stand. Similarly, a dance technique must be built from the foundation up. Many parents have said: “But she isn’t going to be a professional dancer”. And my answer to that is: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right”.

For young adults who are training in open classes, the situation is somewhat different. In this setting the student has the freedom to take any class they choose; and this is very often a recipe for disaster. Everybody wants to be in the hard class. Everybody wants to dance with the really good dancers. Nobody wants to be thought of as a beginner. Well here’s a big surprise: every professional dancer started as a beginner. As most of you know I studied with Luigi for nearly 30 years. Luigi had many brilliant ideas. And one of those ideas was creating something called “style class”. “Style” met every morning, Monday through Saturday, at 11 AM. All the professional dancers that Luigi taught took his style class. What was this class? It was essentially a slow advanced beginner class. It was filled with professionals because he called it “STYLE”. He taught it slowly, and methodically, with a lot of discussion of DETAILS OF TECHNIQUE. I took that style class as well as his technique class and advanced beginner class for years. I also took a very slow basic ballet class with a marvelous teacher named Debbie Cruz (AKA Diane Bryant). I built a foundation upon which my technique now sits. And even after My technique grew to the point of being ready for professional classes, I still took the Luigi’s style class and basic beginner ballet classes a few times a week to keep my technique clean. I continued to take these classes throughout my entire career. I notice today in open classes in New York, that if an older teen or young adult beginner, who is serious about dancing, has a lot of natural ability, they jump right into intermediate and advanced classes without ever building a proper technique. I see them taking two or three classes a day. I see them in the most challenging classes. I see them doing steps (and doing them badly). What I don’t see them doing is dancing. Not really DANCING. And they continue on this path for years, spending thousands of dollars on classes, dedicating their life to their training and making no improvement. I see them in these classes and they are working hard. And they think they are dancing well. And the mirror lies. And year after year they go to audition after audition, and they never book a job. I know one young student who wanted to dance more than anything. Who took multiple classes a day. Who had REAL TALENT that was never properly developed. Who is now in Law School.

We don’t choose to be dancers. Dance chooses us. And for those who have been chosen, we are only happy when we are dancing. Don’t sabotage your training and development for the vanity of being in an advanced class. Don’t sabotage your children’s development to satisfy your need to have a child that is “mature”, “advanced for her age”, “special”. Be smart, listen to your teachers, take your time, and STUDY.

When the student finds the joy in the process, the dancer is born

4 thoughts on “Class Levels

    • Love this! I feel this happy feeling every time I get to be in a ballet class.
      I didn’t choose dance
      Dance choose me.
      It’s a fire that burns daily and when I don’t take class I don’t put the fire out and this fire re ignites itself every day again and again.

      Great article!

      Like

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