In my last post I discussed the cultivation of artistry in students. This topic will very often segue into a discussion of the steps that are commonly referred to (both in a positive and in a negative way) as “Tricks”. I am not a teacher who hates tricks. I can be thrilled by a stunning technical feat. But not when it is just a vulgar display of prowess. So here’s my question: “Why does it have to be either or?” Why do we have to abandon artistry when the technical level gets higher? Why can’t we teach our students to be growing, evolving expressive artists AND have a brilliant technique? And why are teachers and choreographers building numbers around the tricks? It is so obvious to me when a piece is constructed in this way. These steps can really ENHANCE a beautiful piece of choreography, when they are used to highlight or underline a moment or emotion in the piece, or express something in the music, rather than displaying some nicely done fouetté turns. Has anyone ever seen a piece of professional choreography from a respected choreographer (other than a coda in a 19th Century Pas de Duex) where fouetté turns are performed for their own sake? So why are giving this sort of choreography to our students? Even at the recreational level, we all hope that some of our students will progress and go on to careers. Why aren’t we preparing them for that career? Because fouetté turns, over split grand jetes, scissor leaps and scorpions WILL NOT, on their own, get these dancers a job. And that’s a simple fact. So while we are teaching higher level technical steps, we should be helping to mold artists and teach them how and when to use these tricks to IMPROVE a piece of choreography rather then building a number around them. Many teachers tell me that if they don’t teach a class,that is heavy on “tricks” the students will be bored. They feel compelled to give the students what they want to keep them engaged, to keep them excited about coming to class and the “keep numbers up” (business is business).
I have a friend who produces the European tours of many shows running on Broadway. He also,teaches acting to teens. One of the things he once said to me as I started my teaching career was “If you bring something to the classroom that is of REAL QUALITY, the kids will know it, and they will get it and they will embrace it. About three months ago I was at Steps in NYC taking class (yes, I still take class) and there was a boy next to me at the barre (he was about 16 years old). At the end of the barre, as we were carrying the barres out of the way, he said to me: “Wow, I’ve never seen presence lake that during the BARRE”. And that is because no one ever taught it to him. We shouldn’t be giving kids and their families what they want. We should be opening a door and SHOWING them what they want. We are TEACHERS.