Training in Open Classes

I was never a student in a “preprofessional program”. I cobbled together my training program from the multitutpde of open classes available in New York City. And as I continue to teach and take open classes, I would just share my observations and thoughts on the way students today are training in open classes.

I teach in several pre-professional schools/training programs. Students enroll in these programs because of the reputation of the program. For each particular year and level in the program, the students are assigned teachers.

I also teach adults in “open classes” and it is in this situation that students are selecting a particular TEACHER; and many factors come in to play when a young adult/aspiring professional dancer selects a teacher. I try to take as many open classes as time allows at a number of different schools in New York City. It gives me insight into what schools are hiring, what teachers are teaching, what students are responding to, what is getting results, and what is not.

So how do aspiring professionals select a teacher? Here are my completely unscientific findings based on my observations during my time spent in the big drop-in studios in New York City.

1. The busiest classes seem to be those with teachers who are currently choreographing. There seems to be this idea that the teacher will “discover” a dancer in their class and give them a job. I have NEVER heard of this happening. Jobs, for the most part, are gotten through auditions. It might help to take a choreographer’s class to become familiar with their style; giving a dancer a slight edge at an audition. But selecting a teacher based on the hope that they might give them a job is not really contributing to the dancer’s training.

2. The next busiest classes seem to be those with teachers who have the best performing resumes. Teachers who danced with great companies and worked on important projects definitely bring a richness to the classroom; a connection to an important chapter in the history and continuum of our art. But in general, being a performer and being a teacher are two separate skill sets. I have taken class with remarkable teachers who have had remarkable performing careers, and I have taken class with remarkable teachers who have had very mediocre performing careers. I also have taken class from dancers who worked with MAJOR companies who were dreadful teachers. I can think of several teachers off the top of my head, who danced for NYCB, Paris Opera Ballet, etc. who, in my opinion, just had no teaching ability at all. Teaching and performing are separate skills and talents.

3. Another busy classroom is the class taught by the “young”, “cool”, “hot” teacher. I don’t think that one should select a teacher based on their age. I have taken some open classes with some very fine younger teachers…very fine. I have also, recently taken with some that were, ahem, not so “fine”. But the same thing goes for the older teaching professional. I think some people are natural teachers…some are not. I have seen ballet teachers recently at major studios that were so young that they didn’t know what they didn’t know. I think that young teachers can certainly be excellent and talented educators, but a certain amount of experience and seasoning will bring depth and richness to the studio.

4. And then there are the educators who have been diligently teaching year after year, getting excellent results without a big resume or a lot of fanfare. They definitely have their following…usually a deeply devoted following, perhaps smaller than the other teachers discussed, but beloved by their students and effective in their methods.

So…once the student gets into the classroom what do they seem to want?

(Again, these are my unscientific observations):
1. They want to be told how brilliant they are.
2. They do not want to be corrected.
3. They want a class that makes them feel good.
4. They want to take the “hard” class.
5. They want to take the class that the professionals take.
6. They want to do things the way they have been doing them and somehow get better.

None of these will help the dancer progress and grow.

Another trend that I have noticed is that dancers are taking classes with multiple teachers at any one particular time. Rather than studying with one or two teachers, they’re going every day to a different teacher. When I was training there were much fewer teachers teaching open classes. Most of the more respected teachers taught multiple classes a day at various levels, enabling a student to really study with particular teacher. Today it is rare to find a teacher who teaches more than one or two open classes a day. Studying with many different teachers will certainly make a dancer more versatile, but it also makes a dancer less nuanced, rich, interesting and artistic, because the training never really goes deep.

What are my recommendations?
1. Find a teacher that works for you. Try to make your selection based on the teacher’s ability to educate rather than on their performing choreographic or performing resumes. Be open to corrections.

2. Try not to go to a different teacher each day. Study with a teacher, don’t “take class”.

3. Take a class of an appropriate level. If you are in too far over your head you won’t get anything out of the class.

4. Be open to trying new things, explore new approaches. Take a risk. Nothing is more thrilling.

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