The Demonstrator

Dance Teacher Magazine recently asked an interesting question: How do you demonstrate ideals while still making all your students feel included?

Photo by: Richard Calmes (as featured by Dance Magazine)

We immediately drifted back to our early classroom days... the days where so-and-so could do the splits before us, or so-and-so hit that double pirouette with absolute perfection. So-and-so had a natural flexibility, and so-and-so, well... she was just perfect in every way.

As young dancers, these thoughts haunted me whether the teacher pointed out their perfection or not. We didn't really need it pointed out; we could see it with our own eyes that they were the poster-child example! {bitter tone intended}

In the classroom, this created two things within us:

1. A little fire that encouraged us to strive to be better.

2. Horrible thoughts on how we could alter our bodies to be more like that (whatever that may be). Confession: We truly believed at a young age that if we broke our ankles, that it would heal and then point the way a professional ballerina points.

It wasn't until high school that we accepted our turnout, our feet and our not-so-flexible back for what it is.

As teachers, we strive to prevent those torturous thoughts of bone-breaking, muscle-pushing alterations in our students. Instead of striving to be one specific image, we instill within them to dance as they are, with the tools they have.

How do we do this?

Show, while teaching a respect for the history:

We still respect, teach and enforce traditional ballet technique. While there are different styles of training, we still aim for perfection by showing my students their "ultimate goal."

Dancer: Polina Semionova - She studied at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow. She received the recognition of de facto prima ballerina {meaning, she reached a dominant position, by tradition, enforcement and market dominance}

Note: She was the youngest to receive this recognition.

Remind them to focus on their bodies, while educating on physical capabilities:

We quickly remind them that all of our bodies are different, providing us with varying degrees of range of motion, thus adjusting the "ultimate goal" specific to each dancer. The more educated dancers are on anatomy and physical therapy, the stronger they will be, and the more prepared they are for handling the emotional struggle that comes with comparisons to other dancers.

Reinforce, while encouraging:

We always point out if an arm is a little too far this way or that, or perhaps the dancer could put a little more umph into that pointed foot... but we always provide encouraging feedback when given the opportunity. Every time something is done correctly, we acknowledge it as beautiful and well done. {Note: Something doesn't have to be "perfect" to be beautiful}

We familiarize ourselves with their "normal":

We always learn our students' "normal." We know what their dancing looks like when they are working hard, and when they are not. We know what it looks like when they are trying, progressing, slacking, faking. This helps us help them understand their "ultimate goal" and how to get them there. We can tell who has the most flexible feet, open hips, hyperextended legs. We track their progress from where they fall on the pathway, and figure out how to get them as close to the "ultimate goal" as possible. We encourage and stay positive all the way!

Photo by: Nikolai Krusser 

We teach approaching dance as an individual:

We want our dancers to know this is a path that thousands of girls choose, but only one will have the path that you will travel. We each have different challenges, benefits, plus and minuses. We work from there, pushing ourselves to our edge and moving to the next. Think of progress as a day-by-day slow passing time, and track only your own personal progress.

We want our students to know the difference between having role models {a person who serves as an example} and having idols {image or other material object representing a deity to be worshipped}. You can look at Polina Semionova and think, "I will work hard and strive to be a beautiful dancer," without looking at Polina Semionova and thinking, "I will do whatever it takes to make my body, her body, and my life, her life."

Growing up, there was always The Demonstrator: a student who was pulled before the rest of the class to show "how it should be." At first, this would put paper cuts on our hearts, which would sting and last forever. Eventually, we worked hard enough to become a demonstrator. Today, we find an attribute in each of our dancers that deserves to be demonstrated.

Each dancer is unique and carries within them a unique experience, story, capability, history, path and talent. Each one of them holds a beautiful gem. It is our job (as their teachers) to find that gem, foster progress, and then... allow them to demonstrate.



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Design & Development by Shane Jeffers