Collective Wisdom | Classroom Connection: Roll Out

Ideas and advice from teachers

Many teachers work throughout the year with the end goal of a performance in mind, be it a holiday revue, a spring ballet, a recital, competition routines—or, in many cases, all of the above.

During a particularly hard time, I was dealing with “all of the above.” I was not so much creating choreography as doling out endless material for show after show, competitions, recitals (for three studios) and so on. There was no time for artistry with all this fast-food choreography.

So I tossed my normal routine and began a new one. During one class at the start of every term, my students and I forgo our usually structured ballet lesson and, instead, play with improv and experiment with music and ideas. Afterward, I sit down with my attendance sheets and plan all aspects of a dance, from costuming to music editing.

The next lesson is the start of what I call the Roll Out, a process of creation that has become a big deal for my students. While lying down in a circle, we close our eyes and listen to the music I selected for their dance. Sometimes while the music plays, I ask them to jot down power words that come to mind, or we have a conversation about the music’s relationship to colors, shapes, sounds, patterns, or instruments. I teach them a bit about the music’s style and the composer’s history, announce the dance’s title, show the costume, and read a thesis statement I wrote that represents the piece. We listen to the music again as we warm up, and then I’ll start to teach the choreography. That’s the Roll Out!

Approaching choreography this way allows me to keep a tight schedule, yet also exposes my students to my choreographic process—which they are curious about. They look forward to each year’s Roll Out, and that personal investment translates into a high-caliber performance. —Casey C. Davenport


Casey C. Davenport teaches ballet in the Portland, Oregon, area and is the founder of the Facebook page Ballet Teachers Unite!