For children ages 5 to 8, start the class with moving steps, before they stand still for demi-plié or tendu. Suitable steps would be gallops, runs on a high demi-pointe, and what I call “picked-up runs,” which are running movements in which the raised knee bends and the foot is lifted behind the body. Combinations of the above movements can also be used. Moving at the start of a class builds enthusiasm and helps the children work off excess energy in a positive way or snaps them out of a state of lethargy (characteristic of warm days). This is also a good way to warm up for the class.
Teachers must insist that the feet are stretched, that the body is held in an upright position without any flopping, and that the hands are on the waist or the fingertips are on the shoulders or holding skirts. Vary the combinations of the moving steps and arm positions to maintain interest.
For children ages 9 and older, the class should end with moving steps (about the last 8 minutes). For example, temps levé in first arabesque, then the lifted leg steps across and the back foot goes to passé position. This is done in a series en diagonale. The dancers could do this two at a time, depending on the size of the class. This forms the basis upon which other steps can be developed, such as failli, assemblé, or grand jeté en avant. The same combination should be repeated over several classes, which saves time in teaching a new combination and increases the dancers’ ability to improve the movement. Also, stamina will be built up. And with more confidence, the quality of their performance will improve.
TIP #1 For Young Children
It is important for young children to practice the head movement, and to spot, before starting to learn pirouettes. Here is a useful way to achieve this: Have the students skip in place, turning the whole body and using the eyes to spot. They should turn one way for six skips, then spring with feet together, facing the front. Then have them repeat the exercise to the other side.
TIP #2 For Older Dancers
To teach the correct arm position in pirouettes: Have the student hold a pencil or another small object in the right hand at the beginning of a pirouette to the right. When the left arm closes in, the student should transfer the object to the left hand. The arms will then be closing in the correct position.
Teaching port de bras to two age groups
By Mignon Furman
Tip #1: For Young Children
To get the correct placement of the fingers, place a pencil under the dancer’s first (pointer) and ring fingers so that it passes over the middle finger. Make holding the pencil without dropping it a game. Use a point system—a chart placed in the studio, which shows points gained or lost, makes a great incentive. Awarding young students a gold star once they have gained enough points has a magical effect on getting them to work correctly. For this exercise, if the children hold the pencils successfully, they get a point; if they allow them to fall, they lose a point.
Tip #2: For Older Dancers
Explain that all port de bras require a circular movement. Even when moving the arms from first (fifth devant) to arabesque, the fingers lead in an outward circular movement. This gives a broader feeling to the port de bras and allows the dancer to use the music fully.
By Mignon Furman
This is the first of a series in which I hope to pass on to teachers some of the lessons that I have learned throughout my career as a teacher of ballet for young children, graduate-level college students, and teachers.
This month’s column offers suggestions for teaching the basic concept of classical ballet—turnout—to 6- to 8-year-olds. —M.F.
To explain turnout of the leg raised in front: The dancer sits on the floor with legs extended in front, parallel to each other. The hands are on the floor, slightly behind the line of the shoulders. Keeping the hips firmly on the floor (“push them into the floor”), the dancer raises one leg about 12 inches off the floor, turning it out from the hip so that the heel faces toward the ceiling. The height of the leg is not as important as feeling the turnout.
Exercise: While sitting, raise the arms to 5th position and lift one leg. The body must be held erect, with the back straight and the hips on the floor. Repeat with the other leg. Try raising both legs. This is a good exercise for feeling the turnout and the abdominal muscles and stabilizing balance.
To explain turnout of the leg extended to the side: The dancer lies on her back and lifts one foot in the passé position, keeping the other leg well stretched and as turned out as possible. The lifted leg will be in a turned-out position with the hips correctly placed.
Exercise: Lift one leg to passé and “swing” it to place the knee across the body. Then return to passé position.