by David Arce
Young dancers often don’t follow the music’s tempo during an exercise. This is usually either because they can’t perform the steps at that tempo, or because they are speeding ahead of the music. In either scenario, it’s helpful to say or sing the steps on the music. I also have my students sing with the music before attempting to dance.
With students who are speeding, try telling them, “The music is the boss.” Even when dancers know the steps so well they can do them at a faster tempo, they have to let the music guide their dancing. Anxious students will want to show you how fast they can go once they master a step. But everyone in the classroom needs to listen to the “boss”—the music.
One of the first things I tell my young students is that, in ballet class, their knees aren’t very smart—because ballet knees only know how to bend and straighten in one direction: to the side, or à de côté. From the first plié in first position through barre and center work, no matter what position or step dancers learn, ballet knees always do the same thing. Because all the exercises I give young students are squarely en face, it is very easy for them to visualize this concept.
Periodically stop your students during exercises if you see their knees turning in, and ask which way their knees should be pointing. Remind dancers that their ballet knees can only bend in one direction—to the side.
David Arce is artistic director of Juline Regional Youth Ballet and a teacher at Juline School of Dance in Modesto, California. He trained at Ballet Yuma and San Francisco Ballet School and danced 12 seasons with SF Ballet.