January 2016 | Collective Wisdom

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Ideas & advice from our readers

Reality Check: Must. Do. Ballet.

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Q: Who makes ballet mandatory in order to take jazz? I am trying to implement this in my program this year and I have an older student who hasn’t had ballet in a few years and does not want to take it. Do I grandfather her in and let her just take jazz? Or make it mandatory for everyone?
—Ashley Brown

A: At our studio, once dancers get into the higher levels of jazz they are required to take ballet as well—no exceptions. If you make an exception for her I’d be prepared to make it for others. There may be some backlash from other parents too.
—Beverly Lindquist

A: It’s hard to implement mandatory classes like this without fair warning. We have two sessions a year, so as we’ve grown and demanded more out of our advanced dancers we get the opportunity to “warn” them about a month before a session starts, and then we give them one full session to make the adjustment. Most make the change without pushback the following session.
—Kate Florian

A: If they are in the company or pre-professional program, yes. Recreational, no.
—Doreen Oros Freeman

A: [Ballet class is] not mandatory, but we are upfront with recreational students that they will not be able to reach the advanced level without consistent ballet training.
—Nancy K. Dennis

A: I did this years ago. I gave plenty of notice and explained to parents that students needed the ballet foundation. Several students had to be dragged to their first ballet class and they ended up loving it. I have indeed lost students along the way, but most see how much difference ballet training makes in their dancing.
—Roberta Humphrey

Classroom Connection: Stories That Move

CollectiveWisdom2Whether you teach a parent/child class, creative movement for preschoolers, or pre-ballet for kindergarteners, starting your youngest kids’ classes with a book can be calming and inspiring at the same time.

A picture book can be a great focusing tool for the group. Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe provides an easy way to introduce reading/moving in the classroom. “I am a penguin and I turn my head. Can you do it? I can do it! I am a giraffe and I bend my neck. Can you do it? I can do it!” This book beautifully lends itself to warming up the students. Your movements can begin while seated and then progress to standing. As the movements get bigger, students can start to dance in the whole space; stand and read while they move and explore.

Other books for young dancers include:

  • Wiggle Like an Octopus, by Harriet Ziefert; illustrated by Simms Taback
  • Swing Like a Monkey, by Harriet Ziefert; illustrated by Simms Taback
  • Dance With Me, by Charles R. Smith Jr.; illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
  • Kid Moves (series of yoga books), by Michelle Wing
  • Flip, Flap, Fly!, by Phyllis Root; illustrated by David Walker
  • Off We Go!, by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Laurel Molk
  • Ballerina!, by Peter Sis
  • Alphabet Movers, by Teresa Benzwie; illustrated by Robert BenderKeep a book bin in your studio for easy access. Vary the book weekly to create curiosity and excitement, but repeating each book a few times during a semester is fine.

Keep a book bin in your studio for easy access. Vary the book weekly to create curiosity and excitement, but repeating each book a few times during a semester is fine.

Use the words to inspire a simple improvisation activity, or build a “set warm-up” for each book. Books add joy, imagery, and new inspiration as you develop your curriculum.

—Jill Randall


Jill Randall, former program director for Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California, teaches at The Hamlin School in San Francisco. She directs the blog Life as a Modern Dancer.