5 Qualities Every Ballet Teacher Should Have
Every ballet teacher should have at least a basic knowledge of ballet history, relevant composers, and most definitely should know the French ballet vocabulary. Your teacher doesn’t have to be an elitist snob, but they should know their stuff, so to speak. In this age of instant media and self-broadcasting, it seems “experts” abound on every conceivable topic. You can film yourself performing ballet in your living room and post it as an instructional video on YouTube. But not all information that bombards us is accurate or helpful. Your ballet teacher should not fall into this category.
At the very least, your teacher should be able to demonstrate the basic ballet positions and barre combinations with ease, and should not require you to perform movements that are outside their scope of practice (ie. they shouldn’t teach partnering if they’ve never danced with a partner in their life). But before you start demanding your teacher perform 32 fouettés on pointe, understand that teachers vary in age and ability. Whereas certain steps were easy to perform in years past, your teacher may not have the ability to perform those same steps now. For instance, some teachers find it difficult to demonstrate jumps due to the repeated strain it places on the lower extremities. They may save their joints by demonstrating the step with their hands, or using minimal movement. This does not mean they are not qualified. As long as your teacher is able to communicate the principles of anatomy and technique in a way that helps you grasp the concept and execute the step safely, it is not necessary for your teacher to dance Swan Lake at the drop of a hat.
All of this knowledge and activity is pointless if your teacher is a dud. Granted, this isn’t cheerleading so it isn’t expected that your teacher will be excessively smiley, but they should at least enjoy their job. And you can tell if they do. A good teacher has a good sense of humor, and has a genuine passion and interest in what they do. Even if they don’t possess boundless energy, they find a way to make class fun, challenging, and inspiring. Each teacher has their own experiences and style to bring to the table. How involved is your teacher? Do they flatly recite combinations and mill around the room? Or are they engaging, offering constructive corrections? Find a teacher that enriches your journey as an adult student.
Your teacher doesn’t have to come from the grandiose halls of the Mariinsky Theatre to carry themselves professionally. Do they dress appropriately for class? Authority is no excuse for sloppiness. Proper attire and grooming sets the example and encourages adult students to take pride in their appearance despite the recreational nature of the class. Do they allow egregious distractions like chatty latecomers? Do they lack propriety by freely using profanity or relaying dirty jokes? Even political or religious discussions should be reserved for after class. Whether they are a former prima ballerina, or a younger instructor, a ballet teacher should strive to maintain a professional atmosphere that focuses on ballet, and protects the best interests of their students.
Adult students should never feel pressured to do something they’re uncomfortable with. If your teacher makes snide remarks or tries to rush your progress, they shouldn’t be teaching adults (or anyone for that matter). Having the patience and finesse to address the mature body are hallmarks of a seasoned teacher. Thankfully this isn’t typically an issue for adult ballet teachers, and most students feel comfortable in the studio. Adult ballet teachers should know their audience and develop a realistic curriculum with reasonable expectations.
Bethany taught ballet for 7 years in Dallas, TX. She taught ages 3 to 65, and had a special fondness for her adult students.