One of things that is a core piece of my teaching philosophy is the importance of building a solid foundation for ballet technique. Without the basic knowledge of alignment, turnout, the proper shape of your foot when pointed and of your leg when stretched, you have nothing on which to build fancier, more complex steps. Just as I was sorting out my thoughts on how to best convey how essential a strong foundation is for ballet (and really any dance) technique, I came across this video.
It features a young dancer’s solo variation en pointe. However, as you can see from her beginning pose, her technique is not quite up to par. Her arms and wrists are limp and her back tendu leg is not turned out- her heel is pointing upwards instead of down towards the ground. As the variation progresses, you can see that this dancer’s technique is not as advanced as it should be in order to execute the dance. She does not point her toes, turn out her legs, or get all the way over the box of her pointe shoe. It appears as if she is supposed to be landing in 5th position after many of the moves, although its not clear because her legs aren’t turned out. Her pique turns are done without a true pique- she’s creeping up on her shoe (although not all the way) and stepping with a bent leg.
Now, I don’t mean to completely bash this poor dancer. She’s out there giving it her all. She’s got a smile on her face, full concentration on her performance, and is proud of what she’s presumably worked hard to show. Unfortunately, having a great attitude towards dance and smiling through your performance is not enough. It goes along way towards making good dancers great, but as you can see, its not much without solid technique. I also don’t expect professional level technique out of student dancers, just a foundation on which they can build and practice their art.
I don’t blame the dancer for her lack of technique. Ultimately, the blame falls on her dance teacher. As a teacher, I would feel as though I failed my student if her performance was anything like this dancer. I would be proud that she gave it 100% and did the best she could given the choreography, however, I would look back and re-evaluate the lessons and rehearsals leading up to this point and determine how I could better educate my young dancers.
This dancer’s teacher did not focus on technique fundamentals, ingraining turned out legs, pointed toes, and straight legs in her students. She also allowed this young girl to dance en pointe before her legs- and her technique- were strong enough. She gave this dancer choreography that was too difficult for her skill level. Teachers, it is vital that we do not ask our dancers to try something they are not ready for. It is absolutely important that we challenge our students, but we have to make those challenges realistic and achievable. We cannot ask our students to a pirouette if they cannot balance properly on one leg first. We cannot expect intermediate/advanced level work from a student who has been dancing one hour a week for just a year. A beginning student performing beginner moves well is a more successful performance than a beginner student struggling to perform advanced moves. Performances should highlight what dancers can already do well with a few built in, achievable challenges.
I’d like to address teachers and delve deeper in how to achieve that strong foundation in my next post.