“Secrets, Tips and Tricks” – The way we pass on information and how it affects both our teaching and our learning By: Annette T. Thomas

Typically, the way many people teach dance classes today is that they give the choreography of a particular exercise, begin the music and then, along with counting out the exercise they walk around the room and give corrections. After the exercise is over they give a few tips on how something might be done better – give a few moments for the students to try it and then move on to the next exercise. (If you notice how many times I wrote the word “give” – I believe this is fundamentally why it is called “giving class” instead of teaching a lesson)

Often you will hear that a certain teacher has many tips and trick to improve pirouettes, lifts, etc., or that so and so has a new video on training “secrets” which will “take you to the next level” in your dance career. It may seem ironic but over the years, I have found that true “training secrets” cannot fully be understood or accurately implemented outside of the training framework or system they belong to. Training secrets or concepts that really work are often hot topics because the teaching itself is disjointed –taking “secrets, tips and tricks” piecemeal from a variety of methodologies can result in an injury just waiting to happen.

In Classical ballet, some of those “secrets” which incur controversies are:

• How to achieve and maintain turn-out – and is complete turn out even good for you?
• At what age should you start “doing pointe”?
• When (or if) to grip the barre, and when not to.
• When to stretch and when not to – is a stretch a warm up and where do you draw the distinction?
• Does passive stretching help or hinder?
• Should you grip the floor with your big toe and little toe to maintain a taut arch in the foot?
• Why is leg elevation to 90 an optimum training angle?
• Why are dance competition pirouettes so different from classical pirouettes? (this last one for fun!)

Dancers and athletes who have been brought up in a certain tradition of training know that something works – but those outside that system find that it “doesn’t work” or that “it causes one to be injury prone”…etc. etc.. Taken piecemeal outside of a specific training system, these “secrets” are invariably misconstrued, not properly implemented and/or not carefully monitored, and consequently the results tend to be counterproductive at best, so, sharing them becomes a touchy subject. When teachers in the dance and sport world trade “tips trick and secrets” outside the context of the specific training method it is associated with, they risk the dancer/athlete becoming injured or at least having issues which could result in a biomechanical imbalance in another area.

A real ballet “training secret” is that it is not so much the exercises that truly matter, but the WAY in which those exercises are understood (biomechanically), taught and practiced that make ALL the difference in the results.

One can copy/video another teacher’s or method’s exercises “exactly” (from a visual perspective) in order to duplicate the choreography thinking that you will get the same results, but this will not happen unless one knows the *precise placement*, history of that placement (per student) and internal workings behind them which, truly, are only found in ballet pedagogy lessons. This is why it is called a secret!

Did you know that in Russia one must take 2-4 years of meticulously presented university studies in ballet pedagogy – training which includes biomechanics, art history, anatomy and physiology, and music theory, as well as teaching methodology for every age and level of student (not just having been a professional dancer)in order to become a teacher of Classical Ballet? Can you just imagine if we required that here in the US?

The “tips, tricks and secrets” mind-set tends to believe that they can get there faster – it feels better because the teacher and student perceive a more immediate sense of progress which may in the long run prove false, as more injuries occur and fundamentals often need to be reworked. On the other hand, Methodology trains within a unified, contextual approach. As I say to my adult students: “when you enter the classroom you must embody the entire methodology, from the first lesson – floor, to barre, to centre – from the most minute detail of battement tendu to ‘Gargouillade’ for each student and teach it accordingly.”
THIS is the real secret! …and, you get there just as fast, but without injury, without having to “clean” technique, AND you also get an artist in the end – no, two in fact – you as well as the student.

Copyright © 2017 by Annette T. Thomas Prime Radiant Press LLC.