Parents & Teachers > Parent FAQ > Selecting a Good School
a hard question to answer because anyone can hang out a shingle and call
herself a ballet teacher. In the United States there is no organization
or governing body to license teachers and maintain standards. But parents
can watch for some indicators of a school's merits, and they can also
seek recommendations from well-respected institutions such as The Royal
Academy of Dancing and The Cechetti Council of America.
Academy of Dancing (R.A.D.) is a British Organization with branches
in over 80 countries across the globe. The R.A.D. syllabus is a carefully
crafted training method, incorporating elements of English, Russian, French
and Italian pedagogy. It is safety-conscious; it instills discipline and
nurtures musicality. R.A.D. teachers must themselves be trained in the
syllabus before they can teach it. Students have the option of participating
in annual "exams" at which a visiting Examiner evaluates their dancing.
(This, of course also reflects upon the teacher; if many of her students
earn honors or commendations she is doing something right.) The R.A.D.
also runs summer programs. For information about the R.A.D. school in
your state send a stamped, self-addressed envelope and a note requesting
a list of schools in your state to: Royal Academy of Dancing, 15 Franklin
Place, Rutherford, NJ 07070
and Vaganova are also styles and teaching methods that have produced many
dancer and choreographer August Bournonville created the great Danish
ballet style characterized by brilliant, bouncy jumps, clear, precise
footwork, open unaffected port de bras and charming mime. Its star
pupils have included Erik Bruhn and Peter Martins.
Vaganova created the Russian style as we know it today, especially the
Kirov Ballet style. Nureyev, Makarova, Baryshnikov and many other of the
late 20th Century's greatest Russian dancers were trained with her syllabus
Good ballet training can improve children's bodies and their self-esteem.
Bad training can have the opposite effect. Beware of a teacher who pooh-poohs
health and injury prevention in the name of Art; she may well have a long,
sad history of injured pupils. If half the class has tendinitis at the
end of term, parents might well question what's going on. Sick or injured
dancers can neither create Art nor experience the physical joy of dancing.
Parents should take the following factors into consideration in assessing
the health and safety-consciousness of a school. Do the students look
happy and healthy? Are they lean, bright-eyed and eager or are they frighteningly
thin and joyless? How much emphasis is being placed on being thin? Recent
medical studies have shown that underweight female adolescents who exercise
without sufficient caloric intake are at risk for serious health problems
even if they have regular menstrual periods. And of course it is
well established, (though sadly not known by every ballet teacher), that
lack of a regular menstrual cycyle as a result of being underweight puts
women at risk for osteoporosis and other maladies.
At what age are the girls allowed
to go en pointe? A teacher who permits pointework before the students
are 10 or 12 would have to have truly exceptional students because very
few girls have sufficient strength and technique at such a young age.
It is safe
for a dancer to start pointework after the bones of her feet have finished
growing if, and only if, she has developed the strength and technique
necessary to pull up out of the shoe and maintain turnout and ankle stability.
Thus beginners should never go en pointe. Adults can get away with dancing
en pointe to a greater extent because their bones have hardened.
A good ballet school exudes a disciplined and serious, but cheerful atmosphere.
Students should be neatly dressed, ideally in a uniform color leotard
and ideally with sweatpants and other concealing garb not allowed after
barrework. Hair should be strictly groomed; jewelry either tiny or prohibited.
Dancers should not talk during class and should show respect to the teacher
and - if there is one - the accompanist.
Turnout and Extension
Rotation of the leg in the hip socket so that the knees and feet point
out to the side rather than to the front is essential for classical ballet.
This is called "turn-out". A turn-out of 180° is most desirable. However,
knees and ankles can be damaged by forcing the turn-out. A careful teacher
will try to help her students achieve the desired flexibility without
putting the joints at risk.
Is the emphasis on competitions or on progressive training? Performing
experience is wonderful and should be encouraged; on the other hand an
over-emphasis on rehearsing for a competition may be to the detriment
of the student's technique in the long run.
The teacher with the most glamourous and prestigious performing credentials
may or may not be the best teacher. The ability to dance brilliantly is
different from the skills that make a great teacher: the ability to analyze,
to break down steps, to explain, to inspire. Some people possess both
performing and teaching abilities, some don't. Teachers who have studied
with the R. A. D. or the Cecchetti Council of America know a particular
syllabus with a track record of producing well-trained dancers.
Are the floors "sprung" (wood with air space underneath)? Is the floor
surface an appropriate area such as non-slippery wood or marley? Are the
dressing rooms clean? The ideal space is large, airy, well ventilated,
with high ceilings, a good floor, plenty of mirrors and a piano (indicating
an real accompanist instead of recorded music).