Teaching the first few dance classes of a term feels like stepping onto a tightrope on a blustery day. Much hangs in the balance, but it’s almost impossible to know ahead of time how to adjust for the environment. The first steps are rough. A few tries are required to get a feel for the needs of the students, and judge their abilities and personalities. I must work to earn their trust and find the balance between criticism and praise for each of them.
New faces line up towards me. Some eyes timid, others wander. One girl is focused, another restless. Sometimes a furrowed brow questions and and challenge. “I don’t understand. You are asking the too much of me!” I work with the dancer for a moment, with several explanations, but nothing works and frustration grows.
Next week, we are both refreshed and ready to pick up where we left off. We understand each other better, and there isn’t any need for knitted eyebrows. Corrections are given and applied seamlessly. Best of all, I see the dancer’s eyes glowing with pride and motivation.
I step into another class, and a different group of students. These are much younger, and I find them squealing with glee as their skirts twirl. I smile, but we must train as well as spin. I line them up for exercises, but immediately they lose interest. Summer classes are especially difficult, full of first-time ballerinas.
I’m almost desperate, and we sit on the floor to stretch, always a useful activity for refocusing. I stretch tiny ankles, and something pops in my head I’ve never tried before. In a sing-song voice, I say “Banana feet!” as I stretch the child’s toes into an impressive point. A giggle is the response. “Banana feet!” I sing again
Snap! Eyes focus, a smile grows. Laughter! Nobody’s attention strayed for the rest of the class that day, or at any of the classes following. Why that worked, I’ll never understand. I’ve been teaching ballet for four years, and I’m still almost daily adding to my bag of tricks and techniques.