Levels levels levels

Levels levels levels

When I first started teaching ballet in Los Angeles in the 80’s, I found the standards of training in the area to be weak and the opportunities to be sparse for young ballet dancers wanting to train. There was a lot of jazz, some great advanced, pro classes if you were willing to travel but in comparison to the meticulous training I had grown up with in my home country of New Zealand, strong ballet training for children was hard to find. I taught part time at several schools but felt manipulated into dumming down the classes to keeping it “fun” and I often had too many levels in one class. I rented a space and began teaching a small ballet class to a group of about 6 young dancers who were in the 10-12 year old range along with my intro to dance and pre ballet tap classes where I developed the curriculum that is still taught at LABA today. The girls had some previous training and a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I began by instructing them how to wear their shoes with ribbons and how to put their hair in a bun. We then moved on to the barre where I spent considerable time working on getting them to stay on the barre, the parents to stay in the lobby and to explain why cartwheels between exercises was not good form. Upon what probably seemed like a lifetime to them we finally progressed to the center and I will never forget the question that was asked….”Miss Andrea when are we going to get to do turns and leaps across the floor in this ballet class” to which I replied “you may be ready for that in about 3 years”.
I feared that the LA crowd would not be interested in non commercial training, or in slow careful, meticulous methodology. I had a few colleagues who were on the same page as I was, so I found strength in aligning myself with them and I plodded on. I demonstrated a lot for the children as I was still dancing professionally myself and I had no advanced dancers for them to look up to. Those parents and their children (many of whom graduated from the school with me and I am still in touch with today) trusted me, believed in my philosophy and allowed me to train them.
To my surprise the program grew rapidly with 30 students in the beginning of the first year and 150 in the second. Obviously the parents and dancers who came to me for ballet were looking for what I had to offer and 21 years later we have the vibrant and evolving program that we have now.

Intermediate Foundation students prepare for their examination.
Intermediate Foundation students prepare for their examination.

Now I’d like to tell you about some things that ruffle mine and my colleagues tutu’s the most.

The number one complaint that I receive on the first day of our Summer Intensive is “my daughter is not in the right level” This often happens after the first class on the first day of the program, however it has also happened BEFORE the first class!……It also happens during the first week of the fall session. I will also say that this is also a compliant more about daughters than sons because parents of boys often do not feel the same pressure as the parents of girls.  Boys motivation to dance and how parents respond to it is a whole other post……….hmmm I already feel the ideas flowing.
When a parent makes this complaint about levels it is extremely rare that the parent thinks that the class is too hard for their child and they want them in a lower level…….. 99.9% of the time the parent feels that their child should be in a higher level than they have been placed in. Their reasoning often goes along the lines of the fact that their friend is in another level, their child is taller or bigger than the other children in the class, they perceive that their child is older or more physically gifted than the other students in the class. Surprised by this? I know as parents we have all felt this way at some time or another about our children or have heard a parent in the parking lot or the lobby expressing exactly what I am describing here.

I would ask parents to consider the following. Most of the children in our program have been auditioned and placed carefully before they arrive. THEN on the first day the teachers and the director evaluate the students to verify that the levels are correct. They then continue to evaluate the children in the program because their MISSION and objective is to make sure these dancers have a positive experience and progress and are inspired during the program. Whether they are members of our program or are visiting from another teacher, we all want them to go back to regular classes looking better and feeling stronger. The success of any program world wide depends on this.
The Director of the program you have chosen spends their days looking at and evaluating dancers they have probably been doing this for 10-15-20 or 30 years. Is it reasonable to question their ability to evaluate your dancer? Often a teachers feels that a quiet shy child will benefit from being one of the strongest dancers in the class so they can build confidence. Or a more assertive child may benefit from being in a bit over their head in order to remain grounded.
Often parents mistake a child with a natural ballet body or great feet to have superior understanding. Those children’s muscular skeletal anatomy are just as vulnerable and delicate as other children their age and “pretty feet” do not indicate a heightened ability to comprehend the concepts and idea’s that are being imparted by the teacher in class.

So my advice to parents is this: Leave the rose colored glasses at home. Take the word “challenged” out of the equation and let the ballet experts do their job. Allow your child to feel satisfied and comfortable in the dance environment. If your child is moved to a different level let them feel that they have attained a promotion on their own without any intervention from Mom or Dad. Consider that a knee jerk reaction on the first day, immediately approaching the staff, calling the office 3 times during the day, crying to the office manager, often diminishes your child’s chance of being moved even if they should be.  The office staff have absolutely no input on the levels the students are placed in and become stressed and frustrated by these interactions and it can cause a negative backlash for everyone involved.  Also consider sending your child to the intensive without a cell phone or agreeing ahead of time that they will turn their phone off until the end of the day. A grumpy text from pre teen or teenager who is struggling, sore or tired can make you crazy and cause you to possibly react in a way you may regret.

You have most likely looked at many programs before you decided where to send your child to train. Show your child that you trust the teachers and support their efforts. Do your job, support your child and their teachers, and expect the directors to do their jobs. With these ingredients in place a positive experience and success will be guaranteed.

Pre Primary & Primary level students learn the basic elements of posture and port de bras
Pre Primary & Primary level students learn the basic elements of posture and port de bras

Summer Intensives: When and why attend.

A lot of parents of young dancers who are just becoming eligible to attend these Summer intensive programs are asking me to help them decide if they are ready to go and how to choose a good one.   I am hoping to open up a discussion here, where you will ask questions and share experiences to help you to decide if a summer program is right for your dancer.  I have experienced my own 2 children going to programs and received lots of feedback from parents and children about their experiences.  I would also like to share with you some of the trends I have been noticing in the past few years.

First of all Summer Intensives are NOT sleep away camp.  Its all about hard work.  Yes there are occasional field trips or theme park excursions on the weekends and if your dancer is not too tired or sore to go they can be fun.  There are no camp-fires, no experienced counselors to help handle homesickness and no group experiences to build unity and friendship! Summer Intensives are just that, 4-5 classes per day, rehearsals for a final performance, stiff competition, and often multiple teachers who do not have much time to get to know the dancers

Many professional schools use their Summer Intensives to find prospective students for the school year.  Many aspiring professional dancers use summer intensives to see if a certain school might be a good fit for them and if the directors might be interested in them as prospective employees in the future.  It’s also a great time for an advanced dancer to try a different style of ballet, learn choreography that is in the repertoire of the company it is attached to, or to get special coaching in pas de deux or see professional dancers first hand in class or as instructors.

Make sure your headshot looks like you do in class.

The popularity of ballet and dance seems to be growing rapidly.  The number of summer intensives programs have exploded in the past 10 years.   Remember, running a professional company is expensive and the income generated from several hundred students studying and boarding at a summer program has led many programs to creatively consider how to capitalize on the good name of their company. Some of the income generating innovations include alternative locations in different cities that can accommodate more students. Special programs for collegiate age students, or young dancers have seen a rise in junior programs.  This is all well and good as long as the summer program is offering top notch classes, the best and most experienced faculty and promoting a consistent standard of the dancers they accept so that the environment is challenging, stimulating and carefully monitored.

Young dancers can make excellent progress during the summer when they arrive in the mornings, fresh rested and not fatigued and weighed down by homework.  I love having students during LABA’s 4 week Summer Intensive where I often feel I can  accomplish months of work in just a few short weeks.  If the dancers that are arriving are calm and relaxed,  are getting lots of rest and nutritious meals they can make huge strides during a Summer Intensive program. I strive to no overfill the classes and to give them plenty of quality time with instructors who are experienced with the age groups I have in my program, and who they might not have access to at other programs.  With my regular students I often have the added advantage of knowing how they tick, which group (or teachers)  they will work best with and how to bring out the best in them in the time allotted.

Ask Iker about getting your photos for auditions

As you prepare to dip your toes in the water ask yourself some the following questions:

*Do I have money to spare to spend on a Summer intensive so that I will not have to skimp on year round training or away training later on, to compensate for the cost of a Summer Intensive?

*Is my young dancer ready to go away for an extended period of time.  Can they manage sensible eating choices,  doing their own laundry and cleaning their room without too much assistance?

*Can they keep track of their belongings? Can they sew their pointe shoes?

*Are they able to discern between soreness and injury and are they able to speak up for themselves if they are injured and cannot dance?

*Can they handle criticism, and competition without becoming overly stressed by it?

*Is your dancer mature enough to handle different styles and information and to adjust to new teachers and their way of teaching?

Once you decide to take your dancer to some auditions, then consider the following preparations:

*Check the programs that are not too big.  Look for programs with limited enrollment and a strong experienced teaching staff at the location you are going to choose.

*Check their audition sites and times, locations and fees of the auditions, then set up a calendar for the auditions your dancer would like to attend.

*Figure out what audition photographs are needed for each location and make sure you have the photographs needed for the auditions you plan to attend. TIP: do not use commercial head shots or school pictures.  Make sure your picture looks like your dancers looks at ballet class.  Snap a picture at home before class, or ask Iker for a photo shoot apt if you need more complicated poses.

 

Alumni Megan Tatum

*Arrive at the audition site at least 30 minutes before with your paperwork complete.  (pre register if that is an option) Write your child’s name and phone number on the back of the picture.

*Video auditions are complicated and time consuming. Attend an in person audition wherever possible.  If you need a video you will need to book a LABA teacher in a private session for approxomately 2-3 hours to achieve a suitable dvd audition.

*Get away from the studio and have coffee with a friend while your child is taking the audition and try not to let the “dance moms” make you nervous that your child is NOT doing enough, dancing enough, taking gymnastics, not wearing custom pointe shoes, travelling to New York on the weekend for extra lessons, taking multiple private lessons, taking height enhancing drugs,  seeing a sports therapist, or not taking more than one intensive…….(believe me I have heard them all)

OK now its your turn.  Please share your summer intensive experiences here.  I’m hoping you will weigh in and ask questions and we can get the conversation going right here.

 

 

 

 

 

Open Classical Grade 4 and 5

Teaching a Method.

One of the programs that Los Angeles Ballet Academy participates in is the Royal Academy of Dancing program and the annual examinations.  Many people ask why we teach RAD ballet and what is the difference between the syllabi.  I’d like to attempt to give you a short history of the different styles and methods.  First of all I would like to remind you that there are good teachers and bad teachers in every method and finding a good teacher and a good school that meets the needs of your child should be every parents priority.   RAD syllabus training is just one of the many things LABA offers.  All of our students from Grade 4 and up not only take an RAD syllabus class but they are required to take at least open format class every week.   (Advanced dancers take more.)  One lesson (the open class)  is where the material is presented in different configurations each week making the dancer think on their feet and put what they know together in different combinations while still maintaining their form and technique.  This class also offers the opportunity for the dancer to learn the dynamics of new movement.   The syllabus class offers combinations in class that are practiced regularly and repeated in order to allow the dancer time to concentrate intensely on form and perfecting the movement.  The RAD syllabus also incorporates longer combinations and floor patterns which teach the young dancers how to move in the space, with a partner or with the group and there is also the preparation of a solo to perform in the examination or presentation.  RAD syllabus also introduces classical dancers to character dance and Free movement work which is the pre curser to neo classical and contemporary movement which is so necessary for today’s professional dancers.

There are several recognized methods of teaching ballet with the most prominent ones being The Royal Academy of Dance, RAD (see the explanation below)  Checchetti method, (Developed by Enrico Cecchetti in Russia at the dawn of the 20th century. )  The Vaganova Method, (Created in Russia in the 1930s by former Imperial ballerina Agrippina Vaganova, and still taught today.)  Balanchine, (brings together elements of traditional, pre-Vaganova ballet training with the neo-classicalism created by Balanchine in the 20th century.) The French Method, ( is largely closed to the rest of the world, its practices not yet spread worldwide.)  Recently the ABT school has developed and graded syllabus with examinations and teacher training that is based on the practices of many of the above mentioned schools and seeks to be the “American Method”.

I think any method that is taught well is beneficial for dancers.   My personal preference is a mix of Vaganova and the English style of dance.  The reason I like RAD is because teacher’s are required to be thoroughly trained in a minimum of a 2 year course in order to be certified to teach it.  Ongoing teacher support and training is available, encouraged and required in order to place students for exams.  The practice of having the examination performed by an outside credentialed examiner so that we as teachers have outside eyes checking the progress of our students annually encourages us  to interact, as educators with other experts in the field.    The other thing that impresses me is that the RAD is currently updating the syllabus and we are all learning new material to teach to the students.   The new material is quite a lot more complicated and challenging at the graded levels and demands more from the students in co ordination and control.  I am pleased to step us to the challenge as I feel that our students are able to take on this material and work on even more challenging combinations and techniques at younger ages.

The RAD method is clean and pure.   It allows for very little affectation. Its produces long muscles and body lines. I have seen LABA students accepted to all of the other dance schools and methods because of their clean technique and their ability to adapt to other styles due to the simplicity of their own style.   Here are some famous dance names  that  were trained in the RAD method.

David Howard (NY Master Teacher) Wendy Whelan (NYCB Principal) Kee Juan Han (Director Washington Ballet School)  Stella Abrera (ABT Principal)  Gailine Stock (Director of the Royal Ballet School) Monica Mason (Director Royal Ballet)  Rowena Jackson (Royal Ballet Principal and Royal NZ Ballet School Director) Xander Parish (Kirov Ballet) Nutnaree Pupit-Suksen (SFB) and many many more.

Brief Overview of the RAD organization

On 18 July 1920, Philip Richardson, then Editor of The Dancing times magazine, organized a dinner for eminent dance professionals in Piccadilly. The diners included five special guests, representing the principal methods of ballet training in use at that time.  Phyllis Bedells representing the English Method, Lucia, Cormani the Italian Method, Edouard Espinosa the French Method, Adeline Genee the Danish Method and Tamara Karsavina the Imperial Method, Russia.   Other guests included Ninette de Valois, the founder of England’s Royal Ballet company, and Anton Dolin, the co-founder of English National Ballet. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the poor quality of dance training in Britain at that time and following further meetings, the Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing of Great Britain was formed, with Adeline Genée as its first President. The Association would be the predecessor of the RAD.  The RAD was first names Association of Teachers of Operatic Dancing, and and was granted a Royal Charter in 1935. HM Queen Elizabeth II is patron of the RAD, with Darcey Bussell elected to serve as President in 2012, succeeding Antoinette Sibley who served as President for 21 years. The RAD is one of the largest dance organizations in the world with over 12,000 members in 79 countries,  including about 7,500 who hold Registered Teacher Status. There are currently about 1,000 students in full-time or part-time teacher training programs with the RAD, and each year about 250,000 candidates enter RAD examinations worldwide.

 

 

Choreographing a successful a parent/teacher/student Pas de Trois.

Building a successful dancer is time consuming, frustrating, expensive, rewarding,  exhilarating and fantastic.  I often hear parents saying “I don’t think he/she going to be a professional dancer”  I’d like to remind everyone that for ballet schools that admit students without an audition, about 2% of the student population may go into the field.  So if our only reason to teach ballet is to make professional ballet dancers we are probably going to end up frustrated.   That being said my belief is that EVERYONE deserves to be taught how to dance properly and be respected in their pursuit of excellence. Understanding and respecting the process can shape a young persons life and give them a strength in life that cannot be replaced by anything else.

When it comes to building young dancers this is where the pas de trois (or trio) comes into play.   First comes the dancer, who has to have a passion for it, want to be there, want to work hard and want to be the best they can be.  Ballet is a very difficult, demanding and sometimes painful pass time so if you don’t enjoy being there it can be agony for everyone!  The desire to be consistent, to face failure and disappointment and to find the joy in the performance is key to a successful dancer.  Dancers need to be intelligent and have good common sense.  They need to believe in themselves and have the ability to bounce back and face their fears.

The teachers job is to first supply the correct information by making sure they are knowledgeable, and are using safe practice.  The important thing for them is to make sure that they are working with integrity.  This means not exploiting dancers with natural talent and having the foresight to bringing them forth slowly and carefully while respecting their  muscular skeletal structure. They need to slowly encourage dancers to believe that if they work consistently they can achieve great progress and excel.   They need to demand a lot of the dancers, enforce good technique, be tough to please and always tell the truth.  Ballet teachers are the keepers of delayed gratification which in this society can be so confusing to the young person as they do not get to practice it very often.  Its an important skill to learn and ballet is the perfect vehicle.

Then comes the parents.  They often have the toughest job and the best job.  They must deal with the fallout, and get to bask in the glory!    The parent’s job to to choose the right program (which is often easier said than done), transport, drop off, pickup, drop off and pick up again.  Trust the teachers, bite their tongue and believe.   They have to know when to hold em and know when to fold em, when to push and when to back off.  Then pay the bill again.  Other helpful skills include, basic sewing, (elastic and satin are often involved), fundraising, foraging (usually through the lost and found) beading, gluing.  Its important to know basic first aid and which medications do not mix with others, where to find a good reflexologist, chiropractor or masseuse and when its ok to say get up and do it and when to know its time to go home.

My best advice for parents is to stay out of what is going on in the class room and deal with what goes on before and after.  Let the teacher and the student deal with the class and the casting and the rehearsal and you tend to the other important elements.   Are they on time, prepared, fed, hydrated, relaxed, organized.  Do they have correct attire, yes the correct fit of the shoes is VERY important, we are dancing remember.  OH and the part about not thinking he or she is going to be a professional dancer………….don’t be so sure!

 

Welcome to LABA

Hello everyone and welcome to the 2013 fall session at LABA that begins August 17th.  I thought I would try something different this year since many of you struggle with multiple  orientation commitments at the beginning of the semester.   I wondered if telling you about the studio and answering questions online might be a great way to share information with more people.   This way you can read about my philosophy and listen to advice in your own time and ask questions that will benefit others as well.   This blog is a great way for me to talking to you about how the studio runs, how and why we teach what we do and how you can benefit from everything that is going on at the studio, so stay tuned.

As we enter our 3rd year in Encino we have again experienced a surge in enrollment.   With the opening of our new dance room and a opportunity to split the classes up more we have established a new system for our Grade 1-5 students and the way they will attend class.   As in the past, students in grades 1-3 are required to take 2 classes per week and in grade 4 & 5  3 classes per week are required.   Once placed in the level you must come at the assigned class time.   This year we have divided the classes up. For Grade 1 and 2 there are 2 different options for schedules and for Grade 3 and up the children have been placed in appropriate levels and in 2 separate groupings.  ie: Grade 3 A & Grade 3 B.   I feel this will be of great benefit to our young dancers.  Teachers (who teach in teams) will have the same dancers every week all year.   They will confer with each-other as to their progress and what the class needs to accomplish.   This also eliminates the problem of some classes becoming over filled.  The class size is strictly limited based on the age and temperament of the class at each level and will be balanced in size when it comes to grouping them for evaluations in the spring and the performances in June.     Once your child has been placed in a class it is is VERY IMPORTANT that they attend those class regularly.   Your child’s teacher will be able to track their progress and confer with the other teacher as to how they are progressing.  Make-ups are simply that and are not a substitute for attending your set classes regularly.   If you did not get the class that you wanted because it was full, consult with Laurie Weber or e mail Miss Andrea and we will try to find  you a suitable option.  You can also wait list your child for a class if there are no spots left in your first choice of class.

I’d like to finish this post with the following thoughts.  Remember that the first few weeks of dance and school are always difficult. Car pools, pick up and drop off efficiency and fatigue (of parents and students) can often seem overwhelming.  DON’T PANIC.  Our staff knows that after a few weeks things will go more smoothly and hair will be up, leotard colors will be correct and you WILL find a parking spot.

All the children will be checked  to make sure the level they are in is correct and appropriate and they are poised to have a successful dance year.

Classes will move slowly at the beginning of the session. Establishing the class rules, expectations, and demanding correct technique from the very first lesson is very important to long term success.

Remember, a crock pot is better than a pressure cooker.  Meaning a dancer that is developed slowly turns out better than a dancer that is rushed and pressured!

So lets get started and enjoy the dance.

Stay tuned for more information about our program in the coming weeks and thanks for listening.

Miss Andrea