Today we have an adult ballet teacher with us to share some thoughts about her experience with this demographic….
1. What are you currently doing in terms of teaching adult ballet class and how did you wind up doing that?
Right now, I teach at two studios in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California and I do a lot of private coaching. At one studio, I have a program of beginner, intermediate and advanced ballet technique and pointe classes for adults which is very successful – and fun! I also choreograph the spring show and Nutcracker for that studio, both of which allow ample opportunities for my adults to perform, no matter their skill level.
When I got out of college, I taught young children and teens but now that I’m older, I find that I relate better to adults and older teens. My approach to technique is based on kinesiology and I give corrections that are primarily bio-mechanical. Students who can understand how to access certain muscles and how bones and tendons relate to each other will be more likely to apply my corrections successfully.
2. What do you like most about teaching adult ballet?
I love being witness to breakthroughs, whether it’s a beginner who finally understands how to lift up her abdominals and rotate from the top of her hips or an advanced student who hits a triple pirouette en pointe. I often wish I had a camera to capture the moment on their faces – the looks of surprise and elation are priceless.
With my beginner students, I become absurdly proud of their advances! I make sure to point out to them and to the rest of the class when these things happen so they can appreciate their progress and be recognized by their peers. I encourage them to celebrate the smaller moments because they all add up!
3. What are some of the special considerations when it comes to teaching adult ballet?
Physically, adult dancers are not as flexible, their joints not as pliable, as children or teens. Rotation and ballon may not be as great for them, which can be frustrating. They want – and often expect – faster progress than they may be capable of. For this reason, I like to emphasize the “inner life” of dance, the creative expression that can be achieved without 180 degree grand battements. I help my adult students set realistic goals for themselves to prevent disappointment and to measure their progress.
Adults also have far more responsibility outside of the classroom which definitely affects their ability to get to class frequently or consistently. Try as they might, they simply may not have the freedom. I recognize this and try to make every class enjoyable. We laugh a lot and generally have a really good time, even as we learn – and I do push them (gently!). I want them all to know that I understand their outside lives have an impact on how they dance. I want class to serve as a refuge from the real world too, if necessary.
4. What is the biggest challenge in teaching this age group?
Adults who come to ballet later in life do not often respond to “Just do it.” They tend to overthink a lot of things and they typically want answers before they attempt a combination. I ask my students to mark combinations without questions first and then see where the problems are. I also give them a lot of my free time before and after classes to answer questions they may not feel comfortable asking during class.
5. Do you have any advice for other adult ballet teachers?
With each new student, ask them what brought them to class and what they hope to get out of it. Some students have always wanted to dance but never had the chance. Some want to be more flexible. Some want to change their bodies. Whatever it is, letting them voice that to you can help you both.
I treat every dancer as if he or she will be performing at some point and I do this for two reasons: one, they may indeed be on-stage in a capacity other than ballet and two, I may put them there myself! If you have the ability to create a program that allows for performance or simply advancement, do it. Just like younger students, adults want incentive to keep coming to class. For some it may be the opportunity to be on-stage; for others, it may be a chance to get en pointe or advance to the next level.
I also offer master classes that focus on one element, like my pirouette workshops in which we spend an entire hour breaking down an en dehors pirouette. Everyone wants to improve their turns! Another thing I like to do is throw a little original choreography at the end of my advanced classes. The students look forward to that special time, plus it allows them (and me) to express their creativity a little more than a regular combination.
Adult students are special: they often give up a lot to get to class, whether it’s time with family or money or both. Recognize and appreciate that and they will appreciate you too.
BIO: Leigh Purtill is a ballet instructor, choreographer and coach in Los Angeles, California. She began her teaching career on the east coast in Boston and Connecticut, instructing students of all levels and ages. She was privileged to train with Kathryn Anderson and Margot Parsons in Boston, with Sara Neece and Giada Ferrone in New York, and with the Hartford Ballet, the New Haven Ballet, the Connecticut Concert Ballet and with acclaimed modern dancer Ernestine Stodelle in Connecticut. She has performed contemporary and classical ballets with various artists and companies on both coasts and her choreography has won awards at competition.
Leigh graduated from Mount Holyoke College where she studied dance with Hannah Wiley, Terese Freedman, Jim Coleman and Karen Dearborn. She is also a published novelist. She teaches and choreographs for her fantastic adult students at Le Studio in Pasadena and Dance Arts Academy in LA. Her blog, teaching schedule, and instructional videos can be found at www.fitballet.blogspot.com.