Today we’re continuing with Dalia Rawson’s reflections on the teacher training portion of American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum…
by Dalia Rawson
Sunday, June 3: 7:48AM
A few days have passed since I last had the time to write about my experiences in training, so I should go back a bit. I’m sorry to say my bunny combination was not a complete success. I started my presentation with an explanation of the aim of my combination, thinking that was part of the assignment, but was told to go right into the combination without any explanation. I got so flustered that I just did a version of the arms without any bunnies or stars or anything fun! There were some great examples of imagery offered by some of the other instructors, who presented combinations that included peeking over a shelf to look for cookies when you do a releve, and imagining a mouse lives under your instep to prevent rolling in. The process helped me realize that it’s not really complicated to teach younger students, as long as you present material that is appropriate for them developmentally, keep the class fun, and present the material without artifice, in a way that suits your own personality. I’ve never felt more ready to teach a class full of five year olds!
Our days have been packed! What a lot of information! We’ve now covered the material for Levels 1, 2, and part of 3. One very inspiring aspect of this training program for me has been watching our Ballet SJ School students take class with Franco and Raymond. Ballet SJ School was asked to provide at least five student demonstrators per class level to participate in demonstration classes for the teachers in training, and Franco has been teaching Master Classes for different age groups, which our students have enthusiastically attended. Watching them in class with these master teachers has been an honor and a thrill. I love seeing the students’ faces light up in delight in hearing new analogies and finding new ways of thinking about ballet, and seeing them clarify technical elements and grasp concepts of technique through simple yet challenging combinations. I am trying to control my face so I don’t look like an over-involved doting grandmother in the corner, but I don’t think I am succeeding. If you ever have the chance to attend a Master Class or send your students to a Master Class with either of these men, don’t miss it. They teach every class as if it were made up of their own favorite students, with great attention to detail, personal corrections, charm, and wit. Everyone in the studio leaves inspired.
Going through this training with the faculty of Ballet SJ School has been like a retreat for us! The process of training has already made us a more cohesive teaching team, as we help each other understand tricky concepts and discuss issues ranging from child development and parental involvement, to the proper way to teach a tendu.
Tonight we have a study session planned at the house of one of our teachers, and one of our pianists was so motivated by the list of common musical forms for ballet that he’s planning to create recorded samples of each type of music, with handy lyrics to help us remember the defining qualities of each type of dance. Minuet, Polonaise, Mazurka, and Waltz are easy, but Schottische? Landler? Gavotte? Bolero? Habanera? It will be nice to have an easy reference, and a way to help remember which dance is which.
This has also been a great opportunity to reach out to others in our local and international dance community. I have met teachers from all over the world, and reconnected with some from right down the street. It has been a pleasure to welcome the dance teachers from nearby into our studios, and to make personal contact with local teachers as we all go through this training together. One of my very first ballet teachers, Donna Krasowski, is training to be certified, and it has been truly lovely to be sharing this experience with someone who was so special to me when I was 7 years old.
I feel as if I am gaining a great deal of clarity through this training process. There is an enormous amount of freedom granted in the Curriculum, and it is often stressed that each teacher must remain true to his or her own teaching style and personality. We are reminded that children can see right through any artifice, and that teaching in an unnatural manner would be immediately apparent to kids, and not conducive to creating a focused class atmosphere with interested students who can put their trust in what is taught. But within this freedom, there is a structure, with the proper order in which to teach basic technical elements thoroughly explained and presented logically. I can’t wait to see the results of applying this way of developing technique to our student body. Only a few days left, and then time for exams!
Wednesday, June 6: 4:30PM
Exams are over! I took my written exam this morning, and my oral exam a few hours later. I haven’t studied this much in years! I am confident that we all passed, but am sure I will be checking the mail several times each day until my results arrive.
A few weeks later:
I am left truly impressed by the way in which the National Training Curriculum Certification process manages to quantify, codify and develop those qualities that I had previously thought intangible, the specific and varied skills and talents that are required of a good ballet teacher. The training session was an amazing eight days, and I feel validated in much of my previous knowledge and teaching style. I am additionally much more open to some new ways of thinking, and have finally accepted the concept that I faced in practice so frequently throughout my training and performing career but found so hard to wrap my mind around, that there are an almost infinite right ways to present a class, teach a combination, or explain a step. I am embracing the advice not to get so stuck on certain ways of correcting things that you become dogmatic; what works for one student or one class may not necessarily work for all students or classes, and it is the teacher’s job to be versatile, involved, and creative, diagnosing technical problems and creating exercises that address the movement habits which have caused those problems instead of wondering why the same repeated instruction isn’t working.
It sounds like Franco and Raymond had a great time here in San Jose as well! They have commented many times about what a great group we had here, and how successful they felt the session was, mentioning frequently how involved and inspired our professional dancers were as they went through the training. We had an amazing group of people here for our first ABT teacher training session, and it was wonderful to grow closer to our Ballet SJ faculty and dancers, as well as to meet and get to know a diverse group of inspiring teachers from around the world and around the block, as we all enjoyed the opportunity to learn from the very best in our field. I can’t wait to see who comes for the second session of training, covering Levels 4 and 5, which will also take place here at Ballet SJ School from August 12 through 17.
And the good news has arrived; all of us at Ballet San Jose School have passed our exams so we are all officially certified in the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum, Levels Primary through 3! I can’t wait for Levels 4 and 5!
BIO: Principal of Ballet San Jose School and the Artistic Director of The Rawson Project Contemporary Ballet, Dalia Rawson was recently awarded a Fellowship by the New York Choreographic Institute. She founded The Rawson Project in 2010 in order to support the creation of new works that fuse classical ballet technique with a contemporary aesthetic.
As a dancer, Rawson performed a wide variety of leading roles with Ballet San Jose, (formerly Cleveland Ballet), from 1991 through 2006. Rawson’s choreography has been performed both by Ballet San Jose and the Ballet SJ School, and for her own company she has created a repertory of award-winning ballets that showcase the virtuosity, expressive range, and extreme lines of classically trained dancers in edgy and original dances.