by Emily Kate Long
How to Teach Beginning Ballet is a rich resource for teachers. In five sections covering 190 pages, Judith Newman covers topics ranging from how to give students a tour of the studio on the first day to cultivating a sense of rhythm to addressing behavior problems.
Newman’s emphasis on preparedness and thorough advice on classroom management (learning names, maintaining discipline without losing liveliness) are especially valuable. The bulk of that information is contained in the introduction in sub-sections for each of the first three classes. My favorite, and the most broadly applicable advice is as follows:
“Before introducing a new step, work backwards to determine the set of skills needed to perform the new step. Practice the skills first and then they have been mastered, teach the step
“Consider, for example, the demi-plie. Because the step is performed standing, consider that the student must be aware of correct posture. Because it is performed standing at the barre, she must know how to hold the barre…
“…After a while, you will find there are no new skills to teach, only new steps.”
“As the class progresses in complexity, use the following guidelines to make sure it is balanced both physically and mentally.
1. Alternate slow exercises with quick exercises.
2. Let extensions progress gradually from low to high.
3. Alternate the simple with the complex.
4. Repeat to strengthen but not to exhaust.”
Newman also makes an important point about marking, which can so easily turn into an excuse for sloppiness:
“Remember that marking means to perform the entire combination without actually jumping or turning. Use the upper body, the back, the arms, and the head with artistry while indicating the shape and direction of the feet and legs.”
There are some points of organization and nomenclature (eg., that of arm positions and classification of releves), as well as posture (keeping the weight entirely off the heels) that I disagree with as a teacher. Stylistic differences aside, I regard the majority of the content of How to Teach Beginning Ballet: The First Three Years as highly useful in planning a class of any level, and highly interesting as a study of pedagogy. Even as teachers, we should never stop learning!
How to Teach Beginning Ballet: The First Three Years, Judith Newman, Princeton Book Company