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By: Cory-Jeanne Murakam
Ballet is my passion. I was that little girl who twirled madly around and wanted to be a ballerina. I wanted that tutu! Fast forward many years later… I fulfilled my dream. Ballet has been my lifelong pursuit both as an artist and in dance education. Now, I try and pass the legacy of this beautiful and magical art form on to my students and inform and encourage the parents to experience the journey with them.
What consists of a proper ballet education? For me, there are two main thoughts that I encourage parents to consider: Lifelong skills for the student and the depth of knowledge (pedagogy) of the ballet teacher.
So, what are some of the concepts that a young dancer can learn from ballet? The range of lifelong skills that are part of ballet are:
-- Learning an art form that combines grace and strength
-- Athleticism – dexterity, speed and coordination of the entire body
-- Mathematics – geometric patterns and spatial skills
-- Musicality – ability to discern different music tempi and how it helps with coordination
-- Socialization skills working in groups as well as by oneself
-- Physics – force, momentum, velocity, trajectory
-- Memorization – physical and mental
-- Anatomy – how the skeletal and muscular structures move
-- Working both sides of the body - a deliberate action that helps facilitate coordination
-- Healthy habits for life
-- Learning another language – French
-- Analytical skills
-- Dedication and follow-through
Dance teachers, are you talking about these skills when speaking with prospective parents and students? If you’re not, you might want to consider including this as part of the conversation. Talking about the benefits of dance can help your studio stand out and will also educate parents on how dance is part of a holistic education.
The second question parents frequently ask me is: “What are some of the values and best practices I should look for in a ballet teacher or program for my child and why is it important?” As Mariko, my mother, used to tell parents, “You know the background of the person who is coaching your child in sports. I am the ‘coach’ for your child in ballet and you should be just as vested in this artform that is also athletic!”
So, here are some questions I give parents when looking for wonderfully qualified ballet teachers:
-- What is the teacher’s background in dance?
Do they have a degree in Dance (Ballet Major for example)?
-- Did they have a professional career in ballet?
Are they certified in a method or style of curriculum? For instance: ABT (American Ballet Theatre National
Training Curriculum); Vaganova; Bolshoi; Bourneville; Royal Academy of Dance, Cecchetti
-- Are they continuing their education to stay informed of trends in the genre?
Do they have Teacher Certification for enhancing training such as: Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT);
Flexistretcher (FLX); or Revolutionary Principles of Movement (RPM).
-- Do they incorporate:
Child development – what are age appropriate steps or movements
Dance injury prevention – best practices to keep the dancer safe
Whole body alignment – teaching of neutral spine, center line of balance for posture, and natural anatomically correct placement
Working individually with each unique child and their capabilities
Theory of teaching for the whole dancer
-- Looking at the studio, review the schedule curriculum.
Are there age appropriate progressions of levels of the ballet classes in the studio schedule?
Dance teachers, are you sharing this important information with prospective parents and students? Are you communicating your extensive knowledge in ballet so that parents understand your credentials? Although we live in a society where humility is valued, we do need to advocate and share our qualifications in dance so that families know we are skilled practitioners. This will make parents feel good about sending their child to study ballet with you and it will help them understand your methods and decisions.
When combined, these factors can create a joyful, fun and safe experience for the dancer. Parents should be aware that there truly are age appropriate movements of ballet that are linked directly to the age of the child. Yes, ballet can be harder and more technical, but it can also bring enormous self-confidence and joy to a young person’s life. Ballet can create a lifelong love of an art form and a deeper understanding that it truly IS more than just dance. It gives lifelong skills and the ballet teacher/dance educator is the nurturer and mentor in this journey.
Cory-Jeanne Murakami Houck-Cox, BA, ABT® Affiliate Certified Teacher Levels Primary-5 ABT NTC, is a choreographer, coach, teacher and retired prima ballerina. CJ is also certified and licensed in Progressing Ballet Technique®. Currently the Tresurer for NDEO, her credits as a Teaching Artist/Adjunct Faculty include: USF, Adams State, LaRoche College, CSULA, LAUSD Adopt-A-School, and Armand Hammer United World College. By invitation, she attended the Sundance Choreographer’s Lab and has had two screenplays in finals of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. She was the first ballerina to perform at a Presidential Inaugural Gala Ball. She co-created and performed in “Winter War” & “Proud Heritage”, recipients of Irvine Foundation and National Endowment of the Arts, which were presented at the Kennedy Center. Due to her work with children in arts and education, CJ was named an Aspen Institute Scholar Fellow. She has been a recipient of the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts Teacher of Excellence Award. She teaches both in Private Sector and Public Schools. Due to her deep belief in National Honor Society for Dance Arts (NHSDA), she has helped charter new chapters in private studios and conservatories. A Master Teacher for the Florida Performing Arts Assessment, she is currently a national adjudicator for dance competitions. She is a member of IADMS, Classical Dance Alliance, Dance USA, and Americans for the Arts. She is an Ambassador for Russian Pointe International. She has choreographed for ballet companies, opera, pageants, musical theater, and dance festivals. Her choreography has made the YAGP Finals in New York. Her former students can be found on Broadway or performing and choreographing throughout the world in both classical and contemporary companies.
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