I think it is important to address the elephant in the room.
In less than one week, the dance community was on board with teaching online, as if it was something they always did—as if it was normal.
But have we taken a moment to consider how it is affecting our students—and ourselves?
Personally, I feel the sanctity of a ballet studio is like that of a church. It is a place to be respected, a place where daily struggles are to be left at the door and the ego abandoned. All the conditions of a ballet studio seem constructed to accommodate maximum improvement. The barre is secure and at the perfect height, a sprung marley floor gives the ideal balance between slip and grip, a full-body mirror lets every step be observed and critiqued, and if you are lucky, a pianist accommodates the teacher’s every musical dictation.
Having these stripped away was nerve-racking to say the least. But before I had a moment to even consider the logistical issues of not being in a studio, I found myself offering to teach via Zoom.
Though the circumstances are not ideal, many teachers are seeing the importance of what they do for the first time, and understanding that their role doesn’t need to be limited by their title.
The author teaching pre-COVID
Photo courtesy of Rosner
For example: The current situation is an optimal time to engage intellectually and empathically with your students, pulling from your life experiences, both related and unrelated to dance, and creatively integrating them into your classes.
I have started to give my students ballet history questions, and questions about how they personally relate to dance. At the end of class we sit down together and share. I push them to go deeper, and to expand their views. Through Google Classroom I post ballet-related interviews, podcasts and videos that my students can relate to and learn from.
I’ve also been taking time to check in with my students. We sometimes find ourselves in a technical rut of pliés and tendus, but on a philosophical level, dance is about communication and connection. Through listening, reassurance and offering positive messages, I try to create a safe space where they feel comfortable to express themselves.
Some changes I have made deal with the limitations of teaching online. I start each class a few minutes early with some conditioning to focus both mind and body. I give simple and slow combinations that focus on finding the sensation of a step, proper placement and stabilization of the standing leg.
And not being able to physically correct and demonstrate has forced me to see the importance of language and speaking genuinely with students. Words may not break bones, but bones surely are shaped by them. Recognizing their potential value and our capacity to use them is key.
This situation has also taught us to take ourselves less seriously. How many dogs or cats intertwine themselves between the legs of your students, or sit directly in front of the camera contented with their chew toy in a ray of warm sunlight? A delay in streaming causes your students to look like they are severely off the music. And the angles and expressions you see of your own face are surprising and curious.
The author teaching at home
Photo courtesy of Rosner
But perhaps the most important lesson of this moment is our ability to adapt—and how that ability comes from our own dance training. Would we have been able to acclimate so quickly to the circumstances if it weren’t for what our teachers taught us? They were more than teachers. They were mentors and supporters as well, and their impact is continual.
And so is ours. Though being able to do a full grand allegro with live music would be great right now, let’s take a moment to step back and realize that we as teachers, mentors and supports are able to give our students wisdom that will propel them forward, more than any grand jeté can.