After teaching ballet for 42 years, New York Theatre Ballet founder Diana Byer has learned that teaching is not just about identifying talent. It’s about giving students—of all levels—the right tools to hone a skill. Essential to that tool-set is how to deal with the music. Learning to be musical carries the same weight as learning the perfect technique. “We’re not just teaching them how to point their feet or march on the beat,” she says. “It all grows as one.”
Byer finds working within the parameters of the Cecchetti style’s set syllabus helps students learn to find the artistry and musicality. “When you learn the exercises, you don’t have to think what comes next,” she says. “You’re focused on finding the phrasing with the music.”
Byer considers the accompanist the most important person in the room. She believes using a live musician keeps the class more engaged and alert, and with music director Michael Scales, she’s always working hard to find the right accompanist for Ballet School NY, NYTB’s school.
Regardless of students’ level, she never has the musician play down to her younger students in class. Even in the beginning, it’s important for them to identify a tarantella waltz, a polka or a mazurka. “My aim is to create well-rounded dancers,” she says, “and learning about music plays a huge part in that.”