“Ballet life begins and ends in demi-plié fifth position,” Karen Mills Jennings likes to tell her students. “They know that there is no compromising on a correct demi-plié fifth position, period, end of story.” By the time they reach her intermediate level-two class at the Michigan-based Flint School of Performing Arts, students have mastered that fundamental concept and are starting to understand how to apply it to petit allégro combinations and traveling movement. “They are really starting to move through the space and taking their ballet technique with them,” she says.
“I prepare every day for the class that I am about to teach, because where they are is very different from my class next year or my class last year,” she says. She uses the American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum to structure her lesson plans, but always allows room for adaptation. “I have my goals for the class, but the students may have goals themselves,” she says. “I am mindful of where they are on any particular day, the questions they may have and how that may change the direction of the class.”
She uses a teaching approach called Beyond Boundaries, which is centered on nonjudgmental dialogue with students. “We ask questions like, ‘How did that feel? Do you have questions?’ Then we talk about those questions. So there is quite a bit of verbal exchange throughout the class,” she says. When students participate in their own learning, she notes, they become more engaged learners. “They are really excited when they’ve made an accomplishment.”