How I teach a tour en l’air
The discipline that François Perron commands from his students is palpable. Even in a summer open class, dancers follow a strict dress code of black and pink—no skirts—with hair in wispless buns. In the preparatory notes of each warm-up exercise, arms move in unison to settle at the barre, and at the end, no one moves a muscle until Perron gives the signal. “When you’re a student, you need to have rules, and respect them, as well as the other students, teacher and yourself,” he says. “It’s just as important as learning how to do a proper tendu.”
Raised in a family of Paris Opéra Ballet dancers, Perron entered the Paris Opéra Ballet School at 11. But it wasn’t until recently that he’s started going back to his roots. In 2011 he founded the French Académie of Ballet, a pre-professional school in Manhattan based in the French system of ballet training. “I’ve been exposed to a lot of the schools in England and Italy, and I worked closely with Diana Byer, who teaches Cecchetti,” he says. “But what I like about the French school is that it’s very unaffected; students don’t develop mannerisms. And by the time they graduate, they are very versatile. When you’re too stylized, it’s difficult to get a job.”
The French curriculum is similar to Vaganova training, he says, but elements are different—the French port de bras is more elongated and there is greater emphasis on staying square. But above all, the system is extremely meticulous. “It works very slowly,” he says. “But I do bend the rules sometimes. For instance, in the French school, you wouldn’t teach a pirouette if the position weren’t perfect. But I’m not obsessing about the cleanliness of that position because it stops you from turning. So I’ll push the kids a little more. I think that’s my 30 years in America.”
Though he says that his demeanor in class has softened over the course of his teaching career, Perron still demands a professional atmosphere. Technique classes are two hours, and advanced girls wear pointe shoes for center work. And when teaching boys to perform feats such as tours en l’air or cabrioles, he demands precision. “One thing that drives me crazy is that male dancers in America feel very much entitled,” he says. “They know we need them. But I won’t let them take advantage of it.”
Here, Perron demonstrates how to properly teach a tour en l’air in the French system—one quarter of a turn at a time.
François Perron is a graduate of the Paris Opéra Ballet School. He’s performed with La Scala Ballet in Milan, Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century, the Joffrey Ballet in New York and American Ballet Theatre, as well as six years with New York City Ballet. He joined the faculty of Manhattan’s Studio Maestro in 1997 and was the managing artistic director of Manhattan Youth Ballet, 2001–2011. He founded the French Académie of Ballet in 2011 and is currently on faculty at The Juilliard School.
Mac Twining, 14, has studied with François Perron for one year.
Photo by Matthew Murphy