One of the best compliments I have ever received as a teacher was at a convention that I was teaching for. At the end of the class, one of the teenagers came up to me to thank me. She told me that my class had inspired her and that for the first time as a dance student she really believed herself to be capable of doing ballet and not feeling stupid and insecure. That comment really meant something to me because it made me look at how ballet is so often perceived by young dancers to be something out of their reach and absolutely not "cool!" It also made me feel happy that I had managed to get through to this young girl, who, for whatever reason, had never felt that the style, movement and even discipline of ballet could be accessible to her.

One of the best compliments I have ever received as a teacher was at a convention that I was teaching for. At the end of the class, one of the teenagers came up to me to thank me. She told me that my class had inspired her and that for the first time as a dance student she really believed herself to be capable of doing ballet and not feeling stupid and insecure. That comment really meant something to me because it made me look at how ballet is so often perceived by young dancers to be something out of their reach and absolutely not "cool!" It also made me feel happy that I had managed to get through to this young girl, who, for whatever reason, had never felt that the style, movement and even discipline of ballet could be accessible to her.

So, why was this comment meaningful? So often, as teachers, we try to stress to dancers and their parents as to the importance of including ballet in their curriculum. Nine times out of ten it is not because the dancer is going to want to become a classical ballet dancer or that they even have the body type necessary to become a professional in that world. It is simply to help them to have a strong enough technique to be able to execute the really fun and challenging content in any style of dance. ballet is hard and ballet is repetitious and it is demanding.

All of this is true, so how do we make it more palatable to our average student? First of all, even with beginner students of any age there needs to be a recognized syllabus in place. Without that, there will be no consistency in the training and no logical progression as they start to advance.

Does it matter which syllabus you choose to use? That is something that you have to choose and be happy with for your students. Having said that, as you investigate, you will find that some syllabi can be too extreme for your average dancer and, that in itself, can be a major turnoff. Within any good syllabus there is the scope to be able to move students who show aptitude and excellence faster towards their goals. So it seems to me that the key to getting young dancers interested in taking ballet and then keeping them in those classes is to make them feel that they can do it!

Sometimes a parent who has come from another program will come to our studio to register and will tell us that her child does not want to take ballet because it is too rigid or static and not fun! I always say to the parent that they do not have to take ballet at our school but that without it, the child will have great difficulty in attaining a good level in dance. I continue on by inviting them to take a free class to see if they change their mind and then explain to the parent that eventually the dancer will realize for themselves that it is so important to their overall dance training. In other words, I put the ball in their court. This has very often worked as they do not feel pressured to take ballet but rather see it as their choice.

So now that you have them in class, how can you keep them there because they feel that they are able to do it? Of course every class must have the usual exercises at the barre with the sometimes tedious repetition. Because of the repetition, very often the dancers "zone out" and sometimes even stop learning as a result. I have found that by doing a couple of things it helps to keep the fun there. I ask them to give me a different performance on each exercise depending on what it is and what they are feeling with the movement. At first, there is often a lot of embarrassed giggling, especially with teens, but once they start to put their own personalities into the barre work they really do enjoy it more and start to understand that not only your technique starts at the barre but also your performance. The other method is from time to time to have them do the entire barre in the center where they often realize that they are relying too heavily on the presence of the barre. As they struggle to keep their balance, they also understand how important their core muscles are.

On to the center. The pace of the class is so important. If, in fact, you spend too much time at the barre and not enough in the center the whole class can become too static and lacking in variety of movement. Obviously, there are some days when you want to concentrate on certain things at the barre in order to have success in the center work, but as a general rule, I like to spend at least half the class in the center. Here again, I use themes from time to time in the class just to break it up a little. For instance do the Tendus, Port de Bras, Pirouettes and petit and grand allegro to classical music that has a Spanish flavor. Use the traditional Swan Lake theme or Sleeping Beauty music for the exercises so that the dancers understand that it all leads to the actual performance .Of course, I do not do this every class as the dancers have to understand that in the real world they themselves have to make the excitement, however, it does give them some inspiration as to ways to make even the hardest days in dance training as enjoyable as possible, not only for themselves but also for us as teachers.

In closing, I would like to say that I do feel that it is extremely important that any dancer of any age experiences the freedom of movement within the exact discipline necessary to master ballet technique. The need to make it something that they can enjoy at any level is important if we, as teachers, are going to be able to keep them in those classes.