Why it’s important to shake it up

I’ve trained under several different teachers, all with different teaching methods. I have my own ways of teaching barre, and the way I teach it is different from the way I do it on my own.

You should always have a good mix of simple and difficult combinations. Simple ones are great for focusing on technique, transitions, arms, placement, foot alignment, and artistry. But complicated ones are great exercises for both your body and your brain. They’re also really fun.

I had one teacher who used the same combinations every single day in class. She had several degage patterns, several rond de jambes, several grand battements. She’d rotate them now and then, but for the most part, barre didn’t change much. While it was boring, it was also very good for me. I started dancing very late (around 13 or 14) and consistency was the number one way that I was able to improve my technique as quickly as I did. Here’s why: Teachers like to say corrections during the combinations (I know I do, and mine did as well). If you’re hearing the same correction as you’re doing the same combination every day in class for a week, by the third day, you’re going to remember “Oh, she always tells me to drop my hip for this part.” And so you drop your hip.  Another great reason is when I turn on the music to do what I call a “power-barre,” I can just dance for 30 minutes, and get barre over and done with. I can do the same with my students. If they know the combos and they know what’s coming next, you use less class time teaching the combo, and you can do more. Going from one combo/side to the other without pause is also REALLY good for your stamina. Ever tried to do the first five barre items (plie, tendu, degage, rond de jambe, and fondu) without pause in between? It’s nearly physically impossible.

But it’s also good to have something new every once in a while. A lot of dancers who use the same combos every day aren’t great at picking stuff up quickly. Another one of my teachers would turn on the music, rattle off a combo (in her thick Russian accent), demonstrate it once, and then turn around and expect us to go by the beginning of the next phrase. She was brutal: but I learned to pick stuff up very quickly, which is extremely convenient in an audition or when someone is putting together choreography!

Music is a whole other can of worms. That same teacher I mentioned who used the same combos? She used the same music, too. For four. whole. years. As far as I know, she still uses it. Now mind you, the pianist is fantastic, and I own three of his CDs and am saving up to buy more of them, but using the same music in class can get dull. On the other hand, if you’re like me and like to mix up old and new patterns, I’ve learned that using the same music helps the students remember the combo you’ve just given. They tend to associate this combo with this pattern, that combo with that pattern, and then telling them to criss cross and mix them up is good for them.

This is all to say one simple thing: Teachers, try not to get stuck in a rut. It’s bound to happen, especially now as we’re in the middle of audition season and are preparing for spring recitals and competition, but remember that class time is vital, and all those weeks are going to count for something… so make them count, and be smart about how you use your time.

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