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 Post subject: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2000 5:43 pm 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
In "Economics" J presented some very interesting problems of teaching dance - beyond the technical - more of the nature of social -economic problems which the dance teacher must also deal with.<P>In the San Diego area in the 1970's in order to deal with judicial rulings that the school district had to become more diverse, this school district decided against busing children around and decided to use a "magnet school" system. In this method a school is designated as specializing in a certain field - like science - or performing arts - and making it so attractive that families will forget about race - and just want their children to attend that special school. As part of that process the Performing Arts high school came into being. <P>I did not teach in any of these school on a full time basis - my schedule was already full - teaching, taking classes myself and performing. However, I did train one of the teachers, teach several master classes and substituted on a very regular basis which was an advantage because in that way I got to teach and experience many different classes and levels. This was at three different high schools and one junior high school.<P>It had a very unique set of problems. First of all I have to say that the children were there entirely voluntarily, with special consent of their parents, and there was a waiting list to get into these schools. So NO ONE was there who didn't want to be there.<P>What I came across there truly astonished me. If any interest is shown in this thread I will continue.<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Wed Oct 25, 2000 10:47 pm 
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I for one would be interested to hear about the special problems that arose in this school.


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2000 2:19 am 
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i'm interested, basheva - but, having taught in several performing arts high schools myself (racially diverse or otherwise), i have a sense of déja vu already! Image

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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2000 7:02 am 
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Several problems became immediately apparent. I will deal with each of these separately. <P>The first I knew of the intention of setting up these performing arts high schools was a call I received from a man (it is essential to this story that you know that he was Black) asking for my help. He called himself a "street jazz" dance teacher. He had no formal training to speak of in dance. He had been offered a position at this high school, which was just forming its faculty, as a ballet teacher. He had only observed a couple of ballet classes in his entire life. He was in his 30's and had a degree in education. I had been recommended to him. <P>He further told me that he honestly knew, and readily admitted that he was chosen for this position because of his gender and race in the hope that his being there would attract some boys and also Black children to ballet class. He called me in late June and the school year would commence in early September, when he would take up his new duties.<P>We scheduled private classes through the summer, approximately three times a week. This gave us a total of about 24 classes. He worked hard and paid close attention, but as you can guess one cannot learn the ballet for oneself, let alone teach it in 24 classes - no matter how motivated one is. <P>Nevertheless, in early Sept. he took up his new position and became the HEAD of the ballet dept. at the high school. Most all of the children were beginners, so they could not judge the effectiveness of his teaching, and neither could their parents. <P>In ensuing years he called me in several times to guest teach master classes. I also began to see the results of his teaching when several students came to the studio at which I was employed. I don't need to tell you of the many problems, injuries and discouraged students I encountered as a result of this situation.<P>Sometimes our best intentions can go seriously astray. <P>In later posts - if interest continues - I will tell of the problems I encountered when I taught at these schools.


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2000 1:50 pm 
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it's interesting how people come upon certain positions.I actually had the director<BR>of a performing arts school taking my class<BR>and didn't even know it till a teacher pointed it out to me because she was not good<BR>technically or otherwise. when she retired<BR>i sent my resume and couldn't squeeze my big toe in the system, and the kids were begging for a teacher w/dance knowledge. This also is where i get kind of defensive in the dance "educator/teacher"debate. Alot of the people i have met that run these programs are elementray ed people w/little dance background, yet lots of times we dismiss a teacher as incompetant becaust they "only have performing credits", or that don't have a BA in dance.Sometimes it is an asset just to have been out there taking classes and performing and you can bring that into the classroom and be successful.The desicison to relpace the above director was also racially motivated as they wanted to present a program that would encorage students to show pride in thier heritage. That in my opinion is not a dance "program", it's a history program.


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Thu Oct 26, 2000 4:38 pm 
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Well Grace - it was unfortunate on a number of levels - least of all for me, I was a bystander afterall - it was unfortunate ultimately for that unprepared teacher to be placed in that position - and for the students in his charge. <P>Tomorrow I will post in my direct experience with the performing arts high schools


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2000 6:46 am 
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It wasn't until several years later that I again had contact with the performing arts high schools in this area. This time it was with a different school (but same concept) as described above. By now experienced teachers had been employed. Many of them had no degrees in education - but a fair amount, and in the case of one of them a great deal, of experience. Most of them, however, were teaching in that environment because of financial needs and because of the benefits - like medical insurance - offered by the school district. None of them indicated pleasure with that modality of teaching.<P>I was asked by several of the teachers to come on board as a substitute. I had absolutely no desire for full time employment - I was well employed elsewhere. However, they wanted me to be their substitute because we knew one another and trusted one another - the range of experience - competence, etc. Sometimes I substituted for only a day or two - but sometimes, due to illness or even jury duty, for several weeks. <P>For beginners in ballet, it is fairly common knowledge that no more than 12 students should be enrolled in a classroom. In the performing arts school it was not uncommon for there to be 25 beginner teenage girls - I don't remember more than one or two boys in ANY class. This presents, of course, great difficulty for the teacher. It was exacerbated by the facility which was, in one school, the auditorium - with the seats removed. This was a quite large room and so the teacher's table was a fair distance from the students. There was no piano accompaniment - so the teacher had to run back and forth interminably twixt tape player and students. It was a marathon. <P>The class time was 90 minutes - with at least one half hour of that taken up with the girls having to completely change their clothes both before and after, roll call, announcements and all sorts of other paper-work. One hour for 25 students, scattered over a large expanse - I literally could not distinctly see them when they were ranged along the barres around the sides of the auditorium. <P>Even though these teenagers were in these classes totally because they wanted to be there - and had endured a waiting list, behavior problems were rampant. I know it is natural for kids in school to try to test a substitute - I was ready for that - and after a while since I was there so often, I was a familiar person. What I was not ready for was to discover them going through my purse one day, when I turned around to help someone else. The level of truculence and insolence was truly astounding. All of the teachers complained about it. One told me she was not returning next term - she would rather starve.<P>When some of the teachers had the parents called in - the parents threatened to sue the teachers. They claimed that their children had to be "free" to question authority. The behavior problems started on the way to school. I was instructed to wait on the street corner to meet the school bus - and escort the children into the building because if they were not met - they would go elsewhere - like to the nearby shopping mall. <P>A decent dress code was non-existent. The school had tried to eliminate see-through blouses, very high red heeled shoes, skirts so short the girls literally could not sit down (and leather skirts in particular), but in every attempt the parents said their children should not be told what to wear. Sloppy dress does influence behavior. <P>In my next post I will indicate how this atmosphere affected the teaching of dance. <BR><p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited October 28, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Fri Oct 27, 2000 2:44 pm 
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dear basheva, i think we can GUESS!!!!!!!<P>nevertheless, i look forward, as always, to your wonderfully written descriptions! Image<P>gosh, my experience was never THIS bad...i feel for you.

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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Sat Oct 28, 2000 7:31 am 
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As I watched the children arrive on the school campus in their torn blue jeans (it was a fashion statement not because of economics), tank tops, bare midriffs, what my generation would consider just bras for the girls, skirts barely below the crotch, torn shorts for the boys and girls, it was no wonder that this attitude carried over into the school day.<P>In every description there are exceptions. Were there nicely - at least neatly - attired children? Of cousre!! Did some of them come to school to learn? Of course!! However, my descrption holds true for a large percentage of the student body. And, it only takes a few to spoil the learning atmosphere for many others. The few times that I sent a student with a written behavior complaint to the counselor's office - the rest of the class would breathe a sigh of relief. There were those that really wanted to learn - who loved to dance, and this was their only chance. The teacher is left with very few options. While the students could get away with saying almost anything, even of a fairly graphic sexual nature, the teacher is very much on the defensive, always afraid of angry parents filing a complaint and/or a legal suit.<P>I remember one day describing the motion of petite battement - as going in and out in front and behind the ankle - as opposed to (as most beginners do it) back and forth in a rubbing motion. In my innocent mind I was just trying to give them a picture of the motion. I repeated several times don't rub the ankle - but an in and out motion - in front - out - and then behind. That was taken up as a refrain and given a sexual connotation. I had to simply ignore it and go on - it would be a hard thing to explain in court. It wasn't worth it. This description of that motion was not new for me - I had used that description for many years at the studio (with children, teens, and adults) and it had never been interpreted as anything else than a description of petite battement.<P>We had all been strongly advised to never touch a student. One teacher had accidentally bumped into a student in passing by - and was threatened with legal action for "pushing". No matter how much one might want to give a student an encouraging hug - or just a hand on a shoulder, this was definitely out of the question. The school district doesn't want to have to defend itself from harassment suits. Whatever she does - the teacher has to picture herself defending it in court.<P>But this also affects how one teaches ballet. For 400 years ballet has been taught literally from hand to hand - it is a contact art form. How many times had my teacher come over and "arranged" my hand? My arm? Touched my arabesque foot? Placed his/her hand on my sternum or back to emphasize a certain placement? This was absolutely impossible to do in the high school setting. I learned to walk around the classroom with my hands always clasped behind my back. I had to remember where I was at all times, because I went from there to the studio where I was also teaching and there I could arrange a hand - or move a head - or even give a small child a hug.<P>On one occasion when I asked a student to straighten her knee in pique turns she insisted that I must say "please" before every request, otherwise she would tell the department head that I had "picked on her". I began to experience why one of the teachers had told me she would rather starve than return to this atmosphere.<P>The next post will be the finale' - for those of you who have hung in there!!<P> <P><p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited October 28, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Sat Oct 28, 2000 2:56 pm 
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oh, basheva..your descriptions are graphic and make me sigh.....my travails in the high schools pale into insignificance next to yours.....<P>i remember one student who complained to her father that she shouldn't have to 'do assemblés', because she'd done them before...the employing/supervisory teacher came to me to say that the father would take this complaint to the principal, unless i somehow defused the situation....can't remember how i did so. but i was just floored, and couldn't help thinking that, for example, fonteyn would have done pliés every day of her life for 50+ years and would still have considered it a privelege to do them,...whereas this know-nothing student wouldn't 'do' assemblés after she had supposedly 'learned' them once.....! Image<P>about the touching thing - i have seen some discussions of this at other boards, and been surprised (in particular by men) that they DO still seem to touch in class, even in america!!!! what i mean is that, usually, once some legal or political correctness issue has even been heard of, in any other country, it's a pretty entrenched 'fact' or issue in america, where it often happens first. so the situation has usually progressed furher in the US.<P>you get very different responses in australia according to who you speak to - some people would still not have heard of this issue...but, in the major institutions, it would be well known-of. one friend of mine who travels internationally giving master-classes (a woman) says she always asks first 'do you mind if i touch you?'....<P>it isn't an issue in the private schools yet, but will no doubt become one soon. i have observed one superb master teacher (female) touching in a way i regarded as extremely innappropriate, and only a matter of time till a student (most likely resentful or angry about some other slight) would take a complaint to a parent, who would take a complaint to a court. it made me very uncomfortable to watch.<P>it seems an impossible subject to broach, without knowing someone extremely well, even if one's concern is for the continued well-being of such a marvellous teacher....even people who knew her quite well would not say anything. too embarrassed, i suppose. and the students APPEARED not to be bothered, but who knows what's going on in their minds..?<P>to me, what clinched the fact that this teacher cannot possibly have meant any harm, that she MUST have been somehow oddly unaware of how her attentions appeared, was the fact that the teacher did this repeatedly in front of an audience of dance teachers...if there had been any innappropriate intent, she would not have done it so publicly...<P>i have found myself that students vary in whether or not they are receptive to the hands-on approach. like so many other things, it has to be judged individually, and cautiously.

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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Sun Oct 29, 2000 3:03 pm 
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I can really relate to that assemble' story Grace!! <P>I was observing a college ballet class when the teacher was trying to teach the 8 basic body positions. One student shouted out he didn't need to learn that - he could read about it in a book.<P>Another time in a college class, taught by a truly gifted male teacher we had several very large - VERY LARGE- footballs players taking class. At one point the teacher - a rather small man - walked up and touched the football player on the foot in arabesque - the student spun around and almost socked the teacher in the face. <P>Everyone in the class just froze. The teacher broke the tension by wagging his finger and with a laugh said "you are not supposed to hit the teacher". And everyone started laughing - the student eventually joining in.


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Mon Oct 30, 2000 6:40 am 
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Finale'<P>How to grade? Does one grade the student on the amount of work done - or the results? This was after all a public school - not a ballet company school. Should the child who tries every moment but just doesn't have the body - or the musical sense - be graded on results or effort? And then, there is the beauty who doesn't try at all - but was graced with every attribute for dance and so whatever she does looks wonderful.<P>Other problems: One day as I was standing with a group of teachers, a girl came up to me with a new pair of pointe shoes. She said they didn't feel right and she wanted my opinion while the shoes wre still very clean and new and she would have the chance to return them to the store and get another pair. As she handed them to me I could immediately see that they were crooked in the last. They had come from the hands of the cobbler twisted in the last. Before I could say anything, a teacher (she was a jazz teacher) grabbed them from me and gave them back to the girl saying that she shouldn't ask a substitute - but wait for her regular teacher. However, the regular teacher was due to be gone for three weeks of jury duty. I was told that there was much jealousy and people were very territorial about things like this. So the end of it was, the girl put on the shoes and wore them for rehearsals - of which I had no part. It was very difficult to have this happen, since it was so easy to have told her to simply return the shoes and get a pair with a straight last. And, of course, to tell her how to check the last of the shoe before she buys them.<P>The dance department began rehearsing in September, just days after the school term began, for a show/recital which would take place in January. This meant that after an entire summer layoff the students immediately went into rehearsal before getting back into shape from the summer recess of about two and a half months. Unbelievably this included the absolute beginners. The January show took place immediately after a layoff of two weeks for the holiday season. I was told that this schedule - which didn't make sense at all from a dance standpoint - was purposefully done so that the interest of the children would be focused on being on stage, which would keep them interested in the dance program. (This of course helped insure the teachers' jobs) And, it was shceduled immediately after the holiday layoff so that the students would come back.<P>In the final analysis did the school achieve its original goal of racial diversity? As I would look out across the campus there were certainly representatives of every racial group, but what the numbers were I can't say. In the ballet class, however, there were very few Black girls. And only one or two boys that I remember. While it is certainly true that children did get a chance to try dance who might not have had the opportunity, one must ask oneself if this was a positive experience and of what benefit in the above described atmosphere.<P>The whole thing ended on a note similar to how it began. There were three substitutes for the dance department. Even though I was designated number one, due to my experience, I was informed all three of us would be moved down a notch to accommodate a new man. I assumed he had greater experience than I. Then I was told this was not true. He had absolutely no experience at all in dance - but was the husband of a teacher at the school. At this point in time I had 20 years of experience in teaching dance. <P>I didn't bother to renew my contract for a third year.<p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited October 30, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Mon Oct 30, 2000 6:47 am 
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I am very interested in hearing about the experiences of others who may have taught - or been a student - or a parent of a student at a performing arts public high school. <P>Or comments about my experiences ...........


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Tue Oct 31, 2000 6:50 pm 
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For the past three years I have attended a writer's seminar and every week I present either a short story, an essay or a poem that I have written. This week, today, I presented what I wrote here in this thread.<P>When I finished the writers sat in stunned silence. They are all from this area as are the schools. I don't think the general public realizes what is happening in the schools. How skewed some really good ideas have become. How good intentions have gone awry. How the children have gained control of the institution that is supposed to be educating them. That in the pursuit of their "rights" the authority of teachers has been undermined. But, the children are not to blame - they are after all children - it is the parents in some cases and a very permissive environment in academe in general. There needs to be a balance. Let's hope that we find that balance.<p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited October 31, 2000).]


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 Post subject: Re: Teaching ballet in a Performing Arts High School
PostPosted: Wed Nov 01, 2000 5:35 pm 
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basheva, the whole saga is a miserable story, and i respect your strength of character in having dealt with it.<P>did discussion ensue, at your writer's group?<P>re the assessment thing: i would think that such an issue as to how to assess the work is a policy matter, that should have been outlined in advance in the curriculum document. apart from anything else, the teacher and students are far less likely to meet the course objectives, if no-one knows what they ARE! Image<P>as a very vague generality, i would be inclined to think that, in that environment, progress should be rewarded, more than the look of the final product - but that's only fair if the students know the expectations and grading criteria ahead of time.

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