CriticalDance Forum

Ballet Training "The American Way"
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Author:  grace [ Tue Sep 05, 2000 4:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Ballet Training "The American Way"

bek replied to a query of mine about american ballet training with the following long message. i really enjoyed reading it, and feel that it may help to inform others as well, and maybe even raise some points for discussion. so here is bek's message, presented as an article:<BR> <BR> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR> <B><BIG>Ballet Training in America</BIG></B> by bek<P>American ballet.......<BR>it is a difficult subject.<P>Just like most things American, we love the freedom to do what we want. Sometimes to the detriment of others.<P>You could liken ballet in the USA to modern dance in the rest of the world. There are forms, but no one form is the "correct" or legislated one. What many people who are into a system do not understand is how our companies work. Using the top four companies in the US.<P><BR>· New York City Ballet (NYCB) is very difficult to teach this style, unless you have trained as a child to adult in the style. It is very popular and since his ballets are now considered classics, one MUST know how to do this style. At least if you try to get into NYCB, Penn, PNB, MCB, and some other companies which are very much spin offs of this style.<P>There is no formulated Balanchine technique book....the closest is the book Suki Schorer wrote.<P>But, every dancer who has danced under Mr. B. who teaches will have a different point of view. Certain things are very much a like. Positions for hands, arms, use of arms, the fast foot work, placing feet into positions not sliding into fifth etc.<P>· American Ballet Theatre (ABT): This company is the closest to a "general" concept rep. company. They really have not trained their own students since around 1970's. Just beginning to have a school again, and I am not sure it is of any help for learning the style. Companies such as Washington, Houston, Ballet West, and others are on this side of the fence <P>· Joffrey Ballet: This company is a mix of modern, jazz, ballet, and whatever Gerry Arpino wants. The training, when I was there, and under Mr. J. was was different from SAB, but still had a NY work, but much cleaner...arms that were used but not flying all over.<P>· San Francisco Ballet (SFB): Helgi Tomassen was trained out of Denmark, I believe, but came over and went to Joffrey Ballet first, then went on to NYCB. His company is a mix....I would almost say it was like ABT...except they do more SAB Balanchine type things. So, his dancers are Balanchine based, but with the Joffrey/ Danish influence.<P>So.......there is NO way the teachers in the US could possibly follow a syllabus.<BR>Which would it be? The companies are so different, and the styles are so different.<BR>There is no way to categorize the training. Many teachers belong to the RAD or Cecchetti organisations. Some are doing "Russian" style. These have syllabi, but that doesn't necessarily make for good teaching. Actually, the American dancers are generally more versatile than most other countries. They have to know numerous styles.<P><BR>The basic training in this country starts in their hometown.......proceeds to summer courses at a company school.......continues, if the student is talented at a specific company school until the dancer is accepted into that company. Many times they are not accepted. Then they must go to another school and company and try to fit the style of that company.<P>What does this do for the teachers?<P>A very good teacher will have a varied background. They hopefully will be able to teach more than one style, and expose the younger kids to some of the differences. Most will be middle of the line.....just basic technique.<P>A fine teacher will have to be very creative. There is no escaping into a syllabus, or specific music or dress codes. It is difficult, and therefore the "dolly dinkle" schools arise. That is one advantage State systems have over ours........they have to have decent teachers. Anyone in the US can training is necessary.<P>It is dangerous for the students, and many of the talented kids will have to be re-trained when they finally decide to go further in training. Many will have poor training and continue this by opening up their own schools. It is a real problem.<P>But, since we have so many different styles of ballet in the US, there is no realistic way to code the work. American teachers have to be creative. They must have a grasp of choreography, for they must make up the combinations to give the students. Nothing is set.<P>I actually thrive on the concept of not having a set barre or center. Being able to stop in the middle of a combination, realize that something is not working in the class....drop what we were doing, and concentrate on the problems. Fixing those, and then going back to the original combo, or something like it, would make the dancers gain greater flexibility, and knowledge.<P>I would resent someone trying to tell me HOW to teach.....yet, I trained at least 20 + teachers over the years of having my school. Almost all my teachers had to go though a training program with me. Most were in fact my own students, which made life easier.....and they knew what I wanted. But, still they needed the supervision.<P>While most of the lower level kids were trained by my staff, they were always being viewed and guided by me. I am afraid this is not the case with most of the schools in the US. They are not consistent, and there is not a director who over sees the staff, to make sure they are doing what is needed. Many schools have ego clashes.....Since the directors hire people of all styles, the students go from one level to another with the new teacher telling them everything they learned the year before was wrong. would be good to have general guidelines, but the egos and the manner of the set up of studios here would not accept it.<P>But, then we are not rigid.....most syllabus studies are. This is a problem. It doesn't give the teacher enough credit to be able to steer away from the syllabus, to work on other things, and then come back. Also....most countries which have a state run syllabus have very goal oriented schools, i.e.: Royal....Kirov etc. [<I>Editor's Note: the term 'state-run syllabus' does not accurately apply to the Royal Ballet School, nor to the Royal Academy of Dancing.</I>]If one is accepted into these schools and if they are not washed out in 3-4 years, they are pretty well guaranteed a job in ballet. Not so with the American schools.<P>One may go to SAB till age 19 and never make it into any company at all. Same with every other professional ballet school in the US. Not one will say: join our school, and at the end you will have a job. It just doesn't happen. Nothing is secure in the US. Many schools will just accept any student, and allow them to train forever, as long as they are paying. But they never become professionals. That is a sad situation.<P>But, it takes the problems off of the schools, and puts it on the individual......the student must decide by what is occurring in their training whether or not they have the ability to become professional.......or if they will. It is very complex. Just as everything else in the US is complex, and not assured, so it goes in ballet.<P>In the US, everyone can try for their dreams…<P>© Miki Casalino, Salt Lake City Utah, 2000<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P><p>[This message has been edited by grace (edited October 05, 2000).]

Author:  ORZAK [ Thu Sep 28, 2000 3:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

I agree with you completely in the paragraph that begins "I actually thrive on not having a set barre..............." I couldn't bear to be circumscribed by a syllabus. I experienced Cechetti as a student and was invited to join the council by my teacher (she wanted to sponsor me), but I respectfully declined. For 25 yrs. it was a delight for me to be faced every day with the problem of what to present and how to present it - I just loved that. <P>Sorry, I didn't copy out your complete paragraph - I can teach ballet - but I haven't mastered this computer copy/paste thingy on sites like this. Basheva

Author:  grace [ Thu Sep 28, 2000 4:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

here is the whole para:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>I actually thrive on the concept of not having a set barre or center. Being<BR> able to stop in the middle of a combination, realize that something is not<BR> working in the class....drop what we were doing, and concentrate on the<BR> problems. Fixing those, and then going back to the original combo, or<BR> something like it, would make the dancers gain greater flexibility, and<BR> knowledge.<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>if anyone wants to know how to do what i just did here, you type the word quote inside square brackets, then you copy and paste the text you want to re-produce, then you type [/quote] -that's all. i can't type it out here properly, because it will convert, and then you won't be able to see the code!<P>i am so pleased someone has found and commented on this thread. at the time bek wrote it, i was very interested to see this discussed, but no-one picked up on it. <P>orzak, in your view, how does this rate as a description of ballet training in america? i am in australia, by the way (although i did go to high school in america many years ago, in california, so i do have some clues as to how ballet schools are in america...). it would be great to get input from other american teachers on this you feel this is a good way to describe american ballet training?<P>i like her introduction, where she draws a parallel between ballet training in america and modern dance training elsewhere: i think there's something in that. i also appreciate her comment about americans wanting freedom, including the freedom to 'mess up'! <P>what do others think?

Author:  *Jan* [ Fri Sep 29, 2000 3:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

I really agree with bek's point of view here, and puts into words much better than I could why I do not subscribe to the syllabus based systems here in the states. <P>I feel that all students should be taught as if they will eventually be going pro and must be exposed to as much as possible to benefit both their education and their potential for their future training. <P>(This has actually touched off another thought on American studios for me--I will begin a new thread.)

Author:  Basheva [ Wed Oct 04, 2000 9:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

I do believe that Bek has given a very accurate description of how ballet is taught in the United States. The only issue I would not totally agree with is that there have been many great dancers at NYCB who were not trained at that company's school. Peter Martins, Jillana, Violette Verdy, the Danish men who seem to be attracted to the company, and several others. I can think of three ex-NYCB dancers in San Diego: Jacqueline Hepner, Robin Sheretz Morgan, and Linda Yourth were all memebers of the company but not products of the school. Edward Villela writes that he specifically avoided Balanchine's class as being detrimental to his body.<P>But, Bek is right that teaching here can seem to be a hodgepodge - and yet - somehow it works. There was a time that the great companies of Europe restricted membership in their organizations to only their own citizens, we have never done that here. And, I think we have benefited from welcoming others. <P>There is also an advantage to being able to chose one's own teacher as opposed to being assigned a teacher in a company school. Sometimes the student needs a different approach - and change of attitude -a second opinion, if you will. And, one does get a chance to learn many styles, different solutions to problems, different views.<P>While it is true, that anyone here can open a studio and proclaim that he/she is a dance teacher - quality somehow wins out.<P> I am not sure that there is a higher rate of injury in the small private schools (syllabus or not) as opposed to the schools of companies here or in Europe. I have seen people get hurt or taught in an injurious manner in both situations. Some of the worst classes I have seen are in colleges and not always because of the lack of knowledge on the part of the teacher. <P>It was my experience, that since no teacher can be expected to know, teach, or incorporate all there is to know and do in the ballet, having the ability to "shop" can be an advantage. There was one teacher I went to specifically for his wonderful petite allegros. What a challenge he presented - but the rest of his class was quite dull. I kept one of his classes in my weekly schedule just for the petite allegros and to this day I feel confident about petite allegros because of him. <p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited October 04, 2000).]

Author:  Rabbit [ Wed Oct 04, 2000 9:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

A Canadian perspective:<P>Beck has unwittingly done a good job of describing the system in Canada as well. There are a lot of similarities.<P>What is different is that we Canadians do not have as many companies as exist in the US. We have The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The National Ballet of canda, as our predominant companies and a few smaller yet well known Alberta Ballet & Ballet BC.<P> In this there a fewer styles to learn & less freedom than in the US. For example The Royal Winnipeg trains specifically in their style, if a dancer washes out in their program there a fewer oportunities for them. In fact having a style is detrimental in Canada and any dancers who do exibit it wash out fairly quickly when appraoching professional performance years. On the positive side many are picked up by European companies.<P>Is this trend in evidence in the US or Australia?

Author:  grace [ Thu Oct 05, 2000 2:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

rabbit, i would say that increasingly, globally, ballet companies look for more or less the same product - an able dancer of a certain physique (getting taller by the minute!). i find this regrettable because it's clone-like. i would prefer to say 'vive le différence!' and be able to appreciate cultural differences in dance - but they are rapidly disappearing.<P>without getting into THAT different discussion, one thing i could say in this thread is that americans who are comparatively- less familiar with syllabus organisations, seem to misunderstand what they are really about.<P>i get really irritated at some other boards seeing people talk about 'the cecchetti a la seconde', or 'the vaganova this' or 'the RAD that' - as if, in the final analysis, ballet is different according to how you train. it isn't. ballet is ballet. the world over, the final product aimed at, is pretty much the same. <P>there are different ways to GET there, but even these syllabi come down to HOW the teacher teaches it - there is no proper mandated WAY for a cecchetti teacher (for example) to teach x, y or z. there is just what is shown in the exam, and of course there is the progression of difficulty in the learning stages within the entire syllabus (THAT could be thought of as a teching approach), but HOW the teacher teaches the work is down to his/her own background and beliefs.<P>ultimately, any syllabus is about acquiring skills, without mannerism, so that today's dancer can be versatile and powerful.<P>i have watched here and elsewhere as americans state that various methods are limiting, or produce a particular dancer-product only suited to a narrow purpose (and therefore not as adaptable as the american dancer)...<P>believe it or not, those of us who are not americans find american ballet dancers full of mannerism! this would be the MAIN 'fault' we would find, in general, with the american training results...that american dancers always look like american dancers, displaying impure flashy technique.....not meaning to insult anyone here, because i think that IS an expression of the cultural difference which, as i said above, i LIKE to see - but it's hard to stand by and see this described (by bek, for example) as versatility, when i see it as the opposite.<P>there are exceptions, as always, and i would single out, for eaxmple, cynthia harvey as someone who was well-able to fit into the royal ballet, without glaring innappropriateness - no doubt there are many many more, who that could be said of; i just don't know who they are, to name them...<P>a well-trained syllabus-trained dancer, should NOT be able to be identified as coming from ANY one method - except the vaganova school (because they have some stylistic hallmarks which -again, i would call mannered!- which render them LESS versatile in today's ballet world).<P>when the training suits the bodies (which too often isn't the case internationally - but THAT's ANOTHER discussion!) vaganova-trained dancers are extremely capable, powerful, beautifully trained, etc - but with a recogniseable stamp, which other training approaches try to avoid imposing....<P>

Author:  Basheva [ Thu Oct 05, 2000 6:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

I would like to add another dimension, if I might. Not only are there various "schools" of training, Cecchetti, Vaganova, RAD, etc, but also different genres. I have seen some wonderful dancers take on a ballet such as "La Sylphide" and while they could surely execute, with aplomb, all the technicalities, the genre looked pasted on. It did not come from within. Dancing such a very specific Romantic ballet was not in their schooling.<P>Gelsey Kirkland discusses this in her book <BR>"Dancing on my Grave" when she relates her attempts to coach/help Baryshinikov in his Balanchine roles. She was steeped in Balanchine, he was not, and so it did not look natural on him. It looked pasted on. You can see this on the tape of them doing "Theme and Variations". Her dancing of that Balanchine ballet is from within, Baryshinikov's is not. (According to her, he was NOT open to her help.) On the other hand, she welcomed (so she relates) and needed his help with the Petipa ballets when she went to ABT.<P>So, we not only have different "schools", we also have different genres. A lot for dancers to cope with !!!

Author:  Azlan [ Thu Oct 05, 2000 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

Okay, I've received an email which makes the following points with regards to SFB: <P>Before NYCB, Helgi Tomasson was an important dancer for Harkness Ballet, which had a huge impact on his dancing. My correspondent goes on to say that there is not much of a Danish influence in SFB.<P>Note: Following discussions with my colleagues I've made a change to this post and deleted two that followed which are no longer relevant, after the change.<P><p>[This message has been edited by Stuart Sweeney (edited October 07, 2000).]

Author:  Julia Gleich [ Sun Mar 06, 2005 4:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Ballet Training "The American Way"

Interesting discussions that provoke some questions. What is pure technique in ballet? When one speaks of pure technique is it specific to an era in ballet history? Also, which dancers exemplify this pure technique? In ballet, what is the difference between the words style and technique? Which ballet dancers would you classify as versatile?

I am eager to read your replies.

<small>[ 06 March 2005, 08:41 AM: Message edited by: gleich ]</small>

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