Ballet is an extraordinary system of developing human bodies to do very unnatural movements. Ballet is based in turn-out. Yet when you ask many young ballet dancers where turn-out comes from they have no idea. They simply haven’t been taught that. This simple fact is representative of the dangers of ballet: teachers teaching without full knowledge of their craft, not able to impart vital information to their students. Why is that dangerous? We circle back – it is because ballet is an unnatural and unique movement system for the human body. What other human activity is turnout the basis?
If the young ballerina has the placement of her legs incorrectly aligned in ballet she can damage her body in a serious manner. I have seen it many times over. In other activities more natural to the body which are based in parallel feet or with a slight turn-in, incorrect alignment will not be so dangerous. But in ballet you can ruin a young dancer by not ensuring that she works properly. The problem again goes back to the teacher who does not have the full understanding. If the teacher does not have the professional experience and knowledge, she cannot teach what she does not know.
I repeatedly see this damage to young ballet dancers. I have tried to help many young dancers correct their “bad” (incorrect) habits in ballet, as students search me out. But it is doubly painful for the dancer because now she has to un-do much of what she has learned and that takes lots of patience, much effort, new ways of thinking, and time. It feels to her like she is going backwards. Thankfully by the time the young dancer and her mom get to my studio they are already primed for change, which motivated them to seek me out in the first place. So, she is willing to do the work.
Ballet is like a science. It is impeccable in its exactness. It is based on a foundation that is taught the world over. But when many Russian dancers defected to America and beyond in the last century, they opened their teaching to anyone; they needed to make a living. So what was an exclusive activity available only to the chosen became an activity that anyone could now learn. Over the decades that situation watered down the art form and it’s teaching. The benefits of access to all had the flip side of lowering the standards. Over time dancers taught in their studios what they learned from the Masters. Then those students taught newer dancers. After many generations you now have teachers in small towns teaching ballet who never had anything close to a professional dance career teaching ballet to young girls and boys.
Mothers want the best for their young dancers, so it is important for moms to know that ballet is a special case when it comes to finding dance instruction. Living in a small town rarely does a mom find a ballet teacher who has the proper training, experience, and knowledge to insure good teaching.
In my experience I have found that even in big cities there too is poor teaching of ballet. As I studied and learned from master teachers all around the world I also heard my teachers criticize the poor instruction so many dancers get and the injuries that occur thereof. As I toured different countries I had to search out the best teachers to train with. Even in London, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro there are teachers teaching improper technique. It is not enough to knows the steps of ballet, no matter how advanced they are; all of them start with the same foundation of alignment of the bones and proper usage of the legs.
Poor arm technique (port de bras) has little danger because the arms are not weight-bearing. But poor leg technique is dangerous because the legs bear the dancer’s weight and most especially when landing from jumps. When the legs are used improperly, and bad habits are entrenched in the work, injuries are waiting to happen. Most often dancers and many teachers do not make the connection of the bad habit to the injury. But bad habits weaken the joints, tendons, ligaments, and muscles and make the legs vulnerable to injury.
Yet how can a mother or a young dancer know if their teacher can properly teach them alignment of the bones and proper execution of steps? I suggest that they first look to the experience of the teacher – what level of professional dance have they achieved? Then look to the teacher’s students – how do they fare? Do many students go on to successful dance careers? Are the students injured often? From there interview the teacher and ask questions – How do you prevent injuries? Do your students get injured often? How do you deal with injuries once they occur?
Mothers do their daughters, and sons, a favor by being cautious and resourceful when it comes to deciding on a ballet teacher. Be proactive and be sure you have the best instruction for your child. Insure the chances of success are high!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at the Ruhala Center: 517.420.5611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the spirit of love of dance,