Ballet Teaching

Why do I teach ballet? I’ve been trying to sort this out in hopes that it will help me make the decision whether or not to continue. My life is stretched far and wide and this seems to be the piece that doesn’t really fit in with the others, at first glance at least. If I’m actually, really, and truly going to cut back on what I do in order to have more time for the people and things that I love, something has to go.

So why do I continue to teach ballet? It turns out there are lots of reasons .

  • One is that I love dance.
  • As long as I am responsible for teaching these classes I know that I will dance every week. If I wasn’t teaching it’s not certain that I would have this. It’s true that teaching isn’t the same as dancing, but something is better than nothing – isn’t it? On the other hand, if I wasn’t teaching, maybe I’d have time for more dancing.

  • Another is that I’m a good at it.
  • I’m an enthusiastic and creative teacher. Once you reach the point in teaching where you’re not struggling with lesson plans and can actually participate in the class, it’s really a neat feeling. I can see where my students are struggling and where they excel and use that in the class to help them progress. I’m good at the technical aspects of ballet – the science, physics, mechanics of the movements and that helps me explain things to the students. We connect.

  • I love these kids and these classes.
  • For some of these kids, I’m the only teacher they’ve ever had. They started with me when they were preschoolers and I’ve watched them become dancers. Watching them grow up, and watching their families grow and change as well is a very special part of being an extra-curricular teacher. They come to class because they want to – and I’m not involved in their daily grind of school, homework, etc. Dance class is where they relax (while working hard of course) and I get to share in that. These classes are ones that I have more or less developed and created and it’s nice to find the pieces that work and keep building on those.

  • My body isn’t perfect.
  • People have this crazy idea that all ballerinas are stick skinny. It’s a myth – or an unhealthy semi-reality. I have a woman’s body: I’ve birthed three kids, I’m not a full-time dancer, I suppose I’m reaching ‘middle age’. I’m not obsessed with dieting or working out and it isn’t a big secret. I’m healthy and if there were a sudden famine I would probably be okay for a few days (ahem). The present image of the wispy waif-like ballerina is this century, and very North American, not exclusively, but to a great extent. It comes from the idea of a corps de ballet who all look and dance the same. Ballerinas in other parts of the world (and historically) have really supported the ‘all shapes and sizes’ philosophy, the emphasis being on ability to dance. I can dance ballet even with hips and breasts and I think this makes me a great presence in the dance classroom in front of the growing bodies who rarely fit the ballerina mold.

  • My body isn’t perfect.
  • That part about my body being healthy…well, this does force me to get some exercise. With a busy schedule and hectic life, taking care of myself is rarely a priority. Teaching these classes does make me move.

  • Jealousy.
  • My sister recently started teaching belly dancing. She’s been taking classes for a few years and when she was asked to teach a beginner class I really encouraged her to go for it. She has a very different life than I do and has a lot of freedom to pursue her interests – her only dependents have four legs and fur – and it’s hard not to envy the freedom that comes with that.

    I’d love to be able to go to weekend conferences and performances but that will have to wait until my kids are older. At least by teaching I keep my foot in the door and don’t have to watch her having all the fun.

  • Keeping my foot in the door
  • By maintaining this teaching gig I keep the door open to returning to dance as a profession. If I decide to get back into it (and ditch the hips and breasts – total hypocrite, I know – post mod feminism means I can be full to the top of contradictions) I can still say “oh yeah, I teach for X over at Y Centre.” When auditioning it somehow makes my claim to professionalism more legit if I’ve done something dance related, even if I haven’t worked for a company in years.

  • Sneaking feminism into a field that is a gender-role landmine
  • I get to choose how I present the material. My students are taught about the power of their bodies as well as the grace. Their bodies are tools and channeling their power is empowering now and will be later as well. Ballet is a very strict dance art to study and you have to be strong to do it. I’ve never taught a lesson where we are princesses or fairies. I might use imagery like butterflies but I’m as likely to suggest bats. This week the youngest students were elephants and lions. I don’t call my all-female classes “girls” – all my classes are filled with ‘dancers’, regardless of the gender make-up.

  • Our school is different.
  • The school where I work is about technique and theory, using bodies safely and properly, learning how they work and understanding the movements and their mechanics. We have an end of the year show every few years because preparing a recital takes time away from learning the core. The school has an open classroom policy and parents are always welcome to stay and see what their children are learning and most watch every week. I encourage them to practice together as a family and some actually do. On several occasions parents have signed up for an adult class after watching their children come for awhile. Dance is a performance art and every few years we do the recital in part so the kids can have that experience. But there is never a fee, the costumes are usually a simple adornment to the usual classroom attire.

  • I ‘m youngish, the other teachers are oldish.
  • I’m just getting started with this whole making a living thing. The other teachers at the school are soon to retire. I started this job newly abandoned and in desparate need of cash. It worked out for both me and the school but I think I got a lot more out of it than the school did at first. The people here helped me through a dreadful time and teaching was part of me gaining some confidence so I could do all the other things I do now. I feel some loyalty to the school for this and I also don’t want to see a school with a great and unique to our area philosophy close for lack of teacher. It is hoped that I’ll be able to keep the school open when the time comes for the others to retire but I just don’t know if it makes sense, given all the other variables in my life.

  • What will happen to these students?
  • If I leave, some students will quit and the rest will have to go elsewhere. That is just so sad when I consider the options here.

  • There is momentum, which will be hard to recover.
  • Something like this has to maintain its momentum. If I quit, and then change my mind in a year it’s too late. The students have gone elsewhere and the school’s reputation is weakened because they didn’t have classes for an extended period. Right now the classes are full and there’s continued interest. A decision to leave will have repercussions that aren’t easily remedied. It doesn’t mean that I couldn’t open another school someday but it does make the job more difficult.

I suppose the next list will be all the reasons why I should leave. I’ll leave that for another day.


  1. Lauren, 17. February 2006, 12:28

    It sounds like teaching ballet is a really positive thing in not only your life, but the lives of those you teach. Maybe If I had grown up with dance teachers who looked like real women and emphasized a healthy body image I wouldn’t have been hospitalized with anorexia at 15. Young girls need positive role models more than anything in this vain and media saturated society. Plus, it sounds like you enjoy dancing! Just food for thought.

  2. Administrator, 17. February 2006, 16:36

    Thanks Lauren for commenting and sharing that about yourself. What you write is true. I quit ballet the first time when I started menstruating. I just didn’t know how to handle stuffing my tights with paper towel. Midway through class I’d notice the wad halfway to my knee. /sigh/ If only we had better information, images, role models…

    It’s true that teaching is a positive thing in my life but I’ve only had time to write out one side of the debate. Stay tuned for the negatives, coming soon.

  3. Karen Caprio, 31. October 2007, 22:51

    Yay for you! You inspired me to begin to teach ballet.


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