Category: Technical


Terminology vs. Slang

Cricket and Kim, back stage of "Peter Pan" the ballet

As teachers, we all struggle at times when it comes to training our young students proper terminology and technique. Being able to relay to them the correct terms and positions, and have them mimic back what they have learned is often a wobbly feat at first.

Connecting all the movements, and making them appear strong and sharp is what we strive for. For some, the learning comes easier than for others. Practice has a lot to do with it. You can train your students in the proper form, but if they don’t practice – all that hard work can fall on deaf ears. Students need to want to be there. They need to want to learn.

It is critical that teachers and assistant teachers know the proper terminology, and be able to demonstrate the movements. You can’t learn it from reading a book. It takes years of practice, and concentrated muscle memory to become skilled in the art of dance technique. As well, it takes years of study to learn the proper terms (and slang).

Dancing throughout the years, most have probably heard different terminology used for different movements. Take for instance a jete lanses (turning leap), or better known to others as a barrel leap or calypso.  Which term is correct? The Jete lanses is the original term. The turning leap and/or barrel leap are a cultural manifestations, as is the calypso. It really depends on where you are dancing, as to what it is called. Many only know it by one name only. Some also confuse a renverse’ with a turning leap, but they too are not the same. A lot of the original ballet movements have had cultural slang words created to describe them.  View the Jete lanses/barrel leap here: A barrel leap

I like the definition of a “leap over a log” on Off Jazz’s website. You can view it here.  I would be interested to know what others might call it. What is the ballet term?

The back bone of dance is technique.   Having said that, I do know that  a lot of new technique has been developed over the last 50 years, that has created whole new forms of dance. You can probably think of a lot,like, Hip Hop, Lindy, or Modern, or Contemporary. Each genre of dance seems to have taken something from the other. You have whole new vocabularies to describe movement in dance. It’s cultural and it’s still growing. What I do notice about all these genres of dance, is the basic’s of Cecchetti Ballet.  There still seems to be a hint of Cecchetti in all the genres.

When you start to research the origins of dance, you begin to learn about the rituals that came with it. All that cultural stuff. The most ancient images of dance depict people dancing before their gods, as a form of worship. Dance as entertainment isn’t seen until about 1400 BC . Egyptian paintings show women in lose clothing and  musicians, on the walls of tombs. It was thought that these women dancers would keep the males delighted in the next world.

Ballet first appeared in Rome during the Roman Pantomime. But it disappeared during the mid-evil time period. It returned in the lavish plays and dances put on for kings and courts in the early years of the Renaissance.

Terminology goes through changes, as with anything else. Cecchetti Ballet, was the product of one, ENRICO CECCHETTI.   When you think about dance terminology, most people in the US have trained under the Cecchetti Ballet method in some form or another.

It is well worth knowing the correct terminology for ballet. That way you aren’t thrown off when someone uses an incorrect term. Teach your students wisely. If you teach them correctly the first time, you shouldn’t have to repeat the lesson too often.

Evaluations versus Tryouts and Auditions

The excitement of a new dance year!  It’s something you live for, and worry about, all at the same time. Nobody knows what the instructors will challenge you with.   Many students are new or may come from different dance studios or schools.  Each student may have learned in different ways. For example, some studios don’t have a formal evaluation process that places students according to their abilities.  Progression may have always been based on whatever the teachers thought was best for that student at the time.  Other studios have rigorous evaluations to determine what strengths and/or weaknesses a dancer may have.  Still other studios may not have a lot of choice who they sign up.  If they have a heart beat they take them.

I like the evaluation process.  For me it takes the bias out of the decision process.  Students should be prepared for dance evaluations however.  Preparation classes can be offered to help  maintain and improve a dancers  skills before evaluations start.


Evaluations and tryouts are totally different.  Evaluations place you into the category you need to be in – based on your true ability.  Tryouts are competitive, and often have a lot of bias built into them.  It is the nature of the beast, but is it helping students grow?  Are tryouts really a good indication of what a student knows?


Assessment in dance

As part of an audition you may be required to choreograph and perform a solo and then do an evaluation of the dance on top of that.  You have to be able to communicate on your performance skills, technical ability, and style of dance you choose. You may have to write it and/or do a short speech.

A dance evaluation form is a useful tool and contains the requirements for evaluating an individual’s dancing skills and understanding. It helps dancers prepare for possible auditions later on in their dancing careers. There are a number of different reason to get  a proper evaluation of a student.  A studio, institute or instructor can use the evaluations in the planning process and to track growth.   The evaluation should capture both the basic understanding of dance as well as the attributes gained from other trainers.

In the recent past I’ve had students come to me who have demonstrated problems with turn out, kicks versus side tilts, prepping on tippy toes on the front foot,  popping out their hips in turns, sickling, improper knee placement, etc.  While the student may adequately do other dance movement well, they haven’t had the basics taught to them yet, and those basics reinforced.  My answer of course will always be, that ballet is art, but it is also a discipline.  That discipline in turn, will make you a fabulous dancer.


That is what I want my students to be working on.  “FABULOUS”.  Because they know they are!


I found the following Sample Dance Evaluation Form on line.   It’s a  evaluation sheet.  Don’t reinvent the wheel, when   the material is available for free on line.


There are also evaluation forms for instructors.  Having been a judge and knowing that judges critique each other, I see no problem with instructors receiving evaluations as well.  Actually, they should be evaluated.  Directors be honest, where do you put your weakest instructors?  What progression or training is available for them to learn from? Do your instructors have the basics down?  Are your instructors over qualified? Are they mean to other instructors?    Afraid to talk? Moon lighting?

Be honest in your evaluations with your instructors and help them to grow too.  Evaluations often allow you to state things that need stating.  No more hiding pent up frustration, tippy toeing around issues, or worrying about grumbling and hurt feelings.  Get it all out on the table.  But, do be prepared for some back lash.  Note that as a director, this is part of your job.

If you have uneducated teachers, you are probably producing  poorly trained students. On the other hand, If your instructors have more ability than you, stay out of their class rooms.  If you want training “as a director”, from your instructor, do it after your instructor is done with his or her class. Respect them, and they will respect you back.

Are you willing to allow your instructors to evaluate you?


I understand that evaluations are really tough sometimes.  The outcome can be something other than what you think.  But, if we mandate that our students have to go through the process of evaluation – then we need to also experience that process ourselves.   Remember why we are here, to learn dance.

Ballet is a discipline.  Dance in general has to be a practiced discipline.  You have to learn the progressive steps one at a time.  You learn those steps though time, disciple, and evaluation.

Anything that you decide to do in life, do it well.  It’s like receiving critiques on a score sheet – they matter. It is a mirror of how hard you worked at some point in time. The best thing to do is take the lowest score, and work up from there.  Conquer that score!






What’s so great about being a lefty?

Corrina, Me, Morgan, Jessica, Molina

I have  worked with a number of lefties over the years.  This year I’ve got two lefties – first years, both of them. Lefties are a breed all by themselves.   It’s great to have a lefty in a duet or group!  They do things righties can’t do!

For me, it was a great experience learning how to dance in both directions at a young age. My ballet teacher thumped that into our brains very early.  “You will do the positions on both sides ladies! No questions asked”.  Ms. Belinda, was old school ballet.

I danced  my very first jazz duet with a lefty.  Her name was Corrina (a.k.a Kiki).     She started dance  young enough that she was able to get both left and right almost equally well.  Corrina helped me to learn that age in training a lefty really matters. The younger you start, the shorter  the time frame or  learning curve will be.  I watched her struggle, but she ended up a dance champion!

minaAge mattered greatly with one of my former students, her name was Mina.  When we first got Mina we were all set to train her right style.  So we thought.  Luckily we got her at a really young age, and she was  able to change our evil righty ways.  She did too!

Another student of mine, Sarah, also was a lefty, but she was a dominate right turner.  You never really know until you evaluate a lefty what will be their dominate dance side.

Each kid is as unique as the next.  But, I find that  lefties have a style all their own.  Not only do they have to learn dance technique left facing – they also have the extra added component of having to learn right sided technique as well.  I endorse the ballet philosophy that all students should be taught on both sides.  Lefties often have a double load to carry.  Righties shouldn’t get a free ride because of it.

Any instructor who has worked with a lefty will tell you – it takes a different approach to get a young student to do something that is totally unnatural in feel. The technique being taught isn’t necessarily complicated for the instructor, or the student – just awkward at first.  It’s  getting your students brains to memorize the muscle movement that brings it all together, for both right and left dancers.  A good teacher will be up to the challenge.  A good student will train that teacher right, by training them to teach left first.

The only difference between a lefty and a righty is the teacher.

As an instructor I learned that with a lefty  I had a lot more choreography options available. I gained variation in form, and the added ability to  synchronize using  different levels and directions.  When working with a young group of dancers, if you have a lefty or two in the mix,  it gives the whole group the opportunity to  expand in their knowledge of formations and creativeness in styling and flair.  If your choreography is  done right, it can add a level of difficulty as well.

When you train a lefty – try these :

  1. Ask the entire class to do everything left first.  Old school ballet.
  2. Encourage additional stretching on the opposite side to avoid potential injury.
  3. Check if your student turns better on the right than the left.  I’ve worked with students who are lefties but still turn better on the right.
  4. Check the strength of your student’s ankles.  Be sure they are strong enough to go dominate in another direction, like learning pirouettes.
  5. If your lefty has trouble learning the routine, ask your instructor if you can record it against a mirror if necessary.
  6. Correct turnout immediately! Either side

Lefties tend to become competitive as they age.  They have earned the right of progression due to their versatility and ability to adapt  and learn at double the pace.

I know many righties who can’t turn either way.  So, it would be unfair to try to  justify a statement like “you can’t do anything” because you are a lefty.

Lefties will work hard for you.  Once a lefty gains confidence you get a double plus in the presentation side.  Like I said, Lefties love to compete as they age.  And they do it so well!  I enjoy good competition where a lefty and a righty go head to head on the dance floor. As equals.

Bottom line is this.  Each dancer (left or right)  is unique.  Each will present to you, with their own set of inconsistency’s and strengths.  Many will  astound you. They will rise up to a level you may not be anticipating.


Good luck teachers


Inspiration to Teach

Inspiration to Teach…

Inspiration can come in a number of ways, if you are open to it.  Sometimes inspiration comes even when you are not open to it.

My inspiration to keep going came from someone I don’t even know.  Just a little blurb that came across my Facebook one day from an online company , Dance Advantage.  Their  blurb was “Never Give Up”.  I’ve used that phrase probably a million times along with the phrase “Never Give In”.  “Never Give Up – Never Give In”.  Isn’t that the way it is in the dance world?

Some days you are riding the wave and splashing in the great pool of unchartered waters, and other days you are dancing with snails on the side of the fish tank.  We all have those moments.

When students come to me for training, I do hope that I can augment or compliment the other learning styles they are being taught.  However, some days it is hard, especially when you have corrected a student of a bad habit, and they continually repeat the same mistake.  Their answer, “Ms. _________ says we have to do it like this”.  In those times, it is hard to compliment.   It’s a never give up moment for sure. You correct again.

I do teach to inspire.  Any instructor who’s been out teaching, even at the basic level should have the ability to put together a routine, and fiddle with music.  However, it is usually those instructors who have a strong ballet background that show case their dancers early on in their best light.  Their technique generally rises above the rest.

If you have students who also work with other instructors – it is best to compliment one another, rather than work against them.  It doesn’t serve your students very well if you work against them, especially when they are trying so hard to learn correct technique.

If you use just the basics of ballet you will find that you will increase your student’s overall performance level greatly.  But you have to be consistent.   When you are creating choreography it is best to first understand the levels of your students.  Can they switch their hand and feet patterns to jazz, and back to ballet rapidly?  Do they get confused?   Do they have that level of training?  Are you setting your students up for failure in another area by adding too much difficulty in visual patterns?   Ask yourself some questions.  Be honest.  Take the competition out of your decisions.

Everybody wants to be a dance teacher.  But not everybody can teach well.  Even when you do teach well, if the student(s) have other instructors – is the training complimentary?

One discipline we can probably all agree on is ballet.  Ballet is a discipline.  Ballet is also an art.  Ballet is not for the casual recreationalist.  Ballet will weed out the weak from the strong.  It takes hours of bar and floor work, just to get the technique right.   You’ll have months of practice before you even begin to learn a dance. Are you up to the challenge?  Still want to teach?  Ballet not as exciting as solo competition and team jazz instructor?   I think it is!

Ballet is the body’s way of expressing itself through pure beauty.   It’s both elegant and graceful, and yet it’s powerful.  Yes, it is formal, but it can also be fun.  When you see your students start to advance above their peers in their other dance classes, you recognize the power of ballet.

I’m looking at a group of young ladies that are interested in pre-point next year, and turns and leaps.  I think they are going to drag me back into it.  They have the attitude of “Never Give Up – Never Give In”.  It’s one thing when you beg them to do something – it’s another when your students come to you and ask.

Inspire your students to want to do better.  Complement or augment with as many instructors as you can.  The dance community as a whole should equal one.  Keep it that way.  Ballet is a good start in that direction.