By this point in my ballet history, I’ve had too many ballet teachers to count. No, that’s just lazy talk – says she who takes things literal – let’s see, there’s 1 (F Teacher), 2 (S Teacher), 3 (E Teacher), 4 (Teacher; who, as my regular teacher for so long, doesn’t need an initial – but it’d probably make things less confusing at times if I’d given her one…), 5 (N Teacher, like one or two times), 6 (A Teacher), 7 (NS Teacher), 8 (R Teacher), 9 (M Teacher – who I’ve only taken for Modern, but she’s technically also a ballet teacher), 10 (G Teacher), and about 3 or 4 subs (which count for the purposes of this post but I was too lazy or unimaginative to give them initials in a way that will help me remember who’s who).
Ok, so I’ve had around 10 ballet teachers, and about half of them have been short term. That leaves around 5 ballet/dance teachers that I’ve taken class with at least 50~ times (which can be either a year at once a week, to several months with multiple classes per week). A number I am completely arbitrarily (for the purposes of this post) deciding on as enought time to get to know each other, for them to see what my most common tendencies needing correction are, and how quickly – or not – I am able to fix such things. My weird shoulders, my tilt-y pelvis, my hyperextended knock-knees, stuff like that. While perhaps it would have been beneficial to stick with one teacher for the long term, I do believe that from every teacher I’ve taken class with I’ve walked out with something valuable – a new exercise that helped me find my rotators perfectly, a new stretch, a beautiful center combination, a helpful tip, or even just a ballet fun fact. So yea, I definitely don’t regret moving around. (That all said, I think I should specify that I’ve only tried three different schools or studios, mostly because of location and budget issues.)
Anyway, I find it really interesting how each teacher has their own way of teaching, not just the style of ballet but how they go about it. This is especially true for beginner level classes – even more when it’s basic beginner/ fundamentals / essentials / whatever the most beginner level is called. Like, what they focus on, since obviously a brand-new beginner can’t be corrected on everything all at once. Do they place the highest importance on correct alignment, keeping the class at the barre facing it until they have a better idea of it? Musicality and artistry from the beginning, even when the basic steps are about as far from being technically precise as possible? Does everyone keep their arm out in second or the hand on hip, or are port de bras and epaulement taught from the beginning?
While at this point I enjoy the variety of the different approaches and find it helpful, as a brand new beginner I know that what I preferred was a teacher who focused on alignment and precision of technique, not flashy tricks. And while I think I’ve read that teachers should structure the class around the more advanced students rather than the beginners (does this also apply to basic beginner level?), I think that being pushed to do something before you’re physically ready is a recipe for disaster. Like balancing on releve without the barre when the ankles keep sickle-ing, and then attempting pirouettes in center. Tangent: Pirouettes are not a basic beginner step! I used to take class with a teacher who would have us do really basic barre work (like, we didn’t even take it up to releve for our retire balance, and no port de bras were used) and then when we went to center it was time for pirouettes and grand jetes and it sucked.
The downside of taking class with multiple teachers may be when they each tell you a different thing and contradictions arise. I don’t mean the difference between where to place the toes when doing coupe, or the names of port de bras depending on which school it is, things that are both correct though different. I mean when…well, when you get asked to do something that could really hurt you, and you consult with a trusted teacher and they tell you that you were in the right. I don’t think a dance teacher would deliberately try to hurt anyone, but sometimes unfamiliarity with a student’s tendencies or limitations may be an issue? As by now I’m somewhat trained in the body (since first beginning ballet I’ve taken courses in kinesiology and human anatomy, aside from my ballet and pilates training) and have an idea of what’s normal, I know to take care of my body. That still doesn’t erase the awkwardness of being in a class and not doing the thing you were asked to do though, at least for me. I mean, really, talk about awkward! Am I supposed to say “I’m not going to do that, and I’ve asked Miss So-and-so, and she said I’m right?”, or “Miss So-and-so said what you’re asking me to do is dangerous?”, or something along those lines? That seems disrespectful and rude. So is the only other option avoidance? I hope not but it does appear to be a delicate situation.
Perhaps the reason some teachers prefer for students to stay with the same teacher is so they don’t make a habit of asking for a second opinion. Or perhaps it’s traditional to only learn from one teacher. But I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to learn from so many people to get a more complete picture.