For students in the Teacher Training Program (TTP) at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), the evaluation season runs all year long. As teachers, we are continually preparing our students for performances and exams. As students ourselves, we are the ones being coached.
The TTP is a three-year diploma program in dance teaching, with a focus on classical ballet. The program is all-encompassing: students learn everything from art history to anatomy to music, in addition to daily dance and pedagogy classes. We are immersed in all aspects of the performing and teaching worlds for six days a week, giving us a sound foundation from which we will begin our teaching careers. The skills we acquire over these three years are essential to the career path we have chosen — especially the seemingly superhuman ability eat, sleep, study and bathe at the same time.
These three years in the TTP would have been impossible without the guidance and support of my teachers and peers. I asked nine TTP teachers and student teachers to answer one question: if you could give your students one piece of advice as they enter their careers in dance, what would it be? I hope their comments inspire you as much as they have inspired me.
“Keep an open mind and heart. Seek out new ways to use the skills you learn through dance — whether in teaching or dancing. In the professional arts world, you have to be very entrepreneurial. You have to be able to advocate for yourself, and you also have to be willing to look beyond traditional means of finding or creating work.”
Ashleigh Powell is a teacher in the Professional Ballet Program, TTP, Associates Program and Dancing with Parkinson’s at NBS.
“Expect the unexpected. In order to be able to make the best out of unexpected situations, you have to continue to be open to new possibilities. It is hard for young people to realize that you are ultimately in control of your own career. Even if things don’t work out the way you want, it is really up to the individual person to decide what they are going to do with that. Recognize that you have autonomy.”
Cheryl Epstein teaches dance history to all students at NBS, including the Professional Ballet Program, TTP and Post-Secondary Program.
“Do not be in such a hurry to get to the end. When I was younger, I was in such a hurry. I wanted to get better right away… I wanted to be good today! I wanted to be the best I can be! Well, I have now learned there is no end. I thought I would get there, there would be a concrete goal. But there is no end. It is all a process.”
Anushka Roes is the head of the TTP at NBS.
“As dancers and teachers, we should keep an open mind. An opportunity to learn a new style may lead to unknown paths in the future. We should also treat others with respect, no matter how we may feel about them. The artistic world is small — it is easy to build a reputation that may follow you into the future.”
Kristen Mason is a teacher in the Associates Program, TTP and the Professional Ballet Program at NBS.
“I want my students to know that the technique they have worked for will be there to support them as they focus on performance, creativity, and the joy of movement. This is especially important when going into auditions and exams.”
Shannon Bray is a first year student in TTP at NBS.
“I like to remind my students why we are taking class — to explore the art of movement. We should bring ourselves into [the style] and not let [the style] take us over. We can use the movement language to be expressive, rather than let the technique overwhelm [us]. The student should be able to say, ‘here is my body, here is what I need to do within the art form to be more expressive, more communicative, and not let the art form dictate so much.’ You are you, whether or not you do the perfect arabesque, it is still your arabesque. There is always a way in.”
Bob McCollum or “Ballet Bob” is the coordinator of the Adult Ballet Program at NBS.
“Dance is about communication, and everyone deserves to develop their voice. In doing so, they should choose to surround themselves with generous and inspiring friends and mentors, and be willing to celebrate each other’s successes.”
Jane Wooding teaches much of the advanced Cecchetti work in the TTP at NBS.
“As a new teacher, it’s important to make time for yourself. It can be very easy to give allof your time and energy to your students and studio, but you must also give yourself time to recharge so that you can maintain that drive.”
Laura Van Herk is a graduate of the Teacher Training Program and currently head ballet instructor at KV Dance Studio in Ottawa.
“As we are coming up on audition season I would say that rejection does not mean your dance career is over. Most of us have been rejected at auditions, but if your dream is to dance don’t give up on it — keep training, be open to change and keep auditioning.”
Johanna Bergfeldt teaches modern to the 2nd and 3rd year TTP students at NBS.
Every dancer and teacher will have his or her own piece of advice about embarking on a successful dance career. The most useful piece of advice I have received so far is to always remember to celebrate the great days. For the not-so-great days, it doesn’t hurt to keep a supply of tea and ice cream in the kitchen. In any situation, keeping an open heart, as well as chocolate in your back pocket, is never a bad idea.
Break a leg, toi toi and merde, dancers!