Ethics of Touch in Ballet Class – A pedagogical conversation about best practice

Presenter: David Justin; Professor, University of Missouri


As educators, can we do more to educate the field about touch, best practice, practical strategies, and not just ideas to “be better?”  More than statements about what “not to do” and examples of consequences – which have been welcome eye openers on our industry’s history of turning a blind eye – we need to offer strategies on how to ethically and successfully use touch in the training of dancers.  Part of this practice begins with understanding “conventionalized forms of touch,” (Tainio, 2018) and their meanings both explicit and implicit.  In ballet class “findings showed that ‘touching’ is widely accepted and desired as long as clear parameters were explained and understood by both teachers and students.” (Assandri, 2019).    While certain areas of the body are clear sexual hot spots, a teacher with untoward intentions can touch an elbow or other “benign” area and still deliver a message. (Barrett, 2017)  In some instances a student may misinterpret the message a touch delivers.  However, it remains the teacher’s responsibility  through best practice to prevent any misunderstanding.  In addition to the strategy of “ask first,” there are important cues the teacher can give that may help create clear signals about touch and allow touch to be used as the powerful, positive teaching tool it can be.  This paper explores the practical applications of teaching ballet with touch in an effort to offer tools for ethical success through phenomenological research methodology supported by research around the psychology of touch.


Formerly a principal dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, a soloist with San Francisco Ballet and beginning his career with Boston Ballet, David Justin is a choreographer, ballet master, and a Professor at the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory, BFA in Performance and Choreography.  He has toured the globe extensively and has a broad repertoire that includes principle roles in the classical repertoire and choreographers including Ashton, Balanchine, Bintley, Caniparoli, de Mille, Forsythe, Kylian, MacMillan, Morris, Taylor, Tharp, Tudor, Robbins, Welsh, and York. David’s dancing was described as “alluring and mercurial,” “polished,” “brilliant,” and “fearless.”  David’s own critically acclaimed choreography has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Choreographic Institute (NYCB), Dance Gallery NYC, Ballet Builders, American College Dance Association, International Choreographer’s Showcase, National Choreographer’s Initiative, and universities and performing arts schools. Presented with international acclaim, reviews of his choreography describe it as “surprising,” “poetic,” “athletic,” “inventive,” and “intelligent.” David also coaches at the Kansas City Ballet School and travels regularly as a guest choreographer, director, and teacher.