Research into practice: teaching ballet under lockdown
The ballet class shapes not just the dancing but the attitudes and perceptions of dancers throughout their careers. Through observation, teacher interviews, documentation and analysis of current and historic examples my doctoral research questioned the role of the class in developing dancers as creative artists, and the relationship of artistry and technique within it. It examined ballet’s venerable mechanisms of oral transmission and situated learning, and discussed the evolving relationship of class content to performance repertoire. It proposed that rather than simply deliver a centralised curriculum ballet teachers should model in their classes the enquiring attitudes and personal interpretations that they would wish to foster in the aspiring artists learning with them.
This auto-ethnographic paper reflects on problems and discoveries experienced translating such ideas into practice as a teacher and choreographer in the time of Covid19. The restrictions of successive lockdowns on ballet’s practice and study pose grave challenges; but also open new possibilities. Limitations of physical space render impossible the embodied experience of much existing repertoire; but can impose a constructive change of dancing focus. Moving beyond a narrow immediate concern with maintaining physical fitness, increased digital access to alternative teaching can bring wider cultural and historic perspective, encouraging deeper engagement and critique of ballet’s primary learning environment. Needing to adapt requires the development of strategies for autonomous learning and creative practice. Most radically the situation has witnessed development of new digital forms and more democratic modes of dissemination, making ballet’s knowledge more widely accessible, and raising questions of ownership.