How to Get the Best out of Ballet Students

Updated: Mar 6

or: Patience and expectations in the study of ballet.

If I have learned anything as a ballet teacher and from watching my mother teach, over my many years of teaching it is this one rule: kids need to enjoy themselves first, then experience a success before the discipline takes root to reach their full potential.

If a child isn’t happy then they do not listen. If they’re not listening, they’re not learning.

But do you blame them? When have you ever hung on the every word of someone you’ve found tedious or boring? Or worse when you think you are not capable of the task?

So how do we keep children happy and engaged when it comes to ballet? The answer is simple: we accept that they are individuals who grow and learn at their own pace. As a teacher that means taking the time to understand what students can and can’t do and what they enjoy and what they don’t (not that we will always have fun).

Ballet is a difficult if not the most difficult Physically stressful activity. Have you ever been instantly good at something difficult the first time you tried it? I’m willing to guess that you haven’t. Don’t worry. No one has.

To have realistic expectations when facing a new task is important in all walks of life. It protects you from the pain of unexpected failure.

In the same way that you would never hand your 16-year-old the keys to the family car until you knew they could handle it, you should never expect something from someone until they have proven they are capable of consistent performance.

Realistic expectation in ballet is hugely important, and it is our job as teachers to make sure that parents understand both their child’s skill level and their enjoyment of the class. If everyone is on the same page, it makes life a lot easier for everyone--especially the student’s!

In an age where everything is instantly available, we often fail to remember how things were when we were children, and we forget about the hours we would spend practicing the things that we loved when we were kids.

Pressure and over-expectation can lead to dissociation and disengagement. So it is best that we avoid that at all costs, isn’t it? But how do we best explain what to expect and not to expect?

A class of children is like a bag of popcorn in the microwave: everyone knows that all the corn will not pop at the same time, but they also realize that is important to wait, to give it the time it needs. Not all the children in the class are likely to learn and develop at the same time. It is up to you as a teacher to learn how to get the best out of each child on their individual merits.

Every child has incredible potential, and ballet has the ability to bring a number of character-defining traits to the fore. By taking our time with students, we learn who they are, what their passions are, and what makes them happy. This is the most important information to know as teachers. It lets us know when to ask for more, but, more importantly, it lets us know when to ask for a little less.

Progress is a process in ballet, as it is with all things in life. Things take time. In sports, professionalism is often defined by patience and 10,000 hours of practice, which is often cited as what it takes to master a skill. The only way to get amazingly great at something is to practice, and practice takes patience!

The most important aspect of this journey is allowing each child to grow as they learn, and then to build on their confidence to develop a stronger sense of self and belief. Believe me, there is nothing more powerful in the world than a child with self-belief.

If a child learns patience and discipline of their own volition, then they are more likely to enjoy ballet, the art form they love. What is even more striking is that it has been shown that attributes learned and practiced through sport continue to embody themselves in both academic and professional aspects of that individual’s life.

Lessons of dedication, discipline, and patience are aspects that we see staying with our students long after they have finished practicing with us. Many of our students have gone on to achieve their dreams, no doubt having implemented the patience and dedication that they developed while learning how to dance.

If patience is the trait we are trying to teach our children, it would only make sense for us to practice it too. Open and honest communication between teachers and parents is the best way to unlock the potential of each student. After we understand the needs of an individual in our class, our job becomes clearer; and once we have that support of the parents, it means that the sky is the limit.