If you’re a ballet teacher, you’ve definitely been in this situation; your students are ready at the barre, and an awkward silence looms over the room as you desperately search for a song that fits the exercise. Even if you eventually find a proper song, your students have already lost their focus and the class is heading in a boring and unproductive direction. This is just one of the many nightmares a ballet teacher faces daily.
Ballet teachers usually share the same goal. We want a smooth, productive class, and we want our students to leave the room a better dancer than before they entered. If a student loses their focus during class, any chance of improvement goes out the window. When a teacher is constantly playing with the stereo, it’s impossible for a dancer to keep focused, and as teachers we feel like we haven’t done a proper job because we were too preoccupied with the music. Often times, even thirty short seconds of fiddling with your music is enough time for a student’s mind to wander. If you’re teaching a children’s class, your students could be bouncing off the walls in thirty seconds. Not only does class move slower when this happens, but as a teacher you look disorganized and unprepared.
Especially when teaching young children, the greatest power a ballet teacher wields is the attention of their students. Students wait and listen for corrections and pointers so they can improve, and when they get them, they feel like they have been given a warm, heartfelt gift. Dealing with music often gets in the way of these gifts. Constantly fixing your music not only takes your time away from your students, but more importantly takes your students time away from you.
And thus, we have a ballet teacher’s musical nightmares. If you’re a teacher, remember to spend as much time as you can helping your students. After all, all teachers share the same goal: helping their dancers improve. Don’t let music get in the way of your students reaching their full potential!
Live Pianists vs. Recorded Music
Some studios are fortunate, and have the opportunity for a live pianist. In theory, this would solve every problem you could imagine. A pianist can change the tempo on the spot, and stop and start playing at the snap of your fingers. They can even add spontaneous accents and customize musical phrasings to fit your movement phrasings! Of course, a live pianist sounds like the all-in-one solution to all of your technical difficulties. The reality is, most of the dance training institutions and studios do not have the budget to keep live pianists for most of their classes. Moreover, a knowledgeable and skilled ballet pianist who perfectly understands movements and exercises is hard to find! If you are extremely lucky, once in a while you may get someone who can not only provide you with all the right rhythms, musical accents and phrasings to your exercises, but also integrate with the class with extreme presence, attentiveness and interest! When you have a pianist like that, you and your students are inspired and life is good; but that’s rarely the case. Many pianists lack the basic interest in dance, do not care to provide all the minor musical details and nuances to distinguish between your exercises, don’t pay attention to match the tempo you demonstrate, or simply repeat the same repertoire for weeks, months, or years! You might as well just use a CD. Also, a pianist who is versatile enough to play across different genres is rare. While a live pianist is a great asset to have for a ballet class, a good ballet pianist is hard to come by, even if you have the budget to hire one.
If live pianists are not an option for your studio, using pre-recorded music seems to be the only alternative. As teachers, we are constantly trying to inspire our students to dance from the heart. Music played electronically is not only hard to organize, but also rarely is inspiring to the students. Playing music through a speaker loses the dynamic movement of live music, and it’s hard for a dancer to find inspiration to move to static, electronic music.
If you need to live with the pain of recorded music for the moment, below are some recommended pain relievers to relieve your music pains in your ballet classes, and their pros and cons.
Playlists are your friends! Having an organized playlist makes your class much more productive, and saves you valuable time when choosing your music. Of course, playlists come with their fair share of cons as well. Finding proper ballet music is extremely difficult, especially if you need music for every type of exercise. Not only this, but putting together a playlist takes up so much of your valuable time. How do you find the music that you need to build a perfectly working playlist?
Many teachers believe that a CD filled with “ballet music” will solve all of their problems. As wonderful as it sounds, this unfortunately isn’t the case. You’ll find that your music is too slow for the dancers to move to their fullest potential, or even too fast for them to keep up. Sometimes, we are blessed with a miracle: the perfect song, with the perfect tempo. Finally we have the opportunity to actually watch the class, and help our students through the exercises. When this happens, it’s usually too late once we realize the song is too short. As the song ends and the students keep dancing, yet another awkward silence fills the room. Not only does this throw off the dancers, but it will also frustrate any ballet teacher. These are just a few of the struggles that come with using CDs.
Another difficulty with CDs is that you usually need many of them to make a good playlist. A good song for plies and adage may be on one CD, but petit allegro music is on another. This forces you to constantly switch your CDs, which is not only irritating, but time consuming. CDs also get dropped or scratched, ruining them for good. Quite often, a teacher is not even given the proper CDs to run their class, forcing them to frantically run back and forth to gather all the music they need. As you can see, CDs are outdated when it comes to ballet class, and the many downsides they bring can slow your class down and cause you a great amount of frustration.
Digital Music Downloads on iTunes
The arrival of digital music downloading was revolutionary. If you want a single track or an album, you can now have it downloaded within minutes, without having to carry around all those CDs! This “pay-per-song” model was a big step forward, but now you need to sit down and find every single song individually - a process that can take hours or even days! Imagine this scenario: You are building a playlist on your computer for a ballet class the next day. Before you decide to buy any song, you want to “preview” the song. You listen to all the 10-second excerpts until hours have passed. Eventually you will find music you like, but the 10-second preview you get is often misleading! The second half of the song could be completely different, or even worse; the song isn’t even long enough for the entire exercise! Many of you have been here, and you know how frustrating this is! Even once your playlist is purchased and put together, the struggle is not over. Many teachers have to haul a bulky laptop into the studio to even access their playlists! Of course, you could sync your music to an iPod or phone, but we all know how time-consuming this process is as well. After all of this fuss, you’re finally in your ballet class, with your perfect playlist queued up and ready to go. Sweet relief! You joyfully press play, but instantly you are frustrated yet again. The music is too fast for your students to keep up! Or even worse, the music is so painfully slow that it bores your dancers out of their minds! Downloading your music may seem like the easiest way to go, but even digital music has its cons during a ballet class.
Music Streaming Services & Other Alternatives
With music streaming sites like Spotify now available, it is easy to take your music with you. This has of course been beneficial for dancers, but many would rather not pay the monthly subscription fee, especially if they only need music for dance classes. On top of this, many songs and artists can’t be found on Spotify, and very few playlists are available with music for curated for a ballet class. YouTube is a free alternative for music streaming, with loads of videos given to you for free. Unfortunately, anybody can upload to the site, and good, free content is usually buried beneath hours of fluff and advertisements.
Accessing your music continues to get easier as modern-day technology evolves, but there are few methods to truly meet the sophisticated musical needs of a ballet class. A productive class requires dancers to pay full attention, and the teachers even more so. Fortunately for teachers, an iOS app called Ballegro Player is a convenient way to organize ballet music for your classes. It contains a wide variety of music, including classical music recorded by professional pianists. Users say the music is so exciting it makes their dancers turn more, jump higher, and dance with more energy! It is used by professional teachers, and even offers a free membership. Here are a few users’ favourite things about the app.
While there are efficient ways to play music for a ballet class, many common methods today are not ideal for a ballet class. Unfortunately, many of these flawed methods have become the norm, and the struggle of music is costing teachers’ valuable time working with their students.
Don’t let music get in the way of your students reaching their full potential. Invest some time to explore the new alternatives to get yourself out of a musical nightmare!