Questions for Clarification
Instead of explaining everything yourself, ask your students to do the explaining.
When I have a combined class, I will split them into groups and have the older students teach the younger ones a movement or combo. The older student becomes the teacher and is put into a situation where they have to verbally clarify and direct. This improves their own understanding and retention of that information.
Asking for clarification can also inspire self-reflection. If a student has an altercation in class, ask them to explain their actions. This forces the student to reflect on their own actions, not just their punishment or admonishment.
You can also, show examples of a movement and ask what is wrong or what is missing. When they call the answer, ask them how to fix it. This exercise encourages students to become proactive problem solvers. Instead of waiting to be corrected, your students are able to self-evaluate, correct, and progress much faster.
Questions that Probe Reasons and Evidence
Your students may know they should do a step a certain way, but do your students understand why?
There is a reason behind everything we do in ballet. Understanding why we utilize certain techniques helps students understand the benefits of ballet technique and motivates them to use it in their dancing.
To help my students better understand the concept of turning out, I have my youngest students pair up and stand a sixth position. Then I ask them to try pushing their partner forward, backwards, and sideways. They are able to remain standing when they are pushed backwards and forwards, but not sideways. Next I have them stand in first position and try again with better results. Through this line of experimentation, students are able to look at the evidence and discover for themselves that turnout gives you more stability.
Questions that Probe Assumptions
We make many assumptions about ballet. Your need to turnout, your feet must be pointed, but why do we do these things?
It is safe to assume that anytime your foot is off the floor, it needs to be pointed, but that doesn’t motivate my students to always do so.
In order to help my students understand why we point our feet in ballet, I have them try jumping. First with flexed feet and the second time with pointed feet. Then I ask, “Which jump was higher?”. I have them try other ballet jumps and compare the results. Once they have concluded that pointing their feet helps them jump higher, I ask them, “Why do you think that is the case?”. Through their own deduction they come to realize that by pointing their feet they end up using not only the muscles in their legs to jump, but also the muscles surrounding their ankles and toes to help push off the floor. More muscles equals more power, and more power means higher jumps.
Questions that Probe Implications and Consequences
There is a reason behind everything we do in ballet. Sometimes to understand why you should do a step a certain way, we must first understand the consequences of not using the right technique.
For example, I use cause and effect questions to teach my 5 year old students about alignment.
I have them try balancing on demi-pointe and then ask, “What happens when they relax their stomachs.” The students relax their stomachs and they tell me, “We fall forwards.” Then I ask them, “What happens if you relax your bottom?” They all try it out and tell me, “We fall backwards!” “So what muscles to you have to use to keep yourself from falling backwards or forwards?” “Our stomach muscles and our bottoms.” By observing the consequences of each action, students are able to draw their own conclusions and draw a deeper understanding of the cause and effect of ballet technique.