Practicing Choice: Progressive Pedagogy in Contemporary Ballet Training
Thesis paper for Mills College MFA in Dance Studies, 2018
Abstract: Classical ballet training generates ballet dancers who are able to execute the ballet vernacular with precision, grace, and poise. These dancers are trained from a young age to behave with utmost obedience in order to facilitate the teaching of the movement language and the choreography of famous classical ballets. However, because of its hierarchical organization and disciplinary methods, classical ballet training is not geared towards creating artists who make decisions for themselves. It creates ballet dancers who are able to follow and take direction from others. Although there is inherent value in disciplined training as a tool for building character, there are alternatives to authoritarian methods of instruction that reflect contemporary advancements in social thinking and progressive education, such as reflexive practice and student directed learning. Drawing upon the pedagogical theories of John Dewey and Paulo Freire, as well as the educational philosophies of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, I examine how the language of ballet can be preserved as progressive pedagogy democratizes the ballet classroom and demands more creative agency from its practitioners in an act of social justice. I argue that the ultimate goal of dance education is to empower students through freedom of expression, and that making choices is the backbone of freedom of expression. Thus, practicing choice in the studio must become an overarching component of ballet practice if it is to nurture the development of artists who are able to express themselves fully by way of musicality, sensory awareness, and intuition. This paper examines the relationships between choice, permission, and power in the development of artistry in professional and pre-professional ballet training specifically, and seeks to realize the potential of classical dance to serve as an expressive art form in the contemporary United States of America.
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