Just another reason I loved Altoona!


Why Certification?

This is a long-ish post, and without pictures.  Fair warning.


Your child loves dancing.  She—or he—spends many hours in a dance studio, learning technique, honing skills.  There’s a love of movement there. You want to support your child, giving her—or him—the best teachers and therefore best technique possible.


How do you decide what makes a “best teacher?”


The answer cannot be addressed in a single posting.  There are many factors to be weighed when considering what teachers are best for your child.  Notice “best for your child.”  Dance is not a “one size fits all” endeavor.  "Best" comes in many flavors.


But I do think there are some ways to gauge quality that apply more generally.  And this brings me to certification.


I decided to get certified in American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum.  There were many factors in this decision, and among the top was being aligned with one of the strongest dance organizations in the world.  To me, I could be of better service to my students by aligning my teaching with the standards and guidelines set forth by ABT.


There are lots of ways to be “certified” to teach dance, although there is no national test or standardization, such as in professional like law or accounting, where one can sit for and pass the bar exam or CPA exam, to reach appropriate credentialing.  Truly, anyone can claim to be a professional instructor in dance.


Many, many colleges offer dance education at a variety of levels, undergraduate and graduate.  These can be good indicators of the kind of background needed to become a dance instructor.  Researching the schools can be helpful, but also confusing. 


There are others who offer training through professional affiliation, much like ABT.  The Cecchetti Society, for instance, has a series of exams.  Competitions organizations, such as Dance Masters, also have an examination system.  Other teacher training is offered seminar style, without examinations.


American Ballet Theatre’s system is strongest, in my opinion, because a parent or student can look up the list of certified teachers by level.  You can find my name—Renée Nicholson—with all the other instructors certified up to Level Five in this system (I hope to return to complete the full training…but that’s another post for a later time).  I also have official certificates, signed by the artistic staff at ABT.  This assures the parents and students that I have passed the examination (part written and part oral) to the standards set by ABT to be listed on the list published on the ABT website.


So, there is that level of certainty that can be gained through certification.  Of course, this is only true of organizations that publish information on the training, and where completion can be proven.  The National Training Curriculum at ABT is used by all of the teachers at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, all the summer intensives run by ABT, etc.  Recently University of North Carolina School of the Arts School of Dance became an exclusive affiliate school of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.


Additional benefits of certification have to do with a student’s goals.  If a dance student wants to attend a summer session though ABT, or with an organization that uses ABT’s Curriculum, that student should study under an instructor certified under that system.  She—or he—will know what to expect out of the audition process.  And while, yes, students who study with non-certified instructors often do get accepted to programs, it’s good to check the track record of any teacher.  In some cases, a school may boast of a student attending a prestigious program, but training may have been acquired across many teachers at various studios and institutions.


Another red flag: if a studio only produces one or two “star” dancers who go on to competitive programs, a student or parent may want to be cautious.  When a parent pays for dance instruction, the classes should be taught to every student in the class, not around a select few.  Additionally, those students may be naturally gifted, have the right body type, or be studying with other teachers who are more responsible for the student’s success. 


When I think of successful studios, I am often put in mind of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet.  Jean Gedeon and her staff send young dancers to top programs year after year.  And not just one or two “stars” but many young dancers to many terrific summer programs.  That’s the track record I’m speaking of.  Mrs. Gedeon sends students to School of American Ballet, Chautauqua Institution’s School of Dance, and many, many other places year in and out, which certainly speaks to the level of training and dedication of the faculty to teaching young dancers.


One option I’ve not personally explored yet are affiliate exams.  Through ABT, my students are eligible for affiliate exams.  A certified teacher may become an affiliate teacher by presenting students to ABT.  This is certainly another way a teacher can “put her training where her mouth is” to play on an old saying.  As a teacher of ballet, it is something I’m considering for my students.


For me, personally, it's always a struggle to balance my dance-related goals and my writing-related goals.  A good problem, in many ways, to have.


My mother, who carted me around to many years of dance lessons, passed on some sage advice to me.  “I never listened to other parents for advice,” she said.  “I talked to people who had been dancers.  Professionals.”  When I asked her to elaborate, she said that while she liked many of the other parents of dance other students, she felt most parents had an agenda—who wouldn’t? Parents look out for their own children, of course—but the actual dancers knew how to make it in the profession. Competition between young dancers can cloud judgment, and the process can be less about finding the right programs and more about studio politics, breeding an unhealthy atmosphere. 


Getting advice from professionals, has other benefits.  The best advice often comes from those who have already achieved what you're trying to achieve.  You want to dance in a professional company?  Ask someone who has.  There’s lots of well-intentioned advice by people who aren’t qualified to give it.  Half-information and misinformation abound. And that’s my final thought in terms of certification—the right certification gives a teacher a network from which to work.  I can call on the advice of other teachers, who I like, trust, and respect, and who have both a basis of similarity (our training and certification) and also qualifications and experiences different from my own.  I often reach out to others in my network, so that I can advise a student or parents to the very best of my ability.  When I’m teaching ballet, that is, in fact, part of my job.



Dance Now!  

Dance Now! is the newly branded name of West Virginia University's School of Theatre and Dance's annual dance concert. Even though I spent a semester away, writing in in Altoona, I have choreography in the concert.  Other faculty members have work, and some are performing, as well as student choregraphy (picked from adjudication last fall), and a Masterwork choreography---this year, Paul Taylor's "Aureole."

Soon, these dancers will be out of the studio and on to the stage.


What I might look like to Andy Warhol

Picnik, which soon won't be offered via Flickr, has fun editing options that lets you see your photos other than what they are.  Even point and shoot photographers with no training (me).

You may be wondering, shouldn't she be writing something instead of playing with pictures?  Yes, yes I should. 


Desert Dreaming

Recently, I was out in the Arizona Desert, which is quite different than my home in West Virginia.  Sometimes, in the desert, I feel like I am dreaming, even while awake.

The desert looks best from a rented convertible, especially when the convertible was supposed to be a four door, reasonably priced sedan.

Somtimes the cactus look spooky.

Other times, someone abandons a boot on a fencepost.

Or a trailer in the sand.  What do you suppose the wild dog is thinking?

You can find your heart in a cactus, if you look.

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