Yuiko Masukawa has been teaching for eight years and is now at the National Theatre Ballet School in St Kilda, Melbourne.
I had been teaching when I was dancing as a principal dancer at Melbourne City Ballet.
I also directed Melbourne City Youth Ballet, producing more than 10 seasons of full ballet with them. One of my last performances as a principal dancer at MCB was in NTBS’s Diamond Gala and Director Damian Smith hired me as a ballet teacher after the performance.
I had always known of Damian when he was with the San Francisco Ballet and loved watching his performances since I was student, so was honoured to receive this offer and be working with him.
What drew you to teaching dance?
My passion for ballet and sharing my knowledge to young talented dancers.
I really value teaching and particularly working with the individual skills of each student. Everyone is different and how they want to perform is different, so I enjoy nurturing their individuality. I personally didn’t feel like I got a lot of corrections and support that were tailored to my body and my way of dancing; it took my experience as a principal dancer to get to a level where I could get the best out of myself, so I want to share that with my students.
Do you specialise in a particular age group?
I really like working with full-time students. These are the students who are really committed to ballet, and we have more of an opportunity to develop their individual artistry. I can also relate most to these students because I was always a bun head!
Has the coronavirus lockdown left you with lasting changes to the way you teach?
We have been still continuing on-line training and it’s been definitely challenging but I am very inspired by the students’ resilience. In the dance world, it is important for us to be agile and responsive to both our bodies and changing circumstances; we might have to step in to cover another role or change our movement on stage based on another performer. I hope our students can take some experience of that away from the pandemic, but it has been very hard. I’m really looking forward to being mostly back in the studio, to be honest.
How do you balance the importance of technique with the importance of artistry in your students?
I think it is important that we teach both skills simultaneously. Technique is incredibly important and the foundation of everything that we do in ballet. We have to understand and embody technique to be able to actually perform what is required. Artistry is something that we continue to develop infinitely, and is our chance to put our own voice into the technique of dancing.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching dance?
When something finally clicks with my students, and they can see the results of their work I find that incredibly rewarding.
What has changed since you were a student?
Students have many more resources accessible to them than I had. It is easier to find footage of performances from across the world, both contemporary and historical videos showing where ballet has come from and where it is now. It is also easier to find opportunities all over the world.
This article was published in our Focus on Teaching special issue of Dance Australia (Oct/Nov/Dec 2021). Did you miss it? Subscribe and never miss an issue!