Bringing out their creativity

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Teacher Natalie Withers has a soft spot for the littlies.

Natalie Withers

Where do you teach?

I have been teaching at Alegria Dance Studios in Sydney for 12 years.

Do you specialise in a particular age group?

I teach a range of age groups. However, I do have a special spot for my baby ballerinas, Beginner Ballet and Pre-Primary level.

I truly believe if you can help bring out their creative side and love of dance at such a young age, help nourish it and keep that flame alive as they grow, it’s a great achievement and something that is truly special to watch. Some of my students who started at two or three years of age are still dancing today.

Seeing what young dancers can achieve is also a pleasure to watch and encourage. I teach the same principles and techniques to my younger students as I do my older students; they need the correct foundations to help grow and build on as they work through the grades and the work gets more difficult.

Has the coronavirus lockdown left you with lasting changes to the way you teach?

The main changes that I will continue to use from now on are the way I break down and train each step in the exercises. It’s difficult via zoom because many students have limited space to practice in and are only watching me on a small screen. This means I have to break down and teach a lot of training steps that don’t travel or move a great deal before learning the set exercise for an exam.

I also think the way I explain and describe a particular step must be very precise, otherwise the students could misinterpret the instructions and end up doing the wrong thing completely.

I’ve had to come up with some creative ways to explain to the students which way to travel and how to do an exercise that uses a lot of space to in a small bedroom without ending up hitting the wall or landing on the bed; it’s been quite an adjustment.

How do you balance the importance of technique with the importance of artistry?

I found during my dancing years that technique was very important but understanding the music and theme of the piece is equally as important. I truly believe if a student has the correct foundations and technique then they have the freedom to perform. Some students have very beautiful natural feeling and performance, however without the strong technique they can’t show it.

Technique and artistry go hand in hand. Some students need help to draw it out of them and give them the freedom to express themselves through the dance.

I believe music is very important to help bring out the artistry. The students should have an idea of what type of music they are dancing to and where it originated from. For example, as a teacher if I can let the students know they are dancing to Waltz of the Flowers, George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, they can imagine themselves on stage performing this and that can help enhance their artistry.

I also think students shouldn’t dance to the same piece of music day in and day out, because it becomes stale and they stop responding to it. I like to use a range of classical music so my students can feel and portray what that music is telling them without becoming repetitive and mechanical over a period of time.

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!

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