Three Ways the Royal Ballet School Is Empowering Dancers with Positive Studio Culture
Historically, the dance sector has focused on what students learn in the studio, rather than how they learn. An obsession with mastering dance techniques and content has often taken precedence over appreciating how teachers’ behaviour affects students. For many young dancers, outdated teaching methods continue to shape today’s studio culture.
The Royal Ballet School is on a mission to transform studio culture for dancers everywhere. The school’s pedagogy-based teacher training ensures its students learn to dance in safe, supportive environments. As a leading centre of ballet training excellence, the school is also advancing dance training practices worldwide through its teacher training programmes.
These are three ways in which The Royal Ballet School is empowering dancers with a positive studio culture:
- Setting behavioural expectations for Royal Ballet School students and teachers.
- Providing continuous professional development (CPD) for Royal Ballet School artistic staff.
- Improving the global dance teaching standard through exceptional teacher training programmes.
- The Royal Ballet School’s Expectations of Students and Teachers
The Royal Ballet School creates a positive culture within its studios and classrooms by setting expectations for professional behaviour from students and teachers.
These expectations help nurture healthy and respectful relationships between students and permanent or visiting artistic teachers.
Studies show that positive student-teacher relationships promote student achievement and a higher quality of teaching. Positive relationships also help students feel “fully engaged and motivated to embrace new learning, knowing that they can take risks as learners.”
Moreover, teachers who exhibit belief in their students’ growth can positively impact student learning outcomes. The school recognises that “positive expectations can significantly influence levels of attainment.”
Expectations Of Students
The Royal Ballet School expects its students to:
- Always treat teachers and other students with respect.
- Arrive on time to classes, prepared to work. Students should obtain permission from the teacher or artistic manager before missing or arriving late for a class.
- Notify their teacher of any injuries or circumstances preventing full participation in the class.
- Give their best-efforts during class.
- Engage actively in class and contribute suggestions and ideas when asked.
- Be mindful of displaying negative body language or reactions in response to corrections.
- Never use inappropriate language.
- Dress appropriately.
- Provide support to fellow students where appropriate.
- Show respect when interacting with musicians who assist the class.
If a student thinks a teacher’s conduct is inappropriate or unprofessional, the school encourages the student to speak to a member of the pastoral staff (or another trusted adult at the school).
Expectations Of Teachers
The Royal Ballet School expects its teachers to:
- Treat students with respect. Teachers should always use appropriate, professional language and conduct when dealing with students. Shouting, belittling, sarcasm, or any form of intimidation has no place in Royal Ballet School studios.
- Engage all students in the learning process, and ensure a safe, inclusive working environment where all students can flourish.
- Foster active class participation amongst students to enhance their progress.
- Use humour with care. The school acknowledges that, when used appropriately, humour can contribute to a positive atmosphere. However, teachers should use humour wisely to prevent potential misunderstandings that may arise due to diverse nationalities, cultures, language differences, or learning approaches.
- Start and finish classes on time, taking registers efficiently to avoid encroaching on class time.
- Prepare classes to appropriately challenge and support students.
- Provide students with additional support when needed, either through positive corrections during class or in tutorial meetings. Teachers must not focus on continuous corrections in the studio.
- Always maintain professional relationships with students. Any teacher-student interactions that do not adhere to the “Appropriate Physical Contact in Dance Policy” are strictly prohibited. In addition, teachers must never engage in private contact with students outside of the school’s secure environment.
- Always maintain professional, respectful working relationships with accompanying musicians.
- The Royal Ballet School’s CPD Programme
The Royal Ballet School’s Continuous Professional Development programme ensures its artistic staff receive the best training. This “coherent, structured, and sustained” programme has replaced standalone CPD activities at the school.
The CPD programme enables Royal Ballet School teachers to develop their skills as dance tutors. The programme also includes an ongoing evaluation framework. The school uses this framework to continuously assess the level of implementation and the transfer of learning.
Maslow Before Bloom
In the past, studio culture often involved authoritarian teaching methods. This historic approach limited the autonomy of young dancers and denied students the chance to ask questions or express themselves. In addition, strict, didactic teaching would sometimes allow for unhealthy or abusive behaviours to develop in the studio.
Historically, dance teachers have placed the importance of mastering ballet technique or securing employment at dance companies above students’ emotional needs. While these goals continue to be vital milestones in vocational training, The Royal Ballet School recognises that they cannot serve as the sole criteria for defining success.
Moving away from outdated dance teaching practices, the school has built its CPD programme around the concept of “Maslow before Bloom.” The expression refers to Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and Benjamin Bloom’s “Taxonomy.”
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs underscores the significance of basic needs driving human motivation, particularly in the context of youth development. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a framework for categorising various levels of thinking and learning and shaping educational goals.
In essence, “Maslow before Bloom” means prioritising students’ basic needs ahead of learning outcomes. In a positive studio culture, teachers understand that “students must first feel secure and valued” to achieve their best.
Karen Berry is The Royal Ballet School’s senior teacher training manager. Her 2022 article for the Dancing Times highlights the importance of Maslow before Bloom: “Teachers must go beyond nourishing the basic human needs of safety, dignity, and respect and provide a culture that cultivates optimal conditions for learning and growth.”
- The Royal Ballet School’s Dance Teacher Training Programmes
The Royal Ballet School is not only shaping a positive studio culture for its staff and students. The school also works to improve the standard of dance training worldwide through its teacher training programmes, which include the:
- Affiliate Training and Assessment Programme.
- Diploma of Dance Teaching.
- Inspire seminars.
- Enlighten webinars.
- Professional Dance Coaching Programme (PDCP).
In her Dancing Times article, Berry explains that a barrier to achieving “ethical and holistic training environments” is “a lack of understanding” from dance teachers.
New dance teacher training programmes founded on the latest pedagogical research could hold the solution to addressing this lack of understanding. The field of pedagogy encompasses areas like:
- Human development.
- Reflective practice.
Despite being well-accepted across most fields of teacher training, the ballet community often falls short in understanding and applying pedagogical principles. This is why The Royal Ballet School advocates for and creates outstanding dance teacher training rooted in pedagogical knowledge.
The Royal Ballet School’s PDCP
The Professional Dance Coaching Programme is a new professional development course for artistic staff who work with trainee or professional dancers. Course participants will gain valuable knowledge on current pedagogical practices and fundamental coaching standards.
The PDCP will also upskill participants of various experience levels, equipping them with effective communication techniques. These techniques will empower teachers to nurture and maintain a positive studio culture wherever they work.
Berry and Mark Annear, the School’s Head of Training and Access, are the course tutors. The PDCP spans two half-day sessions, each lasting three and a half hours.
Teachers who would benefit from the PDCP include:
- Dance company class teachers.
- Directors and rehearsal directors.
- Choreographers and repetiteurs.
- Dancers who provide coaching.
Participants who complete the PDCP will be able to:
- Identify and understand the factors and obstacles that can impact learning.
- Define the behavioural expectations of teachers who work with dancers or trainee dancers.
- Understand how studio culture affects a dancer’s well-being and personal development.
- Recognise effective communication skills and feedback approaches.
- Identify the four pillars of a dancer’s holistic development: physical, technical, psychological, and social.
Dance companies that sign teachers up to the programme can:
- Invest in the professional development of their artistic staff.
- Exhibit a commitment to the well-being, satisfaction, and growth of dancers.
- Enhance trust and respect by prioritising the experiences of dancers.
- Contribute to a worldwide culture of excellence in dance training.
Changing Studio Culture for the Better
Through its teacher and student expectations and its CPD programme, The Royal Ballet School fosters a positive culture in its London-based studios and classrooms.
The school also hopes that its teaching training programmes, like the PDCP, will advance a positive studio culture in dance companies and schools around the world. As a result, the dance industry can continue to address and eliminate outdated, unhealthy training methods and conditions.
Learn more about The Royal Ballet School’s dance teacher training.
About The Royal Ballet School
Since its founding in 1926, The Royal Ballet School has consistently produced outstanding young dancers and choreographers. Several alumni, like Christopher Wheeldon and Marcelino Sambé, have forged successful careers in the world of dance.
With its wealth of ballet training knowledge and expertise, many regard The Royal Ballet School as the premier authority on ballet training. The school’s team has developed various courses, seminars, and webinars to advance dance teacher training, and industry professionals have eagerly embraced these resources.
Additionally, the School continues to enhance its artistic staff’s skills through its professional development and mentoring programme. This has resulted in increased teacher effectiveness and heightened student engagement at the school.
The Royal Ballet School’s teacher training division has long been a catalyst for advancing teaching methods within the school and across the global dance community. The school and its artistic staff continue to provide the benchmark for nurturing a studio culture rooted in professional values and the latest research.