Instructional DVD's for Male Ballet Dancers
DVD's designed specially for the male dancer are rare. I've managed to get hold of copies of the few that exist! Read on to discover them and why they're important.
If you are a ballet student wanting to do home study, there's a good range of instructional ballet DVD's out there - but they are overwhelmingly taught by women. Of course, there are many outstanding female ballet teachers and male dancers can learn a great deal from them - but it's unhealthy for male students to miss out out on the influence of male instructors.
Why do I say that?
Firstly, look at the photo above - a typical example of the dynamic, athletic style demanded of male dancers today! Students tend to copy their teacher's style as much as the steps - and for boys studying ballet, that can lead to them copying the soft, feminine movements of their female teacher. If the full impact of any choreography is to be realized, male dancers need to display a powerful masculinity, to contrast with the female dancers. So it's important that they have strong male role models to learn from - and male teachers are hard to find, especially in regional areas. DVD's taught and demonstrated by men and boys can help redress that balance.
Secondly, boys often face discrimination and teasing from their non-dancing schoolmates, on the grounds they're studying a "girly" dance. There is no denying that ballet is female-dominated - most ballet teachers are women, and most ballet students are girls. If they're surrounded by women in class, they may well start to think their tormentors have a point! It can be reassuring to see other boys in class on film.
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For Boys - All Levels and Methods
The Boy Ballet Dancer is a full ballet class taught by Finis Jhung. He is a Hawaiian-born dancer who performed with the Joffrey and Harkness Ballets, but his fame comes from his ballet studio in New York, which he founded in 1974. It soon became a mecca for professional dancers from all over the city.
Jhung is known for using innovative props to help explain correct form. I've seen the spinning top used as an analogy to explain pirouette technique (I've done it myself), but I've never seen a teacher use a real spinning top before! He also uses a plumb line to show how the weight should be centred over the standing leg, and a rubber bow and arrow to show the trajectory of leaps.
Many years ago, I had the honour of being allowed to watch a master class by Dame Ninette de Valois, and I was fascinated at how she seemed able to choose exactly the right words to express the essence of how to do a move. Jhung has that same talent. He talks about how the dancer should feel the movements instead of just analysing the mechanics.
The idea for The Boy Ballet Dancer came when Jhung was asked to coach the boys who were cast as Billy Elliot in the musical. That experience highlighted for him what was missing in day to day ballet classes for boys at all levels, and this DVD sets out to fill in those gaps. The dancer used to demonstrate the moves is a Billy Elliott star, Joseph Harrington.
Jhung is US-trained, but thanks to his unique approach, students from other schools don't need to be concerned about conflicts - dancers in any style will benefit from his original insights.
This DVD is 103 minutes, offering a complete ballet class of 14 exercises, which you can play with or without commentary.
For Boys - Cecchetti
Richard Glasstone MBE was ballet master at the Royal Ballet School for seventeen years, where he taught many of Britain's best male dancers.
To be completely honest, this DVD is showing its age, but there is so little else out there for boy dancers, it is still worth considering. There are demonstrations by young beginners, late starters, and a professional dancer (all male) of the following exercises:
- Using Everyday Movements
- Movement of the Feet
Glasstone was trained in the Cecchetti method, so this DVD would be particularly relevant for students of that style.
This is a short DVD at only 30 minutes (i.e. not a full class) but the content could be useful to new starters and those beginning to make progress.
Pas de Deux
Pas de Deux comes from Tanya Pearson, who will be very well known to readers from Australia. Her academy is one of the top ballet schools in Sydney. However before anyone questions the fact that she's a female teacher - she also acknowledges the importance of male influence, and she has engaged two top male instructors, Mark Reilly and Oliver Matz, to teach this DVD.
I have not viewed this DVD personally, but I include it because it has been highly recommended by teachers whom I respect. Besides, the fact is that I don't know of any other DVD offering instruction in pas de deux - and this is particularly valuable because it shows how pas de deux work can be introduced at a young age, something not all schools do.
It is not available from stores, it is sold direct by the Classical Coaching Academy. I must say I am disappointed at the cost - $54 (Australian) is a ridiculous amount to charge for a disc in this day and age!
For the Advanced Dancer
The Male Ballet Dancer is another excellent production from Finis Jhung, this time for the advanced level.
This one showcases Joseph Michael Gatti in variations from the Black Swan and Le Corsaire - then Jhung and Gatti break down the steps used in each dance, and Jhung offers insights on how to improve preparation and technique for the jumps and turns. Again, props are used to help the viewer grasp the concepts.
This is not for the beginner - watching Gatti whip through 9 pirouettes on demi-pointe with such ease, is enough to make you despair of ever being good enough! These bravura combinations are way beyond my ability to even attempt - however for the advanced student able to work at this kind of level, I can see that the analysis and advice would be invaluable. I think it would make a good gift for a younger dancer too, as Gatti's dancing is nothing short of spectacular and would be an inspiration to a younger student.
The list of enchainements covered is exhausting just to read:
- Double cabriole in arabesque, double tour to 5th
- Grand jeté en attitude, assemblé, 4 pirouettes
- Sauté en tournant à la seconde, grand jeté en tournant entrelacé
- Tombé pas de bourrée, assemblé, double tour, 4 pirouettes
- Grand jeté en avant en diagonale, grand jeté en tournant entrelacé
- Tombé pas de bourrée, assemblé, double tour to arabesque / 5 pirouettes in attitude
- 4 pirouettes, multiple grand pirouettes a la seconde pulling into 5 pirouettes
- Pas de basque en tournant, soutenu, passé to attitude, grand saut de basque with both knees bent
- Grand pirouettes pulling into 4 pirouettes / 7 pirouettes
- Grand pas ciseaux en tournant, 6 pirouettes, double tour to the knee
- Grand pas ciseaux en avant
- 9 pirouettes changing position / Manège: Grand jetés
- Saut de basque / 9 grand pirouettes sautillé, 5 grand pirouettes pulling into 3 pirouettes
A master class - spectacular dancing, plus a detailed analysis of male bravura technique. 54 minutes.
That extract doesn't include Gatti's performance, so here is another clip of him in Le Corsaire:
Of course, the best tuition will always be face-to-face with a real teacher, but many dancers, especially in regional areas have no access to male dance instructors. And even fewer have access to master teachers like Glasstone or Jhung! These DVD's can be a great enhancement to your normal lessons. Enjoy!
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