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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Book: Thoughtful Analysis On What Makes A Great Teacher Spans More Than The Ballet

"Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen? - Friedrich Nietzsche.

For years I have holding a wisp of a memory dating back to when I was a girl in junior high school and glimpsed a 9th grade male classmate and two females, all fellow members of our school annual staff, frolic on an outdoor lawn during an afternoon end-of-the-year party. Mind you it was only the briefest of sightings, but the scene most likely planted itself firmly in my mind because it was clearly evident that all three dancers were equally graceful.

Mind you this all took place in the early progressive seventies. We were being liberated. Girls just won the highly desired privilege to wear - gasp! slacks to school once a week. We made and wore fashionably lacey yarn crotchet vests and listened to top tunes on cassette and 8-track tapes. Some of the boys daringly wore their hair just above their shirt collars. A handful still sported crew cuts. And very very few professed an interest in ballet.

Enter the talented Dean Speer, my former annual staff classmate, dancer, regular contributor to Ballet-Dance Magazine and now newly published author! Speer who was also artistic director of the Chattanooga Ballet and founding director of the Chehalis Ballet Center, recently celebrated the birth of his new book On Technique, University of Florida Press.

Although Speer wrote that he did not "take up the ballet mantle" until his Russian and folk dance teacher arranged for him at 17 to take a semi-private class with Mark Morris, then 16, the news of his debut as an author years after we all spent time putting to bed memories of our 9th grade year at Rose Hill Junior High in Kirkland, WA had been eagerly spread on the appropriate alumni sites at

I ordered a copy for my own at For more information click here. And while I am by no means a student of dance much less the ballet, a cousin on the paternal side of my family has enjoyed a long career back East and because of her, I've been prompted by a handful of reminders to pay a little attention to those news stories having to do with her experiences on ballet slippers.

Fortunately Speer has written a book which is as much about the wonderful interaction between good if not great teachers and their lucky students, a kind of thoughtful analysis that's applicable over a far wider educational continuum than that of performance alone. Furthermore, he attempts to unravel the differences if they should exist, between skill and technique.

In contrast with his personal experiences studying ballet in the seventies "for boys and men in ballet today, the helicopter has landed" Speer says in his book. "Growing up I thought I was about half of the entire male ballet population of Washington State, although I didn't really mind being the only male in class."


Stephanie Frieze said...

Thank you for a peek into Speer's book and a world I know little of. On that note, tonight we get to watch our granddaughter's tap and ballet classes. Who knows where that will go?

Lorraine Hart said...

Ballet is foreign to me also...but I can always relate to a good teacher who is able to reach in for the best in a student.

I was laughing, remembering being sent home from school in the late sixties...for wearing pants instead of a skirt!

Give thanks to a good teacher today!!

JosephMcG said...

Thanks for sharing your experience of the seventies... I was a witness... having gotten ordained at the age of 34 in 1974, to the changing times..
I am so grateful that women and men are slowly but surely being viewed as equals... in skills and gifts...