Ballet Why and How (book) - reviewed on 22nd June
Although its old fashioned and faded design makes it look like something from the 1970s, Ballet Why and How was printed earlier this year. Considering the role of classical technique in today's dance training, it explores ways to get the best from ballet education (how) as well as whether it should be included at all (why).
There are some interesting discussions on both topics though the latter interests me most. Anna Aalten points out that ballet is neither the 'neutral' nor complete training that it is typically perceived to be. Its technical fundamentals – turnout, stylisation and verticality – are problematic in preparing dancers for more contemporary choreography (and that elusive versatility so often cited by directors as important). Ballet also doesn't offer aerobic training, meaning supplementary cardio-vascular activities are required.
On the other hand, the very pro-ballet Larry Rhodes suggests it is the "most sophisticated of all dance forms". More sensibly, Miriam Sögner describes ballet in dance training as a "possible option – but just one of many". Niklas Fransson points out that in spite of its limitations, ballet will continue to be used in most dance courses because it is "easily accessible and well-tried".
Other topics in the book include the authoritarian roots of ballet pedagogy, applying dance science knowledge to training and preventing burn out in dance teachers. Some sections are more relevant than others and there are enormous variations in both length and accessibility across chapters.
However, what this book lacks most (apart from a more dynamic design) is an overall conclusion. Considering the diversity of topics and writers in the book, a final chapter pulling ideas together would have been most welcome.
As it is, my own conclusion is that ballet does have a relevance in today's dance training. It is invaluable for classical dancers and may also, if taught effectively, be useful to students of other dance styles. What needs to change, however, is the assumption that it is invaluable for all. As Aalten points out, it is neither a neutral nor complete training and ought not to be at the centre of dance study programmes without some detailed thought.