What do our new ATAP teachers think of the programme?
Our Affiliate Training and Assessment Programme allows ballet teachers more creative freedom and gives students an expansive and holistic experience in their training.
Looking forward to applications opening for our second year’s cohort this week, we caught up with two of our newly accredited ATAP teachers, Michelle and Marisha, to find out how it’s working in their careers and studios.
Why did you decide to join the ATAP programme?
Michelle: I decided to join because I was looking for something different, something that was going to take me out of what I would consider being traditional dance teaching methodology.
Most of the dance societies with which I’ve got affiliations and qualifications have a very prescribed syllabus. They give you the steps, they give you the exercises, they give you the enchaînement. And I was looking for something that challenged that.
I have to say, increasingly over the years, I’m finding that that type of traditional assessment and dance exams doesn’t suit the child of 2023. Increasingly, I’m looking for different options to suit the needs of different pupils. ATAP seemed to tick all those boxes straight away. It’s challenging the boundaries, so I was happy to find an alternative.
Marisha: As a teacher, I firmly believe that one must keep learning. Joining the ATAP programme allowed me to continue to learn and to maintain my ‘full teaching cup’. The more we learn the more we remain overflowing with love for dance and able to give to our students. It is important that we also revisit the way we teach on a regular basis as this is what teaching is – striving to find ways to make things possible for our students. The more I learn the more my students learn.
How have your students found this new way of training?
Michelle: They’ve responded really well to it. I think in my own practice, I’ve often taught in quite a creative way and have never just taught syllabus settings and exercises. They were familiar with that side of things, but what’s bringing them on is the level of involvement they have.
The amount of discussion, questioning and taking on board their feedback. I’m finding that a lot of pupils who maybe previously wouldn’t say a word in a class are now the first to come forward with ideas. Certainly, pupils who are really interested in the history and the repertoire and seeing where it can be applied, are thriving.
I think it gives an outlet for lots of different skill sets. Maybe your child is challenged physically and technically with the vocabulary, but they’re super-sonically creative. They’ve got a platform where they can thrive and they can feel like they’re in their comfort zone and because of that, the kids are all bouncing off each other in a different way.
With ATAP, it’s not like you’ve always got the ones at the front with their legs around their ears and doing triple pirouettes. There are different dynamics and it shifts depending on what we’re doing, which is really interesting. Simplifying the activities and the choreography and really drilling into what we’re trying to get out of this, rather than just learning a bunch of steps for no reason, has meant that they’re able to transfer a lot of what they’re learning into other aspects of their dancing.
And I can see them, even though they don’t know a million steps to a million dances, their technique and their foundations have improved so much.
Marisha: This way of training allows students to embed the learning and focuses on the skill rather than the set exercises. It reduces the memory work on specific settings which enables students to use that ‘brain space’ for learning the skill within a safe and non-set environment.
What was your favourite thing about the programme?
Michelle: It’s the freedom within it to take the time to do what you need to do with pupils in front of you. Whether that’s focusing a bit more on body conditioning or creative practice, you can choose the vocabulary that you think is going to suit them.
That can also feed into what’s happening in the world. Is it Robert Burns day? Right! Let’s have a Ceilidh and do gallops. It’s Christmas, let’s look at Nutcracker. It’s not thinking, ‘oh, well I have to do this thing or that thing’.
You can respond in real-time to what’s happening in the world and with children in your room. I think that’s my favourite aspect of the programme.
Marisha: Meeting other like-minded teachers was a breath of fresh air. Being able to bounce things off with one another and not feel alone has really helped. I’m so glad I met the lovely teachers!
What were you hoping that ATAP will unlock for you in the future of your CPD and career as a dance teacher?
Michelle: I think I’m feeling my horizons opening in that the methodology of the ATAP ethos is not just about teaching classical ballet. It’s a way of approaching all teaching. I teach contemporary and contextual dance studies at SQE Higher in National 5 Dance, which is like GCSE in England and Wales.
It’s applying that approach to all my teaching that I think is unlocking a lot of doors. Thinking of it as a methodology and a process rather than an end product. It’s not all about getting to an exam.
Yes, there’s an end product and it’s good to have goals and it’s good to be able to assess and measure them, but that shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all. For me, that’s changing how I look at all my teaching. It’s also changing my approach to working with staff and working with other colleagues.
I’m always thinking, ‘how can we look at this differently?’ Let’s think about the process and how we change things. I think it’s breaking down walls.
Marisha: I am hoping it will continue to give me support on my teaching path and provide the opportunity for me to meet like-minded teachers.
Have you reflected on the changing needs of ballet as an art form and whether ATAP has helped you prepare for that?
Michelle: If you’re thinking about classical ballet, what you see out there in professional settings has changed massively. If you are in any company now, you’re expected to do the classics but also turn your hand to contemporary movement.
I think more and more the way that choreographers work is they’re looking for creative input from their dancers. They’re looking for thinking dancers, whether you’re at The Royal Ballet or you’re in a fringe company that’s working on a much smaller scale, those things apply.
This programme prepares pupils for that. And on a more practical level, the majority of pupils in a recreational dance school don’t want to have a professional career in dance, but they all go on to have diverse careers, and this will only help them with that because they’re learning how to learn and they’re learning how to be part of a process, and they’re also learning to value the journey and not the end project, which is going to serve them well in whatever they do.
I’m finding now when I’m teaching that the pupils are much better prepared.
We’re also educating audiences of the future here, aren’t we? We’re teaching them to appreciate all the classics, creativity in something completely new and unique, and the skill involved in creating that.
Marisha: ATAP has given me the secure understanding that training young dancers may take different facets. With this as a foundation, it has allowed me to move away and push the boundaries to the linear examination approach. ATAP provides a safety net for me as a teacher to encourage young dancers and their parents to think beyond the conventional linear examination route and towards a more cohesive student-centred assessment approach.
Do you have a piece of advice for next year’s cohort?
Michelle: Open your mind, completely. Try to let go of…everything. The ways we have previously been taught as recreational teachers. We’ve been told, ‘these are the exercises, these are the criteria, this is the time scale, and this is how it must be assessed’. Banish all that and try and think of the training that you’re getting with The Royal Ballet School as being a method that you can apply to anything. So even if you are, for example, going to enter into a traditional dance exam, you can still train those pupils using the ATAP method.
You know the assessment is the end bit but the important bit is the process. It’s hard –because it’s been in place for so long– to abandon the old ways of doing things where you have to know every detail of the end product before you’ve even done the process.
As a traditional dance teacher, you know you have to do 16 fouettés and a double pirouette and a this and a that. Actually, not knowing when you enter the journey is quite exciting. It can be scary at first but if you let that fear and anxiety go you can see where the process takes you.
Marisha: Take the plunge! Never stop finding ways to learn and develop. The more you do that the more your students achieve!
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Michelle: The ATAP process has given pupils who previously maybe feel under the radar a little bit, an opportunity to shine in a different way. And I can think of three or four pupils here who have totally changed in this process, they’ll come in and have a conversation with you and they’re the first at the front. People want to be their partners in class. Whereas previously, you get children in class who you feel like you’re losing. They’re in the fringes. No matter how much you try and get them involved. And I think that’s been amazing. Being able to teach everybody the same way, albeit, of course, we differentiate, but everybody feels part of the process. You’re involving everybody and catering for diverse needs in an efficient and inclusive way. That’s been wonderful to see.