In conversation with Kevin Emerton, Royal Ballet dancer and DDT graduate
In October last year, alumnus and First Artist of The Royal Ballet, Kevin Emerton graduated from The Royal Ballet School’s two-year Diploma of Dance Teaching (DDT).
Graduating into the Company in 2007, Kevin has performed a vast repertoire of roles, including Hilarion, Giselle, Demetrius, The Dream, and Stueart-Powell, Enigma Variations, and has worked with renowned choreographers in heritage, classical and contemporary works, including Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, Crystal Pite, and Hofesh Schecter.
As a professional dancer and now teacher, Kevin sat down with us to share insights into his experience balancing the demands of studying and dancing, and his path back to the School as a dance teacher.
Can you tell me about your background in dance?
I started training in vocational schools at the age of 11. I went to Elmhurst Ballet School and then joined The Royal Ballet School, where I completed three more years of training. I was fortunate to graduate straight into The Royal Ballet, where I’ve been for over a decade.
Photographed by Andrej Uspenksi.
What inspired you to teach dance?
It is something that has always been within me in some shape, even as a young student. I remember always watching teachers and trying to take one or two things from each to create an almost encyclopaedia of their details and nuances in teaching and how they approach steps. This is something I took forward into my life as a professional at The Royal Ballet, where I have been very fortunate to experience many different teachers and choreographers from around the globe throughout my career; almost a different teacher every two weeks, each with different styles and attitudes.
It inspires me to see people develop, grow and flourish, and it has been rewarding to see the fantastic dancers around me and be a part of their growth. Having been with the Company for over 15 years, I think I am now seen as almost a father figure to the artists of the Company, and to now give back artistically, but also guide the next generation of dancers through their careers, is extremely gratifying.
Photographed by Arthur Giglioli
What inspired you to train with The Royal Ballet School as a teacher?
I wanted to work and learn from like-minded professionals striving to create new ideas and push innovation forward in dance training. The art form has often been considered to have a rigid structure, but I feel there’s been a development in the last few years in how to approach dance and engage with students at all levels, whether teaching adults, professionals, or students. I wanted to learn with them and create ideas together, and that is something I felt when applying for the DDT and speaking with the team here at The Royal Ballet School.
Another aspect was the different expanse of the modules; there were many different things, rather than just vocabulary or terminology, where you’re told this is a tendu, a glissé, or a jeté. It’s more focused on how you approach the whole student, give feedback, reflect on your own practice and all the different aspects of dance encompassed in one course.
How did you find the DDT course?
It was full-on and intense at times, but it was a fun learning curve overall. It pushed me outside my comfort zone as I went through the fundamentals and started to lean deeper into the learning across the many modules and topics, writing essays and breaking down different concepts, concepts that I had known for many years. It made me re-evaluate and question how I have been treated as a student and professional, how I work as a dancer and even on a personal level, how one is. Coming out on the other side, I have gained a form of enlightenment and this sense of understanding of how teaching should be and why it is incredibly important. The Diploma has given me the confidence to always push myself constructively and not be afraid to be vulnerable. We are all on a journey and continually learning.
Photographed by Henry Curtis
How did you manage dancing and studying?
It was quite intense at times, I won’t lie. You manage long hours, starting at 9am, usually as a dancer, and finishing at 10 or 10.30pm, so finding a balance to study in between can sometimes be a struggle. However, working together with the team at the School, they found a way to encompass and involve that heavy schedule, understanding what it is like to be a professional dancer and study at the same time.
It did help me to go back across the road to the Royal Opera House, where I could try things out. I was rehabilitating from surgery at the time, so to be able to re-teach myself from the ground up was very rewarding to reap the benefits as a dancer. There was always something for me to focus on and I remember catching eyes with one of my fellow cohort one day in class where we were both thinking of some of the details that were given on the course, and we just started laughing.
Did you have a favourite aspect of the course?
The reflective practice model gave me a new outlook on life. We are often very self-critical as dancers as we strive to be perfect, and we’re always being critiqued, often not in the most constructive way. I think my development on that side has been massive to reflect constructively, not so negatively. There are always connotations of being told what to do and what not to do, whereas no one has told you how and why. Many skills from this module are transferable to several professions.
What might people not know about the course?
It wasn’t just based on ballet. It sounds weird even though you see all the modules, but the depth of knowledge and education around all the other sides; we’re working in education as a teacher in a general sense, not just balletic education, so a large focus is on that. You’ve got psychology modules which give you information on different stages of child development, providing you with a different way of thinking and understanding what people are going through from their own perspective. That was the really big difference; it wasn’t just focused on ballet.
Photographed by Andrej Uspenksi.
What have you been up to since finishing the course?
I have been fortunate to return to work with The Royal Ballet School students a number of times and, over the last few months, have been working alongside them on The Cellist and, in particular, The Dante Project, rehearsing and giving them classes as they prepare for the shows. It has been fantastic to watch the students develop and collaborate with them throughout the process and run of shows.
I am still dancing with The Royal Ballet, but alongside this, I now also teach Company class and have recently been shadowing the Artistic team here.
It has been very rewarding and fulfilling to continue to develop at many different levels, and I am truly grateful for these opportunities since finishing the course.
Can you share any advice for teachers or dancers?
To be open and curious. Always try to listen, understand and reflect, especially in those areas that perhaps go against your own opinions and views. We can all learn from one another and remember everyone is different; everyone is an individual, and we all learn differently and at different paces. Stay humble and be kind.
Applications are currently open for our Diploma of Dance Teaching. To find out more about the course and apply, click here.