Playing for class has a game-like quality: teacher, dancers and musician come together and enact a ritual according to dozens of complex rules and expectations. If you had to keep explaining the rules, or taking yourself outside of the ritual, it would be no fun, and you’d never finish the class. There is also a kind of improvisational quality about it: mistakes and imperfections can be swept up in the overall aim of playing the game together, the main thing is to keep going.
And as with improvisation and games, you learn by doing. You have to try things out in real situations. In a petit allegro exercise, you might try out four musical approaches before you hit on the one that works, and that might be by accident rather than design. The teacher turns to you smiles, and gives you the thumbs up sign.
But there are limitations to what you can learn by practice alone, and a lot of what you learn by practice can be mistaken, because you don’t have access to the concepts that the teacher is working with. You can accelerate your learning enormously by talking to the teacher now and again, asking for feedback, discussing what works and what doesn’t.
That’s easier said than done. Teachers often have classes back to back, with no let-up in the stream of children going in and out of the studio and parents to deal with. You have to try and make that time, finding the opportune moments, or chatting to the teacher socially outside of class.
But it’s not always to do with time, it’s also about attitude. You have to establish a relationship with the teacher where they know that you’re interested in what they’re doing, and in getting feedback. Maybe between classes you say something like ‘You know that first exercise in the centre in the last class? I didn’t feel as if I’d found the right music for it. What do you think?’ And quite often, the answer is something like ‘Oh, that was just them. They didn’t get the exercise, the music was fine’ or ‘I think it was the exercise, it had too many steps in’. If it’s not that, then if you have a couple of minutes, you and the teacher can try out different music to see what works. I’ve found that once you set teachers thinking about music like this, they’ll often come back the following week with more ideas for you. But you have to bring it into focus first to start the dialogue.