Iggy & Roo

Reflections on Teaching Ballet


SiobhanIggy and Roo … Igor Zelensky and Farukh Ruzimatov, affectionately and practically renamed by my family one summer many years ago when the two joined the ever-growing list of dancers I regularly referred to in our ballet discussions. Ballet was an inexhaustible subject for me, and as well as being in the studio every day, I was also watching any ballet videos I could get my hands on and going to as many live performances as possible. I wasn’t just watching with passive enjoyment, however; I was studying, absorbing. I was learning to really see ballet, to separate the good from the best. I was taking what I saw back with me to the studio and trying to find the same lines, placement, and expression with my own body. I shared my passion with everyone around me, and my family, in support, followed me into my ballet exploration, watching and discussing with me, allowing me to solidify my discoveries or formulate new questions. Later, as a teacher in my twenties, I began to understand what an important part this focused ballet viewing had played not only in my artistic development but also in the development of my technique.

Using video or still images is now an integral part of how I teach. Of course, a ballet class is still a movement class and not a lecture class, but I like to show an image during class that illustrates a point I have been trying to make or to reserve even just five minutes at the end of class to watch a short ballet excerpt that inspires and teaches. I am aware of the limitations of my dancing body; it is a body that would have never reached the technical excellence of world’s great ballerinas even if it had been given the chance to try. How, then, can I demonstrate for my students the technical and artistic level to which I would want them to aspire? I can’t, but I can fill that need with videos and images of great dancers, just like I did for myself as a young ballet student.

I use this approach in all of my classes, from the very littles to the open adult classes. In the adult classes, another purpose of showing videos becomes clear. The adult amateur dancers do not necessarily need to be shown what a perfect tour jeté looks like for technique purposes. But ballet is an art, and, just like when one is studying painting or music even as a hobby, one should be exposed to the best interpretations and be given the opportunity to develop enough understanding to be able to observe and critique by oneself. My parents are wonderful examples of people who have absorbed ballet as an art form. One has taken ballet class and the other has not (I will let you decide which is which), but both followed me through my ballet discovery, watching, listening, and discussing. Now they appreciate and can review a great ballet performance the same way they might a Rembrandt in a museum.

Ultimately, I find that, just like at fourteen, I simply want to share my passion, and that desire drives my teaching. I am passionate about technique, about musicality, about the art. What better way to convey this passion than to share with my students what I find the most beautiful and inspiring? Of course, it is exciting, as a ballet teacher, to have that one student who is wonderfully talented and destined for the stage, but so many who take ballet are not thinking of a career or, if they are, that path will not be open to them. But they will all carry their ballet experience with them, and I would wish for all my students that they are inspired to continue exploring ballet as an art, that they find themselves watching a ballet at home like they would listen to a beautiful piece of music, and that they one day might even find their own Iggy and Roo.


Siobhan loves ballet and loves sharing it with others. She grew up in Northern California and has also lived in Ireland, France, and Italy. The first thing she looks for in each new city she lives in is a ballet studio. She is currently pursuing her MFA degree in Dance at the University of California, Irvine. 

Photo courtesy Siobhan Searle Tonarelli