A Case Study on Progressing Ballet Technique

In her pivotal research, "The Influence of Professional Development on Dance Teachers' Pedagogy and Practice: A Case Study on Progressing Ballet Technique," Dr. Jenna M. Alsteen examines the significant benefits of the Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT) as a professional development tool for ballet educators. This case study involved PBT-certified teachers across the United States in 2018, utilizing a combination of interviews, surveys, and field observations to explore how PBT's structured exercises and pedagogical strategies enhance teaching efficacy. The findings illustrate that PBT not only deepens teachers’ understanding of ballet mechanics but also aids in the precise application of these techniques, ensuring a safer and more productive learning environment for students. Dr. Alsteen’s research underscores the importance of ongoing professional development in dance education, highlighting how PBT can dramatically improve both teacher performance and student outcomes by emphasizing injury prevention and targeted muscle engagement.


The Influence of Professional Development on Dance Teachers' Pedagogy and Practice: A Case Study on Progressing Ballet Technique

By: Dr. Jenna M. Alsteen. Download the full study here.


Dance teachers often instruct without having any formal education in dance teaching pedagogy or best practices. They may be experienced and talented in dance technique, but widespread teaching practices tend to depend on the transmission of knowledge from teacher-to-student, rather than practices grounded in pedagogical theory (Sims & Erwin, 2012). 

Research conducted by Hilsendager (2001), Posey (2002), Cohen (2002) and others reveals that dance education has evolved into a practice where dance teachers often instruct with any knowledge of pedagogy beyond their own experiences in learning and performing dance. Dance students are put at risk for injury from dance teachers who practice instruction of incorrect technique and lack in effective teaching and learning strategies (Papaefstathiou, Rhind, & Brackenridge, 2013; Zeller, 2017). 

The purpose of this case study was to explore Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT) as a form of professional development and its influence on ballet teachers’ pedagogy and practice. PBT was created to instruct teachers how to increase muscle memory, improve flexibility, strengthen technique, and increase longevity in dance through safe and effective exercises. The participants of this study included teachers who were certified in the PBT program in the United States in 2018. 

Data collection included field notes from the researcher participant observer experiences, email interview responses, and survey responses. Analysis of this data found that PBT influenced participants’ pedagogy and practice in the following areas: implementation of PBT exercises and teaching strategies, engagement of specific muscles groups, and positive instruction to and feedback from students. This finding should encourage the dance community to pursue further creation of dance education professional development that is offered in short- term workshops or seminars. Those who are considering creating short-term professional development should proceed and evaluate those experiences in order to contribute to the evidence supporting the ability of professional development to influence its participants.


With an array of dance education degree programs and professional development options in the United States, there have historically been calls to incorporate some consistency in these dance education offerings. Hilsendager (2001) emphasized the importance of education by calling for a teacher preparation mandate to focus on teachers of children’s dance programs, performing arts high schools, physical education in compulsory education, private studios, and in-classroom environments. This mandate would require teacher preparation to include not only expertise in dance technique but also familiarity with the process of teaching and learning as well. Dance teachers need guidance in making meaningful connections between their own dance training and pedagogical concepts. However, dance education programs often do not integrate both dance technique expertise and dance education pedagogy (Risner & Barr, 2015). Hilsendager (2001) encouraged the dance community to design teacher preparation programs that focus on the human being who is learning and the context in which that learning takes place.

By creating these programs and dedicating focused research on teaching pedagogy and practices, researchers may better understand how dance teachers have been influenced and can be influenced in their practice to benefit the outcomes of their students. Progressing Ballet Technique (PBT) is an example of one form of professional development that has responded to the call for creating consistency in teacher preparation. Thus, this exploratory case study aimed to uncover how the case of PBT, as a form of professional development, influenced dance teachers’ pedagogy and practice.

In this study, PBT was selected as the case study to better understand how teacher pedagogy and practice may be influenced. Although professionals in the fields of dance, yoga, Pilates, physical therapy, and physiotherapy may attend the PBT workshops, this program was designed to benefit most those with a background in ballet technique. Classical ballet, as it is taught today, was born in the mid-19th century. It was then that ballet classes took the form and structure of what professional ballet dancers now do every day, beginning at the barre with pliés and ending in the centre with allegro (Sandall, 2018). Although ballet’s roots can be traced back to the 15th century in French and Italian royal courts, classical ballet with its five positions, barre work, and pointe shoes was a product of the Romantic-era that still carries on today (Homans, 2010). PBT acknowledges the artistic and technical ballet standards that were born from this period, but it also challenges outdated and unsafe practices with new exercises designed to help students meet these standards in a way that caters to the unique abilities and limitations of each body.

The PBT program was created to safely and effectively train dancers in ballet technique so that the problem of risk for injury due to incorrect training can be mitigated. Approximately 72–75% of dance-related injuries are due to overuse, which means the majority of injuries are due to the repeated impact that can be prevented (Hincapié et al., 2008; Liederbach, Gleim, & Nicholas, 1994). The possible danger in ballet technique instruction is most greatly realized when teachers lack education regarding the anatomy of the human body.

The PBT program aims to mitigate the risk for injury through educating teachers, emphasizing human anatomy in its training. Safe practices can achieve meeting the artistic qualities of ballet technique, and PBT’s goal is to assist teachers in learning how dancers can both meet artistic mastery and technical expertise with education and understanding of the proper exercises (PBT USA director, personal communication, June 2, 2018). Stake (1995) defined instrumental case studies as collecting data to provide insight into the root of a problem or issue. By exploring PBT, this study aims to understand how pedagogy and practice may impact teachers, but equally important is the impact that this program may have on the progression of young, developing dancers through safe training.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The findings of this PBT case study confirmed that dance teachers’ pedagogies and practices were influenced by the professional development workshop. The data showed that workshop participants implemented PBT exercises into their practices. Additionally, the participants modified how they used those exercises as tools based on how their students responded physically in class. Analysis of the data showed that participants often implemented the same core group of exercises and similar strategies for teaching those exercises with their students. Furthermore, participants reported that they appreciated the emphasis on the engagement of specific muscles groups. In addition, participants indicated that their students’ technique generally improved after the students had utilized the PBT exercises. Overall, the PBT workshop provided professional development for dance teachers who reported they appreciated the opportunity for personal growth along with tool acquisition to enhance their dance students’ technique.

The PBT program was created for dance teachers who seek learning opportunities and strategies to influence student outcomes in technical ballet expertise through safe training. The PBT program supports safe training that depends on each individual’s abilities and limitations, and the purpose of the PBT workshop is to equip dance teachers with the tools they need to influence their students’ safe development of ballet technique. Each of the exercises taught in the workshop was designed to strengthen specific muscle groups, and teachers were instructed not only how to do these exercises themselves, but also how to teach their students. Teachers reap the ancillary benefit of understanding how the exercises impact their personal technique. Therefore, not only does the PBT program align with Guskey’s student outcome-focused approach, but it also provides learning experiences for the teachers to improve their personal practice.

Guskey’s (2017) five-step approach to professional development provides a framework to assess how the PBT workshop is considered successful in meeting students outcomes driven by teacher intent to improve students’ technique. The first step of Guskey’s (2017) approach is to determine the impact on student learning. The founder of PBT developed exercises specifically to impact dance students’ technique. The primary goal of PBT has always been to provide a safe and effective ballet technique training program for developing dancers. The case study findings confirmed that participants generally saw improvement in their students’ technique after teaching them the new exercises and giving students time to practice the exercises. The improvement in students’ technique suggests that the PBT program successfully meets Guskey’s first step of impacting student learning.

Guskey’s (2017) second step in the approach is to implement new practices. PBT is a trademarked workshop with original exercises that challenge the traditional classical ballet class structure. The nature of unique exercises including various types of equipment is not only new, but also innovative to the dance community. The PBT program integrates modern medical and scientific knowledge of human anatomy to provide safe training for growing ballet dancers. Therefore, implementation of new practices is met when participants learn and practice these new exercises. In this case study, 87% of survey participants implemented the PBT exercises with their dance students. The PBT workshop was successful in instructing the participants on how to practice the exercises and then implement them into their dance classes.

The third step in Guskey’s (2017) approach is to gain organizational support and change, and this is perhaps where the founder of PBT has an opportunity to develop more resources. Organizational support, in the context of this study, should come from the studios and schools where teachers are implementing the PBT program. Teachers have the capability to influence students through teaching PBT exercises in their classes, but a studio director’s purview is an important factor in facilitating lifelong learning in teachers’ practices. As seen in this case study, 10% of survey participants were encouraged to attend the workshop by their studio directors. This implies that some participants had organizational support, but that support must also come in the form of resources. As was also revealed in the study, some participants lacked the financial resources to provide their students with the equipment needed to implement the exercises. If studios and schools are supportive of integrating the PBT exercises into their classes, they need to be aware of the cost of necessary equipment.

The fourth step of Guskey’s (2017) approach is to develop essential knowledge and skills. Essential knowledge and skills are taught through the PBT workshop by the PBT founder and directors, along with online training accessible to participants. The PBT website allows teachers to interact with each other and post questions to discussion boards to ask for a deeper understanding of exercises and how to apply exercises in special student circumstances. The PBT workshop aims to provide training for dance teachers in muscle memory which has the potential to impact the safety of students as an essential skill. The risk for injury is prevalent in maturing dancers, and the PBT program provides knowledge and skills that train teachers to mitigate the risk for injury in their students while still providing technical results that are considered essential to the field of dance. The field of dance is based on aesthetic standards, and dancers often strive to meet those standards through any means necessary, even when that imposes a risk for injury. The PBT program aims to help students meet the traditional ballet aesthetic standards through educating dance teachers on the scientific, physical capabilities of the human body.

Finally, Guskey’s (2017) fifth step is to plan targeted professional learning experiences. Targeted learning experiences best enable educators to acquire knowledge and skills when those experiences are designed for particular audiences (Guskey, 2017). A seminar or workshop can be an effective experience when paired with collaborative planning, structured opportunities for practice with feedback, and follow-up coaching (Guskey, 2017). The PBT workshop was created by the founder, and the directors work in collaboration in the facilitation of the workshop. The directors teach the exercises in a format that allows for participants to ask questions and offer feedback. After participants have been certified through the workshop, they are able to access online modules for further explanation of exercises and teaching strategies.

In alignment with Guskey’s (2017) approach, the PBT workshop, as the fifth step of the professional learning experience, was created after the first four steps were established by the PBT founder. Student outcomes were the very first and most important step. The student objectives drove the process of creating the exercises, which were then divided into levels of difficultly for teaching, before finally being created into a workshop where teachers learned the exercises as well as how to teach them.

The goal of the PBT program is to ultimately influence the future of ballet training as not only a performing art but as an appreciated physical endeavour that deserves to evolve as our knowledge evolves in the realms of dance medicine and science. The PBT exercises will inevitably evolve as knowledge of the human body increases. Therefore, revisiting Guskey’s (2017) approach to successful development will aid in PBT’s assessment strategies as the program evolves. Although the five steps of this approach may remain consistent, they serve as a useful framework for ongoing evaluation regarding student outcomes, proper implementation of new practices, organizational needs and support, new essential knowledge and skills, and relevant professional learning experiences.

This study provides evidence to the greater dance community that professional development has the ability to transform how dance teachers instruct their students. This finding may imply that teachers do not have to teach solely how they were taught, but rather can learn in a fairly short period of time how to modify their teaching to safely impact the training of their students. Data from this study shows that many of the participants sought self-development through the workshop along with a greater understanding of how to implement the exercises into their practices for their developing dance students. When I attended the PBT workshop in Verona, WI, participants introduced themselves and shared their motivations for attending the workshop. Four teachers shared concerns with student injuries, noting that they wanted to better understand how their students became injured and how they could prevent injury in the future. The role of the dance teacher has developed into a mentor in whom students depend on for guidance not only in times of healthy progression of technique, but during the setbacks of injury as well.

Data gleaned from this study suggest that participation in the PBT workshop influences participants’ teaching practices, and when applied, teaching the exercises help to mitigate risk for injury among dance students. Aalten (2018) stated that most dance injuries are not the consequence of trauma, but rather the result of chronically overburdening the body. The PBT exercises challenge the repetition of the traditional ballet class structure to avoid consistent overburdening. Instead, the exercises are used in conjunction with or in substitution of the traditional classical ballet exercises to teach the body proper muscle memory with appropriate muscle engagement. The findings of this case study indicate that not only can dance teachers be provided the tools they need to properly teach their students through professional development, but that the implementation of those tools can be impactful in students meeting outcomes through safe and effective training as well.




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