Lovette Otegbola is a teacher at her studio Lovette BITS Dance Company in Lagos, Nigeria. Although she studied ballet for 18 years, she says her biggest challenges as a dance teacher in Nigeria are the lack of funding and proper training of instructors, which is not the case in the United States. States where teacher certification programs and seminars abound. Otegbola was to travel to France once a year to attend dance workshops and performances at the Darc Festival in Chateauroux. But a game changer came when Otegbola joined Global Ballet Teachers, an online community offering free lessons, technique lessons and resources specifically aimed at helping teachers. “Global Ballet Teachers gives me the opportunity to be exposed to training without barriers,” says Otegbola. “I don’t have to travel or pay a ton of money to get these opportunities. The teachers are also amazing and patient and don’t look down on you if you haven’t been training since you were 3.”
Global Ballet Teachers was created by Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Cecilia Iliesiu and longtime teacher of the company’s DISCOVER DANCE program, Lauren Kirchner. While the program officially launched in April 2021, work began in May 2020 as Iliesiu gave virtual classes during the pandemic on a platform called Ballet Together. A person linked to ballet teachers in Nigeria had contacted Ballet Together, asking for advice on training instructors in the West African country. The message was passed on to Iliesiu and in June 2020 she was offering weekly online ballet lessons for teachers in Nigeria and engaging in conversations about the teaching resources they needed.
“There are teacher training and certification programs, such as the Royal Academy of Dance, the American Ballet Theater National Training Curriculum or the PNB Teachers’ Seminar,” says Iliesiu. “These are all amazing, but it costs money and requires time and travel [if not offered virtually]. These factors can make it difficult for people in West Africa, for example, who just need basic information but don’t have the ability to travel or pay for those courses.
Kirchner also points out that many teacher training programs focus on developing pre-professional dancers. “Many of our instructors teach community classes, so the goal of Global Ballet Teachers is to provide them with the tools they need to then apply to their specific communities,” says Kirchner.
Together, Iliesiu and Kirchner have put together a 12-week Ballet Program for Beginners Level 1 course offered online in January 2021 (and again in August). The courses have attracted participants not only from Nigeria, but also from Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, USA, UK and Russia. The free program covered everything from ballet history, vocabulary and technique to music and classroom management. Teachers then worked on developing a curriculum plan, creating combinations, and developing a quarterly curriculum. The program ended with a choreography class.
Additionally, Global Ballet Teachers has provided many opportunities for teachers to connect and learn from each other. The group has its own Whatsapp chat for continuous communication between members. In May 2021, Global Ballet Teachers also began offering “Teacher Chats,” led by Dance Theater of Harlem dancer Stephanie Rae Williams, in which participants could log on Zoom to discuss topics such as teaching during COVID, musicality and stretching for each level. Members also got a behind-the-scenes look at PNB through a monthly “Backstage at the Ballet” series, giving teachers insight into the making of the company’s digital productions.
Sarah Boulos, founder of the Society of Performing Arts in Nigeria (SPAN), completed the Level 1 Beginner Ballet Syllabus course. “The program allowed me to be much more specific, deliberate and intentional about how I wanted to teach,” says Boulos. “It also allowed me to write my lesson plan in a different way to suit the students in my class.”
Last February, Boulos invited Iliesiu to Nigeria to lead a five-day in-person teachers’ workshop and perform at his dance school’s graduation gala. Iliesiu also donated leotards, skirts, tights and leggings provided by several brands. Boulos says she is already working on hosting Iliesiu again next year for another teachers’ workshop.
One of Otegbola’s highlights has been taking virtual master classes with top dancers, including New York City Ballet associate artistic director and former principal dancer Wendy Whelan.
“Beginning to teach for Global Ballet Teachers during the pandemic has been such an inspiration,” says Whelan. “It was the first time in my life that I had to really break things down into such a bare essence for other dancers living halfway around the world. It was like hitting a refresh button, not only in terms of my own knowledge of ballet, but also in terms of ideas of imagery, communication, and rhythm. I realized that there was no way to share my knowledge or creatively connect with these students without slowing down and entering the experience from a whole new angle and changing my perspective.”
Global Ballet Teachers now has members from over 40 countries, including Mexico, Russia, Argentina, Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Canada, Australia and South Africa. As countries begin to resume normal hours since the start of the pandemic, Iliesiu and Kirchner are working to adapt classes to a more manageable format for everyone. This includes offering its certification courses through Google Classrooms to streamline content and allow participants to progress at their own pace.
“We take our course syllabus and break things down into three sections that cover the same material, so it’s a much shorter time commitment on everyone’s part,” says Kirchner.
Global Ballet Teachers continues to seek individuals interested in sharing their unique skills and creating new classes or workshops for the community. Upcoming certification courses include Music for Ballet Class (created by Andrew Holdsworth, a pianist in the UK who produced all the music for the Royal Academy of Dance program) and Pre-Ballet Syllabus (by Cinthya Marisol, teacher of ballet in Mexico).
“I think my biggest takeaway [from this experience] was how, when teachers come together to learn from each other, amazing things can happen,” says Iliesiu.