How Global Ballet Teachers Connected Instructors Worldwide and Made Training Tools Accessible

June 7, 2022

Lovette Otegbola is a teacher at her studio Lovette BITS Dance Company in Lagos, Nigeria. While she has studied ballet for 18 years, she says her biggest challenges as a dance teacher in Nigeria are lack of funding and proper instructor training, which is not the case in the U.S. where teacher certification programs and seminars abound. Otegbola had to travel to France once a year to attend dance workshops and performances at the Festival Darc in Châteauroux. But a game changer came when Otegbola joined Global Ballet Teachers, an online community offering free courses, technique classes and resources specifically geared towards helping teachers. “Global Ballet Teachers offers 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 so amazing and patient and don’t look down on you if you haven’t been training since the age of 3.”

Global Ballet Teachers was created by Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Cecilia Iliesiu and Lauren Kirchner, a long-time teacher in the company’s DISCOVER DANCE program.  While the program officially launched in April 2021, the work began in May 2020 while Iliesiu was teaching virtual classes during the pandemic on a platform called Ballet Together. A person connected to ballet teachers in Nigeria had reached out to Ballet Together, asking for guidance on training instructors in the West African country. The message was passed along to Iliesiu and by June 2020, she was offering weekly ballet classes online for the teachers in Nigeria and engaging in conversations about the educational resources they needed. 

“There are teacher training and certification programs out there, like the Royal Academy of Dance, American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum or PNB’s Teachers’ Seminar,” explains Iliesiu.  “Those are all amazing, but it costs money and requires time and travel [if not offered virtually]. Those factors can make it difficult for people in West Africa, for example, who just need some base information but don’t have the ability to travel or pay for those courses.”

Kirchner also points out that many teacher training programs are focused on developing pre-professional dancers. “Many of our instructors are teaching community-based classes, so the goal of Global Ballet Teachers is to get them the tools they need to then apply to their specific communities,” explains Kirchner. 

Together, Iliesiu and Kirchner put together a 12-week Level 1 Beginner Ballet Syllabus course offered online in January 2021 (and again in August). The courses drew participants from not only Nigeria but Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda, the U.S., the U.K. and Russia.The free program covered everything from ballet history, vocabulary and technique to music and class management. The teachers then worked on building a curriculum outline, creating combinations and developing a quarterly syllabus. The program wrapped up with a course in choreography. 

Cecilia Iliesiu, in black shorts and a gray tank top, leads a class of Dancers in an indoor studio. She energetically speaks instructions, head lifted slightly, with both arms outstretched in port de bras a la seconde. The class of Dancers, dressed in various dancewear, copy her position facing her at the front of the room.

In addition, Global Ballet Teachers has provided numerous avenues for teachers to connect and learn from one another. The group has its own Whatsapp chat for ongoing communication among members. In May 2021, Global Ballet Teachers also began offering “Teacher Chats,” led by Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Stephanie Rae Williams, in which participants could connect on Zoom to discuss topics like teaching during COVID, musicality, and stretching for each level. Members also got a peekbehind the curtain at PNB through a monthly “Backstage at the Ballet” series, offering teachers a look at the making of the company’s digital productions. 

Sarah Boulos, founder of the Society of Performing Arts in Nigeria (SPAN), attended the Level 1 Beginner Ballet Syllabus course. “The program allowed me to be much more precise, deliberate and intentional about how I wanted to teach,” says Boulos. “It also allowed me to write my lesson plan in a different manner to adapt to the students in my class.”

This past February, Boulos invited Iliesiu to Nigeria to lead a five-day teacher workshop in person and perform at her 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 teacher workshop. 

Cecilia Iliesiu, dressed in a green leotard and navy athletic shorts, stands in sous-sus on pointe at a wooden barre. Head slightly inclined, she speaks instructions to four students in purple leotards, also in sous-sus facing the barre. Two of the students are on pointe.

One of the highlights for Otegbola has been taking virtual master classes with prominent dancers, including New York City Ballet associate artistic director and former principal dancer Wendy Whelan.

“Starting to teach for Global Ballet Teachers during the pandemic was such a source of inspiration,” says Whelan. “It was the first time in my life that I’d really had to break things down to such a bare essence for other dancers living on the other side of the world. It was like pressing a refresh button, not only in regards to my own knowledge of ballet, but also toward ideas of imagery, communication and pace. I became aware that there was no way to share my knowledge or connect creatively to these students without slowing down and entering the experience from a whole new angle and shifting my perspective.

Global Ballet Teachers now has members from more than 40 countries, including Mexico, Russia, Argentina, Nigeria, Ghana, the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa. As countries start to resume normal schedules since the pandemic began, Iliesiu and Kirchner are working to adapt the courses to a format that is more manageable for everyone. This includes offering its certification courses through Google Classrooms to streamline content and allow participants to move at their own pace. 

“We are taking our syllabus course and breaking things down into three sections that cover the same materials, so that it’s a much smaller time commitment on everyone’s part,” says Kirchner. 

Global Ballet Teachers continues to look for people who are interested in sharing their unique skills and creating new courses or workshops for the community. Upcoming certification courses include Music for Ballet Class (created by Andrew Holdsworth, a pianist in the U.K. who produced all the music for the Royal Academy of Dance curriculum) and Pre-Ballet Syllabus (by Cinthya Marisol, a ballet teacher in Mexico). 

“I think my biggest takeaway [from this experience] has been how, when teachers come together to learn from each other, incredible things can happen,” says Iliesiu.