Madeleine Eastoe is passing on the rich knowledge she acquired during her career as a principal artist to the adult-ballet students in our Studios classes. She talks to us about her inspiring teachers, the structure of her classes and why it's good to laugh.
16 Sep 2018
What do you like about taking adult ballet classes?
I like the continuity. My previous experience of teaching had been mainly open classes for students, which are just for one day. When you only have that limited time, it isn’t about major corrections – you’re just trying to instil some ideas. But when you’re locked into teaching a regular class, even if you don’t get the same people, you start to sense a rhythm, and you can build from there. I can set goals, things I want the students to embrace and achieve – things like coordination, poise and posture, weight transfer, alignment, musicality. I definitely don’t dumb it down. With the level three classes that I teach, the students have a real sense of what ballet is about.
When we get away from the barre and into the centre, there’s a little bit more freedom, and we can concentrate on phrasing. When I know that the company is doing a certain ballet, I like to throw in a step from that repertoire, so that if the students see that ballet, they’ll recognise it and know exactly how it feels to do it. For instance, at the moment I’m doing steps that relate to Giselle – jumps, beats, dynamic footwork, maybe a bit of a one-legged adage!
How do you create a sense of a safe space for people who are less confident?
I like to structure my class so that each exercise moves naturally into another – that builds a sense of ease and comfort. Also, when I’m demonstrating, I like to speak about why I’ve put in a certain exercise. Everyone’s goals are different, so I always have options for the more advanced students, for instance to try something on demi-pointe; others can just stay with the safer option and build their technique on that.
I like to have touches of humour in the class. In adult ballet classes a bit of personality and humour can come out and I love that. Once I make people laugh, I feel them relax and become themselves a little more.
How do you interact with the pianist who plays for the class?
The relationship with the pianist is crucial! I’m still learning from the pianists about structuring exercises with the tempo, and I rely on the them to pick up the dynamic of my exercises. It’s a whole dialogue with the musician, getting the rhythm right.
Do you still take class yourself?
Every now and then I do. I don’t have a regular commitment, but before I teach my class I will get here early and go to a spare studio and try out all my exercises to make sure they work.
What are the benefits for non-professionals of doing ballet class?
It gives you a focus. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes of time just for you. It’s the craft of putting energy in, but making it seem like it’s easy: smoothing out the bumps. It’s a real practice, coming into the studio. It’s a combination of concentration and relaxation, an awareness of yourself. There are a lot of studies out there about the benefit of ballet, especially into older age. I have a good friend who started dancing when she was 57, and is doing up to eight classes a week, and she loves it!
It’s not about being a ballerina that’s going to go on stage, it’s about feeling something in yourself, and having music that helps you do that. And the sense of community is lovely.
Which teachers were inspiring for you, and why?
Fiona Tonkin. The way she would demonstrate was the way I wished that I could do the exercise! I think I’m a visual learner, so if someone does something and it’s articulate and precise, I feel like I’m clear on what the essence of the exercise is. I loved Ai-Gul Gaisina; I loved Megan Connelly and Noelle Shader’s coaching classes, which brought everything back to basics and consolidated the foundations of your technique. Yannick Boquin, who used to come to us as a guest teacher – his style was very French, with very detailed footwork. He was also exquisite in the way he demonstrated, a pleasure to watch. Johnny Eliasen, another guest teacher – he makes you work without realising that you’re working, and he makes sure that there’s a challenge for everyone. Vicki Attard – she wouldn’t let you get away with anything, and sometimes you need that! Michaela Kirkaldie was my second-year coach at The Australian Ballet School, and I’ve never worked as hard, or achieved as much, as I did that year. She really rewarded your commitment, and I try to do the same as a teacher – to let students know when they’ve achieved something, whether it be big or small.
What do you find the most rewarding part of teaching?
I’m inspired by the people who come. Ballet isn’t easy, but they are committed to coming in and achieving their goals.
I also love being able to work out problems for someone – when they’ve been struggling with something and you maybe cue them with different words and they get it, that satisfaction that you see in their face. I like being a good messenger, sending the things I've learnt onward.