Freeze frame from an online ballet video.
The Internet has reinforced do-it-yourself instincts in practically every conceivable area, especially education. But recent reports of young girls trying to learn ballet from online videos, bypassing traditional classes, are scaring real-life teachers.
"When I looked at some of these videos, I was appalled" says Kay Mazzo, co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet. "None of it was correct."
Mazzo says that in the videos she looked at, even the shoes were wrong.
The problem, says Mazzo, is not just that young girls may learn incorrectly but that they could severely injure themselves. "They could easily break an ankle or a knee," she says.
Mazzo says that while the traditions of ballet may seem slow and academic to many, they exist for good reasons, not the least of which is the safety of those who are learning it.
A young girl may start ballet lessons at the age of 7 or 8, studying for four or five years before she is ready to go "on pointe" — in other words, practice steps in which the weight of her whole body will be supported by the tip of her toes. Mazzo says it's extraordinarily difficult and time consuming to learn the proper ways to distribute weight.
"It's so many different things to learn, and you need someone watching every minute," she says. "You need a teacher."
Even if girls do learn from the Web sites, Mazzo says they're likely to learn the wrong approaches. Of her own school, which is the training academy for the New York City Ballet, Mazzo says, "We have a very specific way of teaching, and another may be confusing." Even when her school uses videos, she says that they have to be carefully coordinated with what is being taught in the studio.
Mazzo said that she'd much rather have a girl come into her studio with no training than with incorrect training. "It's a detriment," she says.