Girls Risk Injury with YouTube Do-It-Yourself Ballet Should young girls learn ballet from the Internet? Professional dance teachers don't think so. Some say it's actually dangerous
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Girls Risk Injury with YouTube Do-It-Yourself Ballet

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Girls Risk Injury with YouTube Do-It-Yourself Ballet

Girls Risk Injury with YouTube Do-It-Yourself Ballet

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OK. So, you know, there's some activities that just don't lend themselves to a do-it-yourself approach to learning. Skydiving, for example, flying a plane, taking on the parallel bars, one wrong move and the chances of hurting or even killing yourself, pretty high. And that's why having a trained instructor is key. Apparently, it is the same thing with ballet. We're not talking about doing a plie or a pirouette, but going on point, dancing on the tips of your toes.

It takes years to learn how to do this without hurting yourself. And most dancers actually have to get permission from their instructors before they can even go out and buy the special shoes needed to do the move. But as we read in an article from the Wall Street Journal, some young girls are going online to get on point, bypassing teachers altogether, training and tradition. We found it so interesting. We decided to do what we do in that case, Rip It...

(Soundbite of "Law & Order" theme)

MARTIN: From the Headlines. With us in the studio this morning is Kay Mazzo. She's the co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet, the training academy of the New York City Ballet. Kay, thanks for coming in this morning.

Ms. KAY MAZZO (Co-Chairman, Faculty, School of American Ballet) Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, first, before we get in to the debate about point, explain what it means to people who aren't familiar.

Ms. MAZZO: Well, when you study ballet, you usually study for - if you start at the age of seven or eight, you study it for about four years, or five years, learning all of the academic beginnings of ballet. And you have five positions. You learn how to point your feet, turn out from the hip, do your demi-plies with your knee over your toe because you don't want to hurt your knees.

MARTIN: I remember these things.

Ms. MAZZO: Yeah. So, it's very academic and very slow at the beginning, and then you are completely right, after about four or five years, your teachers will say, now it's time to go on point. So, you - we send them to either Freed's or Capezio's and say to them, go and get fitted for your point shoes. And you start the point work at the bar almost like you start their beginning ballet classes when they're seven or eight, very slowly.

MARTIN: What's so dangerous about this? What's so difficult about this, rather?

Ms. MAZZO: Well, if you don't learn to do it the right way, you won't be able to dance professionally. You won't be able to dance at all, if you don't know how to roll up through your feet, get the strength in your feet, in your arches to be able to do that correctly, learn how to land correctly. So...

MARTIN: So this isn't just the ball of the foot?

Ms. MAZZO: No. You're going up on your toes.

MARTIN: Up on the tippy, tippy toe.

Ms. MAZZO: Yes. And then, when you come down through that, you don't plop down on your heel. You're going to - you go roll through your foot again, which takes a lot of concentration and strength in the feet, in the abdomen, in the whole body, learning how to do that. And you need somebody there to teach you what to do. You have to have a teacher say, when you roll up on point, get over more on your big toe rather than your little toe. Otherwise, your ankle's going to go. And it's so many, so many different things to learn and you need somebody there watching every minute.

MARTIN: So, let's talk about this phenomenon of young girls, in particular, trying to get a leg up in this world and teach themselves how to go on point. When is the first time you heard about this phenomenon?

Ms. MAZZO: Fairly recently. And then when I looked at some of the videos, I was appalled...

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. MAZZO: At what these children were doing to their feet and what could happen to their bodies, their knees. I mean, they could fall, break an ankle, break a knee. To try to turn out, you have to turn out - you turn out - you turn your feet out into a position called first position or fifth position. And to do that, you turn your hip joint also. So, you have to do that correctly and there was none of that. The shoes that I looked at were wrong. They were too big on the young ladies...

MARTIN: Some of these girls are making their own shoes, right?

Ms. MAZZO: And that's it. Yes.

MARTIN: Putting card board at the bottom, and wood, even. That sounds incredibly uncomfortable.

Ms. MAZZO: And you know, when you start learning to dance correctly on point, it hurts, not a whole lot, but it hurts somewhat. When I was seeing these girls do - I mean, they look - I was pained watching them, and it wasn't - none of it was correct.

MARTIN: So, there are a lot of instructional ballet videos out there, though. What's the difference between learning some of those positions at home and taking it upon yourself to learn through these other YouTube videos at home?

Ms. MAZZO: Well, I think, you know, if it's in instructional video that you have a qualified teacher teaching, you can use that as a little bit of an assistance to your classes, I guess. At our school, we don't encourage that, because we have a specific technique and a syllabus. So we want the children only to study what we teach them. Otherwise, it's too confusing. But if you have a ballet class in a studio somewhere and they say, go ahead and I'll give you your class here at the studio and then, you can take that home and look at it, as long as it's a qualified teacher that's teaching that.

MARTIN: I mean, these young girls, I assume, are people who can't get into dance classes for whatever reason. They don't have the money or they just come from a neighborhood where they don't have access to these kinds of classes. They don't really feel like they have any alternative. But is this something they're doing to try to get into a dance class? Would you even accept someone who would try to teach themselves and...

Ms. MAZZO: No.

MARTIN: Come into a real, legit course?

Ms. MAZZO: No. We would much rather, when they're six or seven or eight or nine, come with no training before and as - definitely not training at home. Definite - because you have to re-teach everything.

MARTIN: Also, it's actually - it's negative...

Ms. MAZZO: It's a detriment. Absolute detriment.

MARTIN: You'd rather have someone who had no training...

Ms. MAZZO: Yes.

MARTIN: Than someone who would try to teach themselves.

Ms. MAZZO: Yes. And you know, most of the time now, in the big major cities at least, you have schools that do community auditions and have scholarships. So, if you really want to dance, you should find out where a good, reputable school is. Go there, audition and see if they have - if, you know, if they can take you.

MARTIN: But is there something - it's specifically about going on point, right? I mean, just learning how to dance in general, or if you dance at home, you dance with their friends and if you have a talent for it, that's not dangerous to do at home.

Ms. MAZZO: No, of course not. I mean, that's fine. But if you want to be - if you want to learn how to dance classical ballet, then you have to go some place. You have to have a teacher there looking at you, looking at your front, your back, your side, looking how you learn to study the ballet part of it first, the classical ballet. Then the point after a couple of years. All of that's important. You need that beginning, because if you don't, if you don't have a good solid beginning, you're never going to be able to be, as you call it, a ballerina.


You know, if I may, Kay, one of the things the Internet does is that it eradicates gatekeepers. You know, in the world of journalism, people saw editors as gatekeepers and then bloggers came along. We don't need your stinking fact-checkers. And even, we don't want the gatekeepers of professional boxing so they, Kimbo Slice and extreme fighters, went around the system by having just these viral videos. You're saying that ballet is a different sort of thing. Ballet goes back hundreds of years. It's a tradition that must be taught. Is the Internet doing anything to democratize ballet at all? Or is the ballet community kind of - has to defend itself from the assault that the Internet represents?

Ms. MAZZO: Well, I actually don't know the answer to that question. But I can tell you that, if you look at any dancer who's - if you want to dance professionally as a ballet dancer, which is what our school is about, you have to go and study at a school. You cannot...

MARTIN: It's a credential that you need.

Ms. MAZZO: Well, and you're not going to learn.

PESCA: There's no way around.

Ms. MAZZO: You're not going to learn. So, in a professional ballet company, I would say that there is not one dancer who didn't study at a school. It's just - it's impossible. You need hands-on commitment by the teacher that, you know - we bend the neck of certain way. You have to lift the leg higher. You have to turn it out. I mean, and it's almost one-on-one, you know, that this is what you do.

MARTIN: Is there any effort, though? I mean, clearly these are girls who want to dance. They could have talent. They just don't have access to the classes for whatever reason, maybe socio-economic. Is the world of ballet doing any kind of outreach? Or...

Ms. MAZZO: A lot of schools are. We do - as I said, we do community auditions. We go out to all the different areas of New York and try to get people to come. We have over a million dollar of scholarships that we pay yearly for our students. So, I feel that if somebody really wants to dance, we're going to find them and, you know, I do hope that's the case.

MARTIN: And the big lesson, don't try to do it by yourself.

Ms. MAZZO: No. Please don't. Please don't.

MARTIN: Kay Mazzo is the co-chairman of faculty at the School of American Ballet, the training academy of the prestigious New York City Ballet. Kay, thanks very much for coming in. We appreciate it.

Ms. MAZZO: Thank you for having me.

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