“I attended the La Scala Academy Ballet School from the first to the eighth year, the whole program, under the direction of Anna Maria Prina, graduating in 2004. I then set off on a career as a professional dancer, first in Italy but then on to London, the United States, and Spain.
After closing that chapter I returned to school, where it all began, enrolling in the Course for Dance Instructors, completing the two-year program and then adding the third year reserved for former students.”
We are talking to Federica Bagnera, a “twice-former” student who met with us for the La Scala Hall of Fame.
We asked her to share her thoughts on the Dance Instructors Course, now an accredited three-year university program recognized by the Italian Ministry of Education (MIUR).
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Federica, what was it like to come back to school after all that time?
It was like coming home after years of being away. And I still feel totally at home.
I mean, I spent my entire childhood in the Cecchetti room, the cafeteria, the dressing room. They are my places, my rooms. It was wonderful to be in them again, and of course to find the people I knew.
But it wasn’t just beautiful, in a certain sense it was also right, the only thing possible. A destiny that I had to fulfill.
A sort of fairy tale?
Well, it’s not a simple as that. I had to come to terms with the fact that I was no longer a little girl, the eleven-year-old girl I was when I started there. I had to work out new relations with the instructors, Ms. Colombini first and foremost, the head teacher of the course I was taking.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a teacher?
It is a choice rooted in my childhood and in my nature…
When I was little, while lots of my peers were fantasizing about dancing on one stage or another, I loved to help them. I liked to spend time figuring out their mistakes and how to correct them; it was just natural for me to offer my help to others. I don’t want to sound immodest, but it was like a vocation.
Actually, I have a lot of different hobbies and for a while I was considering other alternatives. But I began to miss the barre, the routine of the ballerina, and the gilded world of the performing arts and the audience. My mind kept returning to the image of me as a girl, so concerned with getting it right. Now my path is clear, this is my future.
You are now involved in two very different realms. Tell us about them…
In the morning I teach the national rhythmic gymnastics team. Since the end of 2016 I have been working at the Centro Tecnico di Desio with Emanuela Maccarani. Five years ago, after Rio de Janeiro, they were looking for a replacement. I had just gotten my diploma as an instructor and was recommended for the spot.
The class is made up of a mixed group of athletes: the youngest are 16 and the oldest are 25.
In the afternoon, on the other hand, I am at Teatro Carcano, where I teach ballet to 16- and 17-year-olds. The level is equivalent to the sixth and seventh year at La Scala.
On the level of relations, Carcano is an environment very similar to the Academy Ballet School: the students address me formally, they are very composed, there is a certain rigor. The gym, on the other hand, has different rules and there is a camaraderie that I wasn’t used to before. As a consequence, the whole teaching approach changes. But in any case, teaching varies very much from one student to the next.
Is there something that has completely changed the way you look at being a ballerina, based on your teaching experience?
The entire course was a journey of discovery, unending discovery. It was almost destabilizing, and overwhelming. It is a very demanding course—I remember studying constantly—but the more I studied the more I wanted to learn.
I would never have imagined, before, that being a teacher could mean so many different things and involve everything I have ever learned.
Exactly, so tell me about a good teacher…
I must absolutely mention Ms. Colombini… I often do, because she is a constant source of inspiration: every single word she says has a certain power and opens up a new path of learning.
Yes, a good teacher has to have in-depth knowledge of things, the subject they are teaching, but also of people. They have to be a bit of a psychologist. The Dance Teachers program wisely mixes the two disciplines, in equal measure.
Above all, a good teacher is one who knows how to get you to do things.
If you do not know how to get your students to put what you teach into practice, you are an educator but not a teacher.
I would venture to say that teaching is a talent, something that you refine with practical experience.
And so to whom would you recommend the Diploma Program for Dance Instructors?
I am convinced that the course is extraordinary, a truly quality program led by excellent professionals. And I am not just talking about the dance teachers but about everyone on the teaching staff, for example, Omar De Bartolomeo or the musicologist Fabio Sartorelli. They are really at a level that is hard to match!
But as I was suggesting before, those who take the course should have to have a certain sort of experience behind them. Having had a career as a professional ballerina is important, otherwise you don’t have the tools you need to understand the student and give them the tools—both practical and mental—that they need.