A Grand Jeté: Breaking the Script as a Filmmaker and Teacher

In ballet, a grand jeté is a high leap with one leg stretched forward and the other back, like a “split” in the air.

Hélène Walter, a Mindful Teacher based near Cannes, France, enjoys dancing in her free time, but when we spoke with her, she shared about grands jetés in her life, in the classroom, and in film.

We imagine the students Hélène works with will grow leaps and bounds from the dedication she brings to her work.


Name: Hélène Walter
Cohort: Mindful Teacher Class of 2017
My work: Volunteer Special Needs Teacher and Filmmaker
Location: Spéracèdes, Cannes, France
Connect with me: Facebook

How did you stumble upon this path?
I had practiced meditation and yoga for a decade when I realized, “This is so beautiful, why we don’t teach children?” I visited my close friend in San Francisco, Lisa Spendov. She knows my deep love for children and she’d just finished the Mindful Educator Essentials course. The minute she told me about it,  I thought “I’m in! This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

When I got trained by Mindful Schools and started to teach mindfulness, I got inspired to make a film about what’s happening in the U.S. with mindfulness in education, to help spread the word in France and around the world. My friends in San Francisco and at Mindful Schools were my guides; they put me in touch with all the wonderful people in the film. It’s been a year and a half of producing and distributing the film, May I Be Happy.

What kind of kid were you? What did you struggle with?
My father was a military officer, very strict. Anything about feelings, showing affection, was not okay.  I learned how not to connect to my emotions. But I felt there was injustice there – my parents did not trust me to choose things for myself. So I felt sad deep inside. This is still ongoing for me: the desire that every child has the access to inner freedom, to the tool of mindfulness. Every kid has unique challenges – school pressures, violence in their neighborhood – my background brought me to feel strongly that mindfulness is their birthright.

Tell us about the students you teach. What keeps you inspired with them?
I teach children and teens with trauma who have been pulled out of our French educational system. In the first class it always goes okay, but then in the second class they begin to reveal themselves. One needed a lot of attention, another can’t sit still, so we decided I could meet with them separately. I discovered that “the script” doesn’t always work – I’ve learned I need to first build a connection with each unique student.

When I come into a room to teach mindfulness, it’s like a great split in the air, a grand jeté – I need to make a quick leap to my resources: to teach from my heart and my intuition. My ability to make a relationship is right there, inside me. So this doesn’t feel like a challenge after all.

If I feel the disconnection between me and a child, I have learned to say, “Today we’re having difficulty. It’s complicated for me and for you.” Just by naming it, everything changes – then we get these moments of grace. With my other group of teenagers (with developmental delays), it goes very smoothly. I do it for those grace moments.

Tell us about the process of making the film.
Making the film also required that we follow our intuition. Then it happened very organically. We didn’t write a plan or a script. We jumped in. I never asked anyone to do a specific practice or lesson, or to repeat something for the camera. Even the editing of the film ended up in the sequence of how we filmed it. Because my husband Eric made himself and his camera invisible in the room, we just accepted what was there, and it turned out to be exactly right.

For our next project, we want to move on to May I Be at Peace by showing mindfulness programs in other countries.

What’s something fun you love to do with family, or by yourself?
What I really love to do is dance. In the car, when I’m hanging up clothes to dry, I love to put on music and dance.

I have a big collection of photos of heart-shapes I find in nature. Once you learn to see hearts in the shapes all around you, you begin to see them everywhere.

Hearts are everywhere

I also love to sail with my family. We love to be on the water. When we are in the middle of nowhere, it’s so special to me – pure mindfulness. We go at a very slow pace – it’s like meditation all day.

Hélène with her son Robin and husband Eric

Thank you Hélène for sharing your story!

If you’re interested in sharing your own story with our community here, or if you want to learn more about joining our community, simply reach out to us at community@mindfulschools.org. We love hearing more about your experiences and what you’re learning.