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Ballet Talk for Dancers

The Good, the bad and the ugly


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For many reasons, I have been taking drop-in classes in my residential area. The difference between taking drop-in classes where I live and taking them while on vacation is that I can take a drop-in class with the same teacher for several months if I do this where I live, and that in itself can make a difference. However, I have learned more than I thought I would and it hasn't all been about ballet technique! One of the bigger realizations is the huge difference between the personal agendas of the different instructors. And, I have come to the awarness that it is crucial to know what the instructor's agenda is before making a commitment to the class. Before this, I would always make my decision on whether or not I would stay with a studio based on the ambiance of the studio (size, floors, lighting, etc.), and the size of the class and the style of ballet the instructor uses (Cecchetti, Vaganova, RAD, etc.). However, if the instructor's agenda does not match the student's agenda, the program is less likely to succeed. By agenda, I mean what the instructor hopes to achieve with his/her students. Some expect their students (especially the younger students) to go on to a higher level each year, others simply hope to enable their students to move with grace and good form. Some instructors try to teach more technique than others, while others are hoping for more musiciality and appreciation for the art form of ballet. And of course, each instructor feels only he/she is right. The only problem I found with taking these classes (three different instructors every week for six weeks - WHEW!) is trying to remember what each instructor wants in the way of port de bras, foot placement on some particular steps (pique turns) and angles at the barre (I was corrected yesterday because I turned to angle myself when doing developpes at the barre). But a big enlightenment came when I attended several classes with women who had been taking classes for years and had not progressed much beyond the first year. I found they were content in their style of dance and didn't really care if they progressed. Heavens! I had never seen that before. So I realized a lot of how we preceive ourselves (in many ways, other than just dance) is how much we are exposed to "normal". Since most of my classes have been with young teenage girls, I had forgotton what is "normal" for a person of my age (48). This was good because I am challenged more by dancing with the younger set, bad because I expect myself to continually keep up with these teenage girls as they progress and ugly because, well, use your own imagination! :lol: I would love to know what you think about taking a drop-in class whether on vacation or where you live, and also what you think about losing a sense of what is normal.

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As it happens, I just came from a week's vacation where I took drop-in classes at my vacation destination(s). The classes were loads of fun and very interesting--I would be very happy to take more classes with the "drop-in" teachers. In fact, it was a little frustrating to only have 1 or 2 classes with the "drop-in" teachers--I would've preferred about 5 at least.


Still, it also made me appreciate my "home" teachers, who are all at one studio and are quite up-front about the fact that they have different styles ("there are different ways to do this, but this is the way I want to see it...") It didn't hurt that one of the "drop-in" teachers commented favorably on my "home" training.


As for what the teachers expect, you are quite right that it is different from teacher to teacher, and that teachers even react differently to different students based on what they think the students' goals might be. One of my teachers told me recently that in adult classes it can be difficult because there are relatively few adult students who have the time or inclination to work actively on improving rather than just taking class to maintain skill or for exercise.


You do really have to find a teacher and setup that works for you. But once you find something like that, I've been finding that it's worth sticking with one or a few teachers whose style works for you _and_ who have the opportunity to get to know you and your goals.

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Dancepig, it is really hard to know what “normal” is when you are an older dancer because there aren’t that many older dancers to begin with and what can be considered normal is dependent on so many factors.


By about age 50 you will have lost about 25% of your fast twitch muscle fibers, which means you are a whole lot slower and can jump much less higher than your teenage classmates. These muscle fibers are never to be replaced. Probably about 10% of your nerve endings are simply dead. Think of them as burned out, also never to be replaced. The elasticity of your muscles decreases. Your bones are becoming less dense and developing little nodules that decrease your range of motion. Your metabolism is changing and fat seems to come just from thinking about food. Your body shape changes in ways that make dance less easy.


In general we start this physical decline in our young 30s. The decline usually accelerates some time in the mid 50s. Nothing can prevent it, though exercise can slow the rate of decline.


I mean this is all major league depressing when you first think about it.


But no one is immune. And if we accept these factors and just think for a moment, we see that it isn’t fair to compare ourselves with teenagers. We aren’t comparable either physically or mentally for that matter. That’s another thing. Generally, teens learn physical movements faster than older folk.


Experience is another factor. If you learn something at an early age, it is much easier to retain or repeat what you learned than if you learned it at an older age.


I think for we older dancers (I’m 59) class is a personal experience for that day. Tomorrow has no guarantees.

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Garyecht -- what depressing stuff to read at the start of my day (LOL)!!! In all seriousness, although I agree with the idea of not beating yourself up for what you can no longer do, I don't think there has to be a dramatic drop in what you can do as a function of age. And as to what we are able to learn and repeat being easier at an earlier age, I do have to disagree on that one completely.


If the truth be told, college has not been nearly challenging enough for me the second time around. In many instances, I have had to add the challenge to my classes and their various projects myself by taking my studies to a much higher level than that required.


Is it the increased focus and desire we have as we get older? Or is it the very knowledge that we are, in fact, finite beings, and we simply put more into every day? Or, is it the fact that if we have pushed our minds throughout our lives in careers/pursuits that require constant learning (such as, for me, writing), there will be no discernible difference as we age?


Or -- sometimes if we simply stay young at heart, this translates to our minds and bodies.


I'm not sure, anyway, just how important a loss of muscle twitch is, when compared to the maturity of interpretation you can acquire as an older dancer.


And, in trying to simultaneously address the issue of teachers with agendas, and how classes of adult students can vary, I have, in fact, taken adult classes in a variety of schools, and I do see differences in the level of seriousness -- which is often established by the teacher. I chose the last teacher I studied with, prior to re-attending college, for his incredible musicality and penchant for character style. I referred to his classes as "the icing on the cake" -- in other words, don't go to him for the basics, but for corrections and information about nuances of style.


However, the trade-off for his wonderful teaching was that he had a coterie of students he socialized with too much to ever truly correct. Several of them were very adept at 'popping up' en pointe without ever really knowing their fundamentals. They were deluded into thinking they were far more advanced than they were. This is one of the problems I have, by the way, with students thinking that getting en pointe is the acme of dance. But, if a teacher, no matter how good, doesn't do anything to dispel this notion, then that's yet another agenda that's being promoted.


This same teacher tolerated a good deal of talking and socializing in class. He didn't appreciate it at all, but because he socialized himself so much with these students, he couldn't overtly put an end to this. Instead, he'd sometimes react passive-aggressively by giving an impossible center combination.


It's very, very difficult to find all things you desire in just one dance teacher, and while I don't advocate 'studio shopping' (in the sense of constantly flitting about town, taking from this one and that one), I think it is sometimes wise to take from at least one other teacher, if your needs aren't largely met by just one.

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Gee Gary, that was really uplifting! :):nopity: Now, while I appreciate a slap in the face now and then, and sometimes it is needed, it can also be said a little knowledge goes a long way. :rolleyes: Sometimes if we don't know our own limitations, we can rise above them, and then again sometimes not. I didn't mean to imply I was beating myself up when taking classes with only young teenage students, I meant sometimes it is helpful to get a reality check, which you were able to do with the written language. However, by taking classes with younger students, I am much more challenged and exposed to a different level of instruction. The class with the younger students is the only class where we do cabrioles (petite) and a double pirouette is the expected norm. On the other hand, it is nice to be in a class with your own peers and be able to do a level more in line with your chronological age. I have been very fortunate to have been able to experience both. But, again, it also comes back to the individual instructor. In the class with the younger students, the instructor is 78 and can still do most of the moves (not too many of the larger jumps, but most all of the others), so if I make a noise about my age, I just get an incredulous look! And, finally, just to play devil's advocate :speechless: , I have to state that if I had to decide between having the muscle twitch thing vs maturity and desire to learn rather than just taking class because my mother wants me to, or having acquired a better sense of purpose and having an appreciation for my opportunity to dance, well, I think I'll have to take the later. Although, having both wouldn't be bad at all! :wacko: Do you think I used enough of the smilies?

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Everything I said about change as we age is depressing on first reading. But once I accept those changes, I feel absolutely no compulsion to compare myself with younger folk and quite frankly feel pretty good about my own progress and ability in dance.


Funny face, I’m not at all surprised that you find college in your older age less challenging than you might have expected. We older folk are more mature about learning and sincerely want to learn. We also have more life experience which makes most subjects (excepting math, music, and some sciences) easier for us. College students generally want to get the best grade for the least amount of work.


But that is in regard to cognitive learning. Not the same with motor learning. With respect to motor learning, generally 20 year olds learn faster than do 40 year olds.


I do agree that a big advantage older dancers have over younger dancers in general is the ability to communicate feeling through movement. We have the life experience.

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Garyecht: still gotta argue about the math, music, science aspects. One of the courses we may take to fulfill the math requirement is logic, and I know I received the only "A" in 3 semesters of students taking it. Class discussion was more of a rapport between the professor and I -- the other students just couldn't get it.


As to music, again, I composed my own for my choreography project last year, and I think I'm still growing in this regard.


And science -- well, that comprises a good deal of my day job, in doing medical research.


I believe the key to all of this is consistency. You've got to charge up the brain on a daily basis.


Physically, yes, I understand there is comfort in accepting a degree of limitation -- but frankly, I think the 40s are relatively young. I continue to be inspired by people like Martina winning another Wimbledon title at age 46, or Dorothy Hamill not losing a bit of skating technique, etc. The degree of motivation has to be much higher, but I think people approaching and in middle age have far more potential than most realize.

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