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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Please, NO motivational replies...

Guest bugsy

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I'm going to ask the group's opinion on something and I'd like sincere replies please. I know that everyone's intentions are well based, but I'd like to know the truth: Are there some people who simply aren't cut out for ballet and who should simply throw in the towel? As most of you know, I recently started taking ballet lessons and I'm feeling extremely frustrated. It seems as if everything is difficult for me to learn and carry out, yet I see others in my classes doing them with ease. I look forward to hearing from you all. Thank you. :rolleyes:

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Guest beckster

That's the sillist thing I ever heard! The point about being an adult ballet beginner is not whether you're cut out for it, but whether you want to do it and whether you enjoy it. People don't talk about whether they are "cut out" for going to the gym or for swimming or whatever - they just choose a type of exercise that suits them and that they are motivated by. Why should ballet be any different? That's the way I see it, anyway.

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Beckster is right. You've started, as an adult, an activity which is generally accepted as one of the most physically grueling in the book! You're not very far into the mission, and it would be silly if you took up, say, golf, and didn't start getting eagles by the third or fourth lesson, so you give up! I can't remember whether it was Pushkin or Gorki, but he said "talent is WORK!"

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I'm in agreement with what has been said. Wheter you "throw in the towel" should depend on wheter you still enjoy doing ballet, not on your supposed talent or lack of it.


(The problem with judging talent in ballet is that you do not know wheter you've got it until you've tried. Many of the gifts and qualities (especially the mental qualities) are emergent - they appear (or not) only with use, and therefore one cannot generally say much about an invidual's gifts until they've had at least few years of training - and even then both kinds of surprises are possible. :shrug: )


Talent may determine how much you can achieve and how much work it takes (lack of talent can in many areas can be overcome with extra work), but it does not determine how much fun you have while doing it. A recreational activity is, after all, usually done for the pleasure of doing it.


Ballet is hard. That means that if one is process-motivated (loves the doing and the practicing) ballet can be a rewarding activity - it is not like one would run out of things to practice. :sweating: However, ballet can be a trying endeavour for an achievement-motivated character who gets their pleasure out of making progress, because the gains are often small and slow, and backsliding frequent. (Patience helps.) Most people are a mix of the two.


Bugsy, you write that all the others in your classes are doing things that are difficult to you with ease. This makes me wonder wheter you're either too critical towards yourself or in a class that is too difficult for you. Do your your class mates have a similar amount of experience? What is it exactly that causes the difference in your performance?


If this issue continues to bother you, you might consider taking it up with a teacher at some suitable non-class time. She might recommend another class, something to help with the problem, or just tell you you're doing fine and progressing along the expected path. Remember that since the probability of having all the ballet gifts is low, encountering a few extra hard challenges is natural and to be expected. :wink:



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I would imagine that there are people whose bodies are relatively easily injured by ballet as it can be tough on knees, hips, etc. Good, realistic teaching helps, but still...some bodies are probably not as "robust" to the rigors of ballet. Adult students who are getting lots of injuries or pain should seek a different teacher or a different form of exercise altogether.


Also, there _are_ people who are more naturally "cut out" for ballet--better body proportions, more musicality, better coordination, etc. Others have fewer of these gifts (I am definitely in the latter group!!!).


Progress _is_ slow, so there's not a lot of instant gratification. I don't think that part will change. But only you can decide if you are enjoying the process.


You are, after all, an adult, and you should only do it if, on the whole, you enjoy it (you won't enjoy every minute, but that is a different question.)


Aside: just last night, my technique class teacher was leaving and I was putting on my pointe shoes for a 1/2 hour pointe class. He told me to have fun in pointe, with a bit of an ironic tone. I replied (with a big smile, since it's the truth) that the cool thing about being in adult classes is that I'm only doing pointe because I enjoy it.

So now the teacher just questions my sanity a bit more. ;-)

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I just started ballet in the summer, and I can attest to just how hard ballet is. But, Bugsy, I don't think you and I are alone in this feeling. If you were to ask 50 brand new ballet students what they thought of ballet, I think the vast majority of them would similarly respond with a statement like, "It is so hard to learn." It's the nature of the beast. Ballet is just so unnatural. In that sense, our feelings of frustration are painfully normal. You can use that feeling of frustration in lots of different ways. Actually, I have found my feelings of frustration and embarrassment to be an important part of the process in my growth and development. They motivated me to overcome some of my distorted beliefs about my abilities and body through hard work and perseverence. This helped me to gain at least a small shred of confidence.


It is true that some are more cut out for ballet than others, but we all have a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses. During the summer and throughout most of the fall term, I could only see my faults. Such negative thinking didn't help me improve one bit; rather, I was living out a self-fulfilling prophesy. I thought I had no talent, so I danced like I had no talent. And let me tell you, that didn't help one bit. Did I mention that that didn't help one bit?? :wink: I am now learning to look more realistically about myself, seeing both strengths and weaknesses. I would encourage you to do the same. Because you would be inclined to over-focus on the negatives, I really would challenge you to work hard to identify strengths because you do have them.

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Please excuse the lengthy post, but it seems that you’re not looking for a reply that just says, “Come on, you can do it!” Yes, there are people who shouldn't take ballet, I would say, but for the most part those are people with severe or chronic injuries that can be exacerbated by ballet movements. As I've said elsewhere on this board, I think I spent my first 6 months in ballet class (and that was 3-4 classes a week) learning to point my feet correctly. Progress is indeed slow, and not only that, progress tends to plateau fairly often. I looked up a couple of your old posts, and looked up your ballet journal (very enjoyable, I hope you keep it up). Am I correct that your first class was at the beginning of December, so its only been a little over a month that you’ve been taking classes? I’d say that its way to early to give up! It sounds like you went through a great deal of effort researching ballet classes in your area, and ballet in general, so why waste that effort?

Yes, I was envious of the people in my classes who seemed to go through the exercises effortlessly, the ones who the teacher always placed at the front of the room during center. But two years later, I’m one of those people, and believe me, few of them are ever completely satisfied with their execution of the exercises. I’ve gotten compliments after class on, say, an adagio exercise, and I’ve wanted to scream “but didn’t you see, my supporting leg was completely turned in on the arabesque, I wasn’t pointing my foot properly on the tendu, and my developé is six inches lower that it was last week!” because I’m so frustrated with my own progress. One of the nicest things about ballet is that whatever level you’re at, from beginner professional, is that there is always something that can be improved. Of course, one of the most frustrating things about ballet is that whatever level you’re at, there’s always something that needs to be improved.

Regarding body type- I think you’ll find, as you acquire more facility and a larger vocabulary of steps, that certain body types are better at certain things. Its very common, for instance with someone who doesn’t have great extension to be a good jumper, and vice versa (there are numerous posts on this site about body types). Some people are better at adagio, some at allegro. It’ll take you more than a month and a half to figure out your own particular strengths, though.

If you didn’t seem to have much interest in ballet, and hadn’t gone so far out of your way to pursue the goals that you describe so passionately in your journal, then I wouldn’t try to encourage you. Obviously, ballet isn’t for everyone, but I think that, as long as you’re not looking to join a professional company, the deciding factors are much more mental than physical. I think right now, you’re working your way through a stage that all serious adult beginner ballet dancers go through, and its one of the most difficult. When you’ve been dancing for a few years, you’ll still get extremely frustrated, but at least you can look back on your past accomplishments for motivation. All I can say now is try to enjoy the process (though of course not every minute will be enjoyable) and focus less on specific goals. I like the quote from the New York Dancewear representative in your journal: “If you weren’t meant to dance ballet, they wouldn’t make shoes in your size.”

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I can't contradict anyone's response here, but I have a few observations to add. First of all, progress in ballet tends to happen in fits and starts. It is a matter of realizing you are at a new level, then plateau-ing for a while, maybe backsliding a bit, then realizing you're improving, then a lack of progress, then more. You usually become aware of your improvements only when you're already in the midst of them.


You're still absorbing the most basic aspects of positions and patterns. Don't have unrealistic expectations.


Another thing is that you will find, after several months perhaps, that you are less aware of what the others in your class are doing and more intensely focused on yourself.


Then, if you decide to stay with it, one day, as you're exulting in the joy of moving to music in a disciplined way (for me it was either in adagio or grand allegro), you'll get a rush and realize that all those years of hard work had paid off, if only to produce that one extraordinary moment.

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Guest fastfeets

I've tried to respond to this post twice, but both times it came out sounding motivational....I thought I'd try again.


Just a few thoughts on the subject.


I've been teaching adult beginners. It's a new world for me, and it's been wonderful to see my students progress. It's also been hard to see how frustrated they get.....a real eye opener for me, honestly. I see myself in each one of them, and I realize that we *all* get that frustration, no matter the level of skill. As the others have said, it is a very slow process. Ballet is a lot harder than it looks. You will not learn it in a month, or even a year. You will never stop learning something new. You will never stop progressing. The process is never ending. The change from feeling the clumsy beginner to something quite more adept is gradual, yet realized all at once. It takes a lot of time, and patience...and learning to let yourself be fearless. As children we don't see ourselves. We don't feel uncomfortable and silly trying something unfamiliar. As adults we're more centered in decorum. Falling down isn't funny, spinning til we can't see straight is pointless and silly, and not exuding perfection is unthinkable. But you know what I've discovered as a returning adult student and having gone through those feelings of clumsiness and uncoordination those first years back? It's quite fun to spin til you fall down. Falling down isn't such a bad thing. It doesn't hurt much at all, and it's very easy to get up and keep going. There is nothing pointless and silly about having the courage to step into an art form so difficult that only the greatest of the great are lauded as stars.


That said, I don't believe as an adult student that there is anyone not cut out for ballet classes. I think everyone is capable of doing something productinve that they enjoy. If your heart is in it, that's all that matters. What your body isn't willing to do comfortably now will seem very elementary in time. Be warned, though...by then you'll be on to new steps designed to vex you all over again. ;)



See? again...this sounds too much like motivational speech talk, doesn't it? Really sorry...but it's quite sincere.



Ahh well, keep going, Bugsy. It won't always seem impossible.



ps...you can do it!! (oh come on, i just had to say it... :rolleyes: )

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No. There is no such thing as a person "not made for ballet", unless you are aiming to be a professional ballerina. And even then, there are exceptions. One in particular -- Arianna Lallonne of PNB was told that she was "too tall" to dance professionally. And guess what -- PNB isn't exactly a bad company...


I even knew a girl who had the most "un-ballet" body as you can get but she had built up the skill and strength to do triple pirouettes ON POINTE and can do extremely fast footwork on pointe. She is a modern dancer profesionally but also teaches ballet. Her technique is very strong, but you'd never guess it if you saw her. She'll never be a professional ballerina, but she has managed to make dance a big part of her life.


I say -- if you want to go to the ballet studio and take a class, then go ahead and do so. The only requirement is a love of dance. And guess what -- they don't even take it against you if you can't do the combinations perfectly.

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I would also like to say that whether or not there are people who should not do ballet, being frustrated in the beginning because you can't do something (even when "everyone else" can) is definitely not a sign that you are one of them. Such frustration is part of the learning process, and while it would be nice to minimize it I believe that the best teacher with the best student would still experience some feelings like this.


For me, learning to cope with such frustrations has been one of the things ballet has given me. I was about to give up, thinking I was not "cut out" for it, having taken about a half a year or a year, and thank gods I didn't! Keeping at it, I've caught up, and even the balances and turns I've been ever so much struggling with have started to improve - I'm still far from being very good, but "everyone else" is definitely no longer better than I am. :wink:


I'm sorry if I sound too "motivational", but that is the truth.

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Here's my two bits. A couple months is definitely too early to make any judgements. Aside from asthetics body type does make a difference. The bigger you are the more weight you have to get off the ground and move around the floor. Even if you are strong enough, it will take longer to accelerate up, stop and come back down. For the petite allegro, this is enough to throw you off the music and lead to endless frustration (as I know too well). Even with developpes and battements, the bigger your legs the more you have to lift and throw around. From personal experience, progress came when I dropped weight (in a healthy manner, NOT Atkins) and took more classes (about 4-5 a week). This has been a three year investment and the results only came in the last 6 months.



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Danny's post made me think of something else (could there be something that I left out of my extremely lengthy post?). When an adult is coming into ballet from another sport or even another dance discipline, one of the things that he or she has to deal with is a body that has developed in certain ways from the other activities... development that can make ballet more difficult. In my case, coming from years of swimming, running, skiing and figure skating, I had a problem with my massively overdeveloped quads, which compounded the difficulties that I had with my hyperextended legs. The over-development of certain muscles can make it more difficult to use the correct muscles necessary for good ballet technique, but with time, a good teacher and an anatomy book (there are some good ones, designed especially for dancers), you can develop the muscles that you’re not used to engaging, and rely less on the overdeveloped ones. Once again, its a slow process.

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I'm not quite sure how to put this into words... so here goes... you asked for no motivational replies so I'm trying not to make this a motivational speech of some kind. I believe that each individual person has a "passion", for myself it is ballet. For others, it might be painting, reading a book, swimming, etc. I find myself lucky to have found my "passion" in life, for there are many people who live a lifetime without even experiencing the pleasure of finding their true passion. Now here is the difficult part... no one else can tell you what that passion is. It is only through self discovery (sometimes through trial and error) that we what makes our hearts soar. Even my most frustrating days in ballet class are just prove to me of how much hard work I am willing to put into it... because I love it that much. Now if I felt frustrated in some other form of activity, that I didn't feel was WORTH the frustration... I would make my own decision that whatever that activity is... it is not particularly cut out for me (not that I'm not cut out for it). So, if I could give you any advice it would be to look at what you really want... and go with that feeling... do what makes you happy and what you feel suits you.

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It is very likely that the people in your class who are "doing things with ease" have been going to the same class for several years - particularly if it is an open beginning ballet class rather than a true introductory ballet course (which are quite rare, and could still have people with childhood or other prior ballet experience, or background in other types of dance). It's quite usual for adult students to spend a long time at one level or to take beginning as well as more advanced classes for the extra workout.


Ballet classes also usually don't have very much "meta" talk about how to evaluate your progress, so you will tend to be compare yourself negatively to the best dancers you see, whereas you may in fact have made excellent progress compared to where you started. You won't hear it from the teacher, since ballet seems to be a culture that does not waste time on positive feedback for modest accomplishments, so you have to tell yourself now and then.


If you dislike the ballet class atmosphere, the style of movement, the music, by all means go try something else, but if you are just discouraged by the difficulty, do stick with it for at least a year. It took me about a year to be able to stand on one leg and move the other one around without feeling as if my working foot was made of lead. It took about a year before we did something in the center that felt like dancing and not just calisthenics. During that time I almost dropped out twice. You might also try taking more than one class a week, if you're not already doing that. Then you will be able to retain more of the progress from each class.

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