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Ballet Talk for Dancers

question about training / progression


spankster

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Hi. I would like some opinions on my situation, if you can make it through my self-absorbed diatribe. :thumbsup:

 

I started classes 16 months ago. In the beginning I was in not-very-good shape (32 f), although I had been attending Pilates classes once per week for six months and then twice per week for the six months most recent before starting ballet. Of course, I started in the adult beginner level of a well-respected school in the area.

 

I should clarify that. By not-very-good shape, I mean that I had some serious back problems most recently in 1998 and still had some leftover horrid posture and weakness from that situation (which lasted about 8 months acutely, maybe 1.5 years total). After that time, even though I was taking Pilates and doing various other exercise, I was not working very deeply (because I was simply not able to yet) in the abdominals and I did not have any control or awareness in the hip joint. However, I *was* pain-free and felt better than I had in years when starting ballet. By everyday citizen standards, I was in above-average shape fitness and cardio-wise but ballet-wise, uh no. (ex: could slog through a 5 mile run every morning, not that that helps you in ballet)

 

First eight months: took once per week. That was all my body could handle at the time. At this time, I had trouble balancing on one leg, let alone turned-out. After eight months, I added another class. This class was also a beginner class although the students were a bit younger so the class seemed a bit faster than I was used to. In this class we worked on pirouettes and large jumps (which were largely omitted from my other class, so that was welcome.)

 

During the summer (after twelve months) I continued with two classes per week but also worked at home about 1x per week. I know I will get slammed for that probably, but I only practiced the most basic combinations and worked really hard on my form. I try to let my body be the boss, and when it lets me know it needs to be worked, I work it. After twelve months I had developed much more awareness in the hip joint, the swayback was gone, etc. It felt like there was a lot more control over the body as one unit (since there was NONE a year before that :thumbsup: )

 

I am taking three classes per week and work at home 1x per week, sometimes 2x.

 

I had planned on continuing the beginner classes for at least another year because I really want to work more deeply and on my form, etc. My hips are tight and need to be opened up some more if possible, I can feel that their current position is not benefiting my efforts if you know what I mean.

 

I have a long thin, very flexible body. My movements seem to be very graceful and appealing to the eye (my eye that is) in many elementary positions. I feel like my issue is control and strength and that I should be working slowly and deeply to improve this, and thereby my form.

 

Do you agree with this strategy or do you think that such a person should be pushed to a faster class? I have tried a faster class and it just doesn't feel right, I feel like I'm working without control. I'm asking because my gut inclination is to stay with the most elementary classes I can get until I feel solid and my form has some purity and is reliable in all elementary exercises and positions, but attitudes from my teachers and peers suggest otherwise.

 

My goal is just recreational and exercise, but are you of the opinion that this could actually hurt my muscle development for ballet or make them bigger through focusing on pure elementary movement and not adding speed etc.?

 

Thank you for reading my saga :) and for any opinions you may have.

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Spankster, I think it might be beneficial to continue the elementary classes, but perhaps add one class per week at a higher level. :)

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Spankster,

 

I wrestled with this same question myself (I also started class 16 months ago, but did take more classes). I felt a little bit of pressure because I saw other dancers move up to the next level after their first year. Even though I took class pretty regularly, I didn't feel like I was ready because I just didn't have a handle on the fundamentals. I guess my over-opinionated belief is that most adults just move through their training too quickly. In many ways, although adults can catch onto vocabularly at the cognitive level more quickly, I still think it takes just as long, if not longer (because we also have to undo all sorts of bad habits), for adults to build the muscle memory necessary for good technique. I also am going to take another year of the basic class that I went through last year, but I have also added two classes that are a little more advanced (4-5 classes total/week). I am really getting a lot out of the basic class. I kind of felt like last year was just about sink or swim in terms of learning the vocabulary. This year I really feel like I can actually begin working on technique in the basic class while also being challenged with new vocabulary in my more advanced class.

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A once-a-week "challenge" class couldn't hurt, and will probably help you progess. Stick with the pilates too. Dancers at all levels really benefit from that. I learned tons from the pilates instructor. Really important since you've had a history of back trouble to get that core strong and controlled.

 

I've noticed that many adults (and some children to be fair) are too worried about doing something "wrong" in class that they get themselves too tensed up to even move--never mind finding balance. I had that problem too for a while.

 

A "dancier" class could be very helpful (or frustrating and worse--depending on your personality). Give it a shot!

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Spankster, the real answer is that you have to do whatever you feel comfortable doing. You have to look at what you expect to get from ballet, and try to maximize that. No one can tell you what you should do.

 

Now I can be totally wrong about this, but I sense a definite lack of confidence in your ballet as you describe your situation. Ask yourself if your difficulties in ballet are real or just projected because of your inexperience.

 

You started ballet at age 32. Ballet is a skill that we learn much much better and faster when we are young. Those of us who start late struggle, perpetually it sometimes seems, as our achievements often don’t meet our expectations. That is just life. Now you can take that and be critical of yourself or depressed about the whole situation if you choose. Or you can accept it and not feel the pressure of performing to some expectation. The latter is easy to say and hard to do, but in the end leads to much more success for we older folk. Or at least I think it does.

 

I think one of the charms of ballet is that everyone, even professionals, has things they believe they need to work seriously on and with which they struggle. Seems as if few are ever really satisfied.

 

I’ve always liked being in situations where everyone else around me is better than I am. Situations like that tend to raise my ability level as I try to match my compatriots. But that’s just me. I’m selfish. I don’t give a hoot about others or whether they are better than me. I just want me to get better. So like lampwick, I would encourage trying some more difficult classes to see how you feel about them.

 

You are taking three classes a week and working on your own, for which I applauded you. Clearly you are dedicated. So be patient and keep at it, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Your intuition will guide you pretty well I think.

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Hello, courageous and conscientious Spankster!

 

My Russian ballet teacher occasionally stops class to peer at us imperially from the throne of his

corner stool and declare (in what I suspect is sometimes an artifically enhanced

accent): "Ballet is very very very easy. All you have to do is ... <blahblahblah>"

Then, in a future class, or sometimes even later in the very same class a similar pause

will ensue and he will announce: "Ballet is very very very hard. Especially ... <blahblahblah>"

 

I hate trite, cliche advice (personal note to self: "avoid cliches like the plague" -- Wm. Safire)

but in a loopy, silly, over-accented Zen sort of way it makes sense -- ballet class can and should

be really easy sometimes, and really ohmigoshwhyamIhere hard sometimes too. So at the risk

of sounding like a fortune cookie, or Yoda, or a TV shrink I'll say that it helps if you can let yourself

be in over your head sometimes, lost without a clue, and also be that gorgeous, graceful,

appealing-to-the-eye, flexible you sometimes too. In the former, you're learning even though it

doesn't feel like it, and in the latter, you're polishing the details, and appreciating them.

 

Regarding the age thing (and this coming from a guy who started ballet in his late 30's) it

may sound trite, but I have learned that there is a childlike, youthful freedom in really, truly being

ok with making mistakes, and being awkward. Sure, we're perfectionists, and there is a time and place

for that to come out, as we track down our limitations and fix them, but it can be so liberating to

let go of expectations sometimes, too ... even within the very same class.

 

You asked for opinions; mine is that you are already an especially courageous person for

launching yourself into such a demanding, difficult, relaxing, easy hobby. Bon courage, madam!

 

:wink:

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I think one of the charms of ballet is that everyone, even professionals, has things they believe they need to work seriously on and with which they struggle. Seems as if few are ever really satisfied.

 

You have no idea how many GREAT (I mean the very best professionals) take class and frown at themselves in the mirror, or get frustrated because that triple pirouette wasn't a quad, or something along those lines.

 

So true. You're never happy. My teacher always tells us that. You'll never be satisfied, so you better learn how to fake it. :wink:

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My lovely Cechetti teacher in Sydney (don't live there any more but I sure remember her teaching in every class I do!) used to say to us - a class of mixed beginners to advanced adult dancers - that it's only when you're falling over your feet that you're learning. And as part of my job is teaching (in another area), believe me, really learning something in that "gut knowledge" way can be difficult. But when you get it, it's exhilirating!

 

Kate

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I understand your problem and have been struggling with the same things, like not being able to stand on one leg at first, and (unlike you) being extremely inflexible, as well as weak. I spent my second year flapping around in classes that were moving at the rate of the best students, and concluded that my time is better spent going at a slower pace with the teachers I trust most and trying to do the little things well, with perfect poise and orientation, because if you can do that then it actually looks right, looks like ballet. And really, I have the rest of my life to work on it (well, until arthritis sets in) so I might as well start by building proper habits and a stronger body. I'm not competing with anyone or needing to follow some child development norm here. But then I did finally get bored with classes consisting of a solid hour of barre done at Tai Chi speed, and consented to be moved up a bit, and I started going to class eight hours a week and improved a little and all was well until I hit the mid-term crunch at work/school and now I don't know what I'm going to do.

 

About practicing at home, I don't get the sense that all practice is disapproved of. The mods might want to spell out their exact position on this, but I get the sense from reading the board that there is Good Practice and Bad Practice. Bad Practice is doing ballet at home when you haven't been taking classes long enough to know how to do things correctly and without injury, or when you are not going to class to get corrections as well although you could (I mean long term; nearly everyone has brief times when their school is closed or they're on vacation or buried in work or something), and you're not planning to. It's trying to do big, knee-crunching jumps and learn pointe work unsupervised. It's thinking you can teach yourself. ("But, but what about that girl in <i>Flashdance</i>...?") And that's what the "don't try this at home" warnings are directed against.

 

Good Practice is doing stretching and Pilates and pliés and tendus (once you know how, which I would gauge as "you often know what correction a beginning teacher is going to give, or could give - you are constantly correcting yourself") and other basic warmup combinations when you can't get to class, and working out tricky coordination things like pirouettes and spotting once you've got a mental model for them and know it's partly a matter of doing enough of them and learning control, and maybe doing a ballet workout tape as long as you're also going to class getting corrections from a real live teacher on a regular basis. I don't get the sense that teachers object to this kind of practice, in fact many of mine say, "Homework: work on this."

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Wow. Thank you very much, Ms. Leigh and all others that have responded in this thread. Your input has been *extremely* helpful! :innocent:

 

Diana180 wrote:

 

"...concluded that my time is better spent going at a slower pace with the teachers I trust most and trying to do the little things well, with perfect poise and orientation, because if you can do that then it actually looks right, looks like ballet. And really, I have the rest of my life to work on it (well, until arthritis sets in) so I might as well start by building proper habits and a stronger body. I'm not competing with anyone or needing to follow some child development norm here."

 

I kind of feel exactly like that! I don't really feel like there is any lack of confidence in myself - actually I feel really proud that I made it through the first year and have the meek amount of proficiency I do now. I didn't really have a goal other than to attend classes religiously the whole year, but I also went down through 2 and 1/2 pants sizes in the 12 months and it looks like I'm going down through the next 1/2 now from attending class (I do NOT diet.). So I have no complaints in any way about my progress either within the art or any other external benefits (although it is costing me more and more $$. And I've just gotten started. Oh goodness) :ermm:

 

If I refer to my achievements as meek or slight, it is only because of course this is a very perfection-based activity (esp spending a lot of time in environments where you're exposed to advanced and pro dancers). Perfection I guess is determined or at least limited by everyone's body type (whatever yours can achieve). Sometimes though, you can tell if there's more inside your body that you can give (in terms of flexibility that just needs to be exercised etc), and you kind of know.

 

I would be satisfied to be in a beginner class for life if that's the way it worked out, because just regular plies and tendus are beautiful to me, if that makes sense. That's what Diana's post brought to mind - I have that same perspective, that even the most basic ballet is very beautiful as long as it is executed with good form.

 

I am going to participate in the faster class definitely and continue with my normal studies!!

 

Also: Lampwick, I have continued with Pilates, which I love. I practice at home several times a week, and it is frequently my cool-down after I get home from class (an intermediate-type workout). Since starting ballet there has been good progress in my Pilates too. I take class once every 3 weeks at my school to make sure I'm using decent form. The work has gotten much deeper and easier. According to my teachers I am "very strong" in Pilates. Of course, I'm on the floor THEN, not standing one leg. :yucky:

 

Sometimes, for a period of weeks, the Pilates will be very difficult but the dancing will be not so difficult in comparison. And then for the next few weeks - the opposite, the Pilates will be cake (like a full-body massage) and the ballet is excruciating. Bizarre. Does anybody else have that sensation?

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Spankster - I have found the best way to improve anything you do is to surround yourself with people that are better than you. But, you need to enjoy what you're doing in order to be able to assimilate the surrounding energy. So, to balance what you're doing, as others before have recommended, why don't you take two of the lower level classes and one of the more advanced level classes per week. If this doesn't work out, you can always go back to the three same level classes per week, but until you try it, you won't really know how it will work for you. You might be surprised at how quickly you move up. One thing to keep in mind is no one is really looking at you as much as you might think they are, they are all very busy looking at their own image (or at least they should be) :yucky:

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