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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Getting frustrated

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I have so much trouble staying positive. I've been taking about 10 classes a week for a while now. About 2 years. I feel like I've made technical progress, but my dancing still doesn't look confident. I have trouble trusting myself to let one movement flow into the other. I still hesitate...it looks like I'm doing one step after the other, instead of really dancing.


It bothers me when I read critisism of dancers lacking "soul". I feel like I have plenty of love for the artform (obsession really). I'd like nothing better than to be able to communicate this when I dance. I think I understand the music, I like it, but it doesn't show. People tell me I don't use any epaulment. I can see that I am very "square", and boring. This is how I was trained for years, and the concept of really moving my torso is difficult. It feels wrong to me.


I was taking some classes this weekend where I KNEW that the teacher (Robert LaFosse) was looking for some real dancing. I was trying to enjoy myself, and MOVE...but apparently wasn't. It was obvious that this is my big problem, and I got some attention in regards to it, which I'm happy for, because I know it's what I really need to be working on.


I'm frustrated because I have a very good body and feet, and am pretty strong (though I still have some work to do, like everyone). People tell me I have nice lines. I feel like everything's basically there, I'm just not using it. I feel like I have no quality and I still look tense.


What should I do? Keep plugging away in ballet class, working on this problem? A lot of people seem to think that Modern would help...though I'm not sure if trying a different form would help my ballet. I don't know. I'd like to fix this so I actually do well at auditions and get picked to be in things.


It's frustrating because quality is not so quantifiable. I can do triple pirouettes on pointe, my extension's good enough, my petit allegro is pretty awesome. How do I trust myself to really fall in tombe, and to not hesitate before pirouette. How is it that I feel my back in jumps, but lose the connection in my torso for other steps?


I'm getting frustrated and need to rant. My friends and teacher are sick of me getting frustrated. And I am too. I tell myself all those positive things that I would recommend to other people, but I'm terrible at following my own advice. I'm so tired of being upset after almost every class.

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Modern, for me, really helps. You can really let go and lose your center, feel the music , feel the floor, and dance like no one's watching. I'd say at least try it!!! I love modern and I feel like it's a good contrast from ballet, but also helps it because you can learn how to really DANCE it with passion.

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Curious, how old are you? A child taking ten classes a week is not out of line, but an adult? Thats a lot, unless you're professional. If I were you, I'd cut back a bit and try to approach class from a more relaxed point of view.


Quanitity of class does not make up for quality. Give more of yourself to fewer classes for a while. See if that works.

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While I see nothing wrong with ten classes a week for an adult, I daresay that if you're not throwing yourself into the steps without reservation, no matter what the form, it will still look like you're stuttering.

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Guest milky

How about trying something totally new? It sounds like this isn't so much of a technique issue, so why not try...salsa? Capoeira? Clogging? I think that it might help you step back and think about how much fun dancing can be, instead of criticising yourself. Maybe you could find an afternoon contradance workshop?


And if you'd rather be traditional, there's nothing wrong with modern. But I bet it might help you to step a little further away from you're doing day-in day-out in ballet class. Good luck and hang in there!

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lampwick, I'm concerned about what you said about épaulement. You said you were not trained in the use of it, and that moving your torso is difficult. I'm afraid that I don't understand training without it! How could that be? The upper body is just as involved in every single movement and position as the lower half! Without the use of the torso, head, shoulders, then it is just steps! Ballet is not about steps, it's about MOVEMENT! Granted the movement has very definitel positions, but even those positions involve the WHOLE body. How can one train without épaulement? :thumbsup:

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Guest PinkieTink

I took lyrical which helped me to loosen up. I'm not sure if you need that though. Here's my advice: Don't think about what other people are thinking when they are watching you. Just get lost in what you are doing and concentrate on flowing the best that you can. I think that instead of thinking "Oh what are my friends and teacher going to say now?" "Why can't i do this?" Turn it around to positive:" I'm going to go for it. I can do this." Try picturing yourself doing it correctly and flowing. And remember, you should dance for yourself and not to hear what your teachers and friends have to say.





~Dancing isn't what I do, it's who I am~



*Those who dream touch the stars*

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part of it sounds to me like maybe you need to relax a bit... for me at least if I get frustrated or start overthinking things I have a horrid time making things flow. I also find doing some other dance or just playing music and going with the beat with no concern for steps can help as you get a sense of flow back.


You obviously seem to love dance... I am sure you'll find a way to show it in your movement.

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Guest Bryan Lawrence

I think your problelm is definitely mental. Well that is obvious! What do you think gives you the most enjoyment? Is it the actual movement of dance or is it that someone tells you you are wonderful? Personally, I think you are rather like me and you have to have someone else telling you that you are good. You seem to have some opinion about your ability but this is not confirmed by your teacher. Even though you are not training to be a dancer I understand the feeling and the desire to achieve, for your own satisfaction. You want to know where you are exactly. Much of the time we are what we appear to be in the eyes of the beholder and all beholders have different types of eyes. It is very difficult to know exactly where we are and as is widely accepted, even professional dancers are very unsure of themselves. I was a Principal Dancer for a number of years but I can tell you, I was nowhere near perfect. Occassionaly someone would comment on my dancing and I would think, what do they mean? I now regret that I was too imature to actually discuss the comment with that person, but just went away, puzzled. I do strongly believe now that if you don't understand a criticism or comment you should admit to it and discuss the point to your satisfaction so that you know exactly where you are, if possible.

If epaulement is your problem, according to your teacher, then get your teacher to explain exactly what she or he means. Make sure you get a satisfactory explanation. This is what you need so go for it and pester. It is not as if you can't learn to use epaulement.

Apart from these comments, I would say try to relax in yourself and don't get too serious about it but that's all very well if you are anything like me!

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Theres another aspect to this, one I've been trying to get two women in my classes to think about. Some dancers are so hung up on what they see in the mirror that they don't allow themselves to "feel" what they are doing. There comes a point where you have to stop trying to do the mechanics of a step and make it your own. By that I mean you need to start to feel the step, let it flow through you (God! I sound like Luke Skywalker :unsure: ). But it's true. If you don't relax and feel what you're doing, you'll never experience the rush of a great saute or the beauty of an arabesque.


There are tons of examples of professionals who were not the most stellar dancers, yet they felt and lived their dances. Audiences loved watching them. And there are stellar dancers with amazing technique who are passionless and miserable to watch (sadly, I can name a lot of them, too).


Sometimes I tell people to go to classes at places where they don't know anyone. I tell them to use the class to cut loose a bit. They don't need to worry about a teacher they know coming over and correcting them, they can just do the steps as they want without worrying about people they know in the room or a regular teacher looking for mistakes. I do this on occassion when I get bored with my usual classes. I find it invigorating. Sure, I may not do a tendu perfectly in this class, but I have much more fun doing it without the pressures of classmates and teachres hanging over me.

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I have some suggestions.


Get rid of the mirror. There probably aren't any classes in NYC that cover the studio mirror, but maybe you can stand where it's harder to see yourself. This could help change your focus from external to internal. Class feels a lot different for me when I can't see myself.


Go out dancing for fun. You'd probably like 80's night at the Pyramid. It's dark enough that none can watch too closely, but with the right lighting and crowd you may get inspired to show off a bit.


Some other ideas would be to change your routine. Try a different class/style/teacher. Get a new hair cut/color that makes you feel glamorous. Go to an art museum for inspiration.


I never felt like I was able to "perform" until I was in college. There were a lot of changes for me at that time with a different school, older classmates, starting modern dance classes, and just plain growing up. Performance quality is something I still work on. One teacher I had recently had talked about drawing the audience into your kinesphere. Her whole class focused on opening up, and it really did feel different.



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It sounds like maybe you've hit a plateau (which we all do at times) in your training where the next step up is a rather large one. Since you are taking so many classes each week, can you designate one to just let yourself go? Perhaps there is one teacher who would understand and encourage you to "go for" every movement, even if it means temporarily sacrificing that triple pirouette, or even falling down. I have had a teacher who kept reminding us that class (her class, anyway) was a time to see where a movement could take us, and another who had us visualize (and try) varying the emotions (sorrow, joy, anger, jealousy, etc.) we displayed for a particular combination. I realized that I often pirouette better when I am angry... :lol: For many years, I always felt very "stiff" emotionally in class, and the more I learned to worry less about perfection of the movement and whether or not I'd make a mistake, I danced better and enjoyed it more.


I, too, am just awful at taking my own advice, but sometimes it works just as well on me as it does on everyone else!

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Thanks for all the wonderful advice, everyone! I have a lot to think about. Actually, I need to actually TAKE some of the advice instead of just thinking about it.


2 Left Feet--I am not looking to make a professional dancing career, but would like to eventually (actually SOON) perform in a small chamber group or do some freelance work, ie...Nutcrackers and so on. So I guess that would be considered recreational dancing, but serious. I see a lot of dancers who get part-time gigs for small ballet companies, work with up and coming choreographers, that type of thing really interests me... I'm in my 20s:) I have other plans which combine my visual arts interests, but right now I'd like to dance and get that experience while my body is still (mostly_ agreeable). Actually, it was a year long battle just to get me to look at myself in the mirror at all:) Lately, I have been more comfortable "seeing" the room, and where I need to go, and letting my eyes lead a bit. It's helped with my manege and turns and stuff. And I think it helps me remember to relax.


Victoria Leigh..I remember a lot from the classes I always took as a kid (mostly RAD). I was taught (or somehow misunderstood) to be very square in the shoulders. I had 15 years of those muscle memories being programmed into me before I moved to New York. I don't think real dancing was ever ingrained in me. I'm ALWAYS being told to use my back now and to twist, tilt, MOVE... It's not something I ever was exposed to before now, or didn't really understand before. And it's not something that's natural for me. But feeling my back and using it is very much the focus of what I'm being told now. Some of my teachers are very precise and classical, others are more "natural" and Balanchine-y, but the underlying coordination is the same.


carabosse--80s night at the Pyramid is right up my alley. I need to drag my friends to that type of club. I hate the music that I usually end up dancing to when I go out. I feel very stupid doing hip-hop. It's just not me. The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen is me. Good advice. I don't know what exactly my kinesphere is, and how to draw people into it, but it sounds like something I need. Where do you get a kinesphere and how do you install it?


Bryan Lawrence--I think you understand! I have a very difficult time assessing my own abilities. Some classes I feel like I'm doing great, and I look as good as anyone else. Other times I think I'm very awkward-looking. And I take corrections not very well sometimes. I can get upset. Too easily frustrated. Most of my friends have told me I'm "very close", but need to work on dancing more--letting go and being more comfortable. I think it is something I can fix...the epaulment. I just have to twist and tilt more, I think. I do it basically right, it's just too little...I hold back. Yeah, I think too much about pleasing other people. There are moments, when it's something I do well, like jumping or (sometimes) pirouettes where it feels really free and easy and is so much fun. when you feel like you're lifting out of everything and it's weightless. Those times, I really enjoy moving. But it's seldom that feeling happens.


Mel Johnson--Yep. I hesitate and don't trust myself. Thinking too much.


I'm always saying I'd be a fabulous Irish step dancer. Quick footwork, pointe, jumping...I can do that...all with my arms down.


OK, thanks for letting me talk about myself. I feel very self-centered and vain. It's silly to get soooo wrapped up in this, but it's really something that I want badly, and I think I can do decently, at least. Just need to dig deeper I think and let go... Thanks!

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Let go and give yourself a huge hug while you're at it!


This thread has been really interesting to me - in some ways I totally feel like I'm in your position, but kind of opposite. I've always loved the stage and loved dance as performance, and it was always my technique that needed work (in huge ways). And now, as an adult, it's all so frustrating. We give ourselves a huge amount of 'what ifs', want to progress as quickly we did as when we were younger, and are just as, if not ore so, critical of ourselves.


As you all know, I've gone through a myriad of difficulties with my current instruction, and got to a point about 2 years ago when I had to be reminded to smile while I was dancing/performing. That's when I was like WHOA! What's going on here, when I have to be reminded to smile?


Part of it was just general unhappiness with training/difficult people, another was the plateau effect that Blanche mentioned, but a lot of it was that I had forgotten *why* I was dancing in the first place. I've seen other girls (women) go through a similar thing this year, and luckily we all were able to come together and be supportive.... and the thing I tried to tell them is remember, you dance for YOU. Yeah, we want to be technically proficient and get our legs higher and nail that pirouette, and we all can take corrections badly (especially when they are given in not-so-nice ways), but nonetheless, we keep coming back... what keeps us coming back is the andrenaline, the exhileration, the love (obsession!) we have for this art form.


Remember what it was like when you saw that performance that got you hooked, and that first class you had when it was all magical, and that feeling when you finally hit that one difficult move (even if it was the only time you did it) - these are the moments that keep us coming back, and in the end, keep us going, and keep us happy. And I personally think that a happy involved dancer *dances* better.


So pull out those memories, and let yourself be a kid again. Dance and pretend like you are your fave role in your fave ballet - narrative or not. The visualisation thing worked wonders for me - and yes, I did lots of visualisation in class as well, and moved the heck away from the mirror on things like adage and closer to it for the petite allegro. And yes, a trip to the 80s room helps! (or whatever kinda music you want!). I finally went out again after over a year (yes, I've become a bona fide loser) and on Saturday night it was all 80s, and so much fun - I was naturally smiling, and hoping that will come back into my dancing when I start again.


Our childhood can do wonders for us!




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great advice everyone :)


what more can be said?!!

hope you are feeling better lampwick - you sound like a fantastic dancer and i think you should just go out to a club - whatever music you love - just let go and be a complete moron!!! :thumbsup:

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