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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Adult students support group, Oct 2005

Jaana Heino

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I thought about posting a question, but could not formulate it well enough, so I thought I'll just start the October support thread instead.


I think I am going through a ballet crisis. I suppose it is because my development seems to have plateau'd, and the classes I take definitely have not. More and more advanced and/or fast material is asked all the time, and I don't seem to be able to get it. It's not as if the classes are bad or I am not learning or anything, I just feel overwhelmed. I even considered going down one level for my classes, but the schedule for those classes (even combining two schools) would not be at all good for me, and I am not certain if my teachers would approve either - they seem to think I should just stick to it until the plateau goes away.


(So, w(h)ine couch time here, definitely. I hope someone else posts something positive this month. :P )

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Oh, what a shame you are feeling so dispirited at the start of a new academic year! I think everyone gets plateaus though, and some people (myself included) sometimes feel like they are getting worse!


Over the years there have been lots of suggestions for getting through a plateau. Sometimes it's because of overdoing it, sometimes there's a bit of technique missing. Perhaps you need a rest or doing one easier class a week would help give you a bit more confidence? Also, going to watch some dance is often insipring and helpful to see how others do it.


I'm annoyed at the moment because the doubles I could do 2 weeks ago have since eluded me. But that's probably because I'm not trying hard enough to stay up straight and spot properly!


Hope you feel things are going better soon.

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Methinks you have a good old case of dancer’s depression, that condition when our expectations overtake our physical capabilities. I’m quite intimate with it as it seems to visit me regularly about every year or so. I’ve only found two things that help.


The first is knowledge. There are two important aspects of developing any skill. The first is that learning and development occurs rapidly at first, but then proceeds to moderate with time. The amount you improve in your second year is huge in comparison with the amount of improvement you make in your 6th year for example. The second is that learning and development does not occur in a lockstep fashion. It is a mixture of development, plateau, and regression. In the short term it almost seems like these come in a random order. Your pirouettes can be great for a class or two and then just when you feel like you have the secret, suddenly you can’t do anything right and fall or hop with every one. The good thing, however, is that even though progression, plateau, and regression seem to come at random, with persistence over the long haul you make progress.


Another important piece of knowledge is that of dancer’s depression. Now here is something good about it—I think it is characteristic of people who are “achievement oriented.” Achievement oriented people are constantly shifting their expectations and in doing so it is quite natural to over reach. That is the bad thing about expectations, by the way. They are projections that usually have no basis in reality. They are hopes, wishes, and feelings. If you meet expectations you tend to over reach on the next set of expectations. If you don’t meet them, you get depressed. It is an eventual guaranteed loss. So I believe achievement oriented people have to constantly battle the tendency to set expectations for themselves.


The second thing that I’ve found helpful will sound a little silly at first. I’ve been fortunate enough to know many people who were seemingly just too stupid to know they weren’t that good. They just kept at it, persisting, seemingly not caring or worrying about their performance. Know something? They turned out to be pretty good. It truly is amazing what you can accomplish in life (not just dance) by just consistently showing up and doing your homework.


Milking a cow seems easy and even entertaining at first. But the true test of a dairy farmer is to milk that cow twice a day, every single day, without fail, no matter the weather or how the farmer feels.

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Oh, yes, Garyecht, not being too hard on yourself is very important. I'm constantly telling myself to have fun and not care if I get things wrong. It's a hard lesson to learn.

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Guest BalletBrat

I have hit another plateu recently, which is kind of annoying because it seems like I just broke through one! :P


...Any hoo, to battle this I have been going into the studio early in the mornings and working all by my little self on the things I struggle the most with and this has helped tremendously. When I mess up, there is no one there to witness it, and then I can just do it over and over until it feels better, sometimes to the point of exhaustion.When I come out of that room beet red and drenched in sweat, there is no better satisfaction and my outlook on class has become so much more inspiring.


Milking a cow seems easy and even entertaining at first. But the true test of a dairy farmer is to milk that cow twice a day, every single day, without fail, no matter the weather or how the farmer feels.



So true, so true!

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I’ve been fortunate enough to know many people who were seemingly just too stupid to know they weren’t that good. They just kept at it, persisting, seemingly not caring or worrying about their performance. Know something? They turned out to be pretty good.


I know someone like this. I would hesitate to say "stupid". I call it blind confidence. But she's just improving so much and really starting to look quite nice in class. She was an absolute mess just a year ago. I really think this girl is going to end up with a job :P


I've gotten to the point where I'm telling myself that the technique will just take care of itself with time and repetition. It really does. My job now is to perform in class. Develop a presence that'll make me stand out. Look confident even if I fall out of turns and screw up. I have a bad habit of rolling my eyes or swearing when I mess up. I really don't need that to slip out during an audition or, god forbid, on stage :shrug: .

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I have yet to reach a plateau and am reveling in the fact that I can finally keep up. Not only keep up, lead. I've been used for demonstration several times already and am inspiring some of my fellow dancers (around my age). Several have said that a particular move finally clicked after watching me do it.


Also enjoying the addition of two new girls closer to my age. Their comrade and presence has made it more enjoyable as they are easier to relate to. Also, their presence has contributed to some healthy competition among us.


Finally, I've found that at-home practice is SO helpful. Many of my classmates don't practice at all (they don't even stretch). Pretty much, if I've had a problem with a combination I work it over and over until it is muscle memory.


Things for me to work on this month include better spotting and extension. Also need to lose 5-10 lbs. ;)

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I think this is the place to just come and mention some stuff.


I heard a rumor of more adult classes being formed at my school. Yeah.


My class hit a more comfortable level yesterday. It was a matter of 50% beginners or "begin againers" in attendance I think. It is interesting how when the combinations are simpler one is asked to hold many positions longer to get alignment and such. I am sore today like it was the first day of the term. It may be that I was more able to focus on how I was doing things rather than on what I was supposed to be doing. I like that.


The only thing I was really fretting over in class yesterday was the profound squeaking noise made by my leather ballet slippers when trying to do turns. I think I know why canvas is preferred in this school now. I am still working on getting a pair of those that fit well. The canvas ones I was using were slipping around on my feet just too much lately and struck me as hazardous. Maybe the new ones will arrive today and be just right.



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Guest Dancing Duranie

My $.02.............


I've been at my new studio for almost three weeks now. My new teacher says she can tell the progress I've made in that time...........my releves and balance are stronger, I'm more confident in my dancing, and I'm getting stronger and more flexible by the week.


The thing that aggravates me the most is 1) extension..............I have the flexibility, but not the strength to achieve a high extension right now. I suppose this comes with practice and stretching. Like when we do an arabesque my leg is barely at 90 degrees. My teacher will come and grab my leg to take it higher and it will go WAY higher without any muscle strain at all. I just bought some therabands so I'm going to start doing battements and arabesques against them at home to try to get better strength.


2) I can't seem to do frappes at the speed of light with the rest of the class. My teacher says she can tell that I know the step, but right now it's like my body is not doing what my mind is telling it to do. She's told me for now to concentrate on getting my leg going with the beat and the foot will come later. I am also going to work on this at home as well.


Finally, at my old studio the teacher there wouldn't put me on pointe because she said my ankles were too weak. After two weeks of pointe my ankles are already getting stronger. Last night after we changed into our soft shoes I was standing in second position and just releve'd to demi pointe for the heck of it. It was high, strong, and totally balanced. So I would like to give the finger to my old teacher. ( :P )

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This year I moved up a level and now I feel that I can't do anything right. There are occasional classes where I come home feeling like I had a good class, but I never come how happy that I finally got "that step." Nothing seems to be improving at all, I'm just frustrated with everything.

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Plateaus are no fun. You just have to hold on to the thought that yours will end, because it absolutely will. And look at it this way—it gives you a frame of reference for your improvement. If it hadn't happened, you might not have realized how well things were going before, or appreciate it when you move forward again. I think what seems like stasis is the body assimilating what it's learned—saying nonverbally, "I need a little time to think about and absorb all this." It sets the stage for future improvement. Sometimes things are happening at a subconscious level.


My frustration right now is that my body is rebelling. My right knee is bothering me. I'm pretty sure it's not from forcing turnout since I'm being careful. I think it's a combination of hyperextension, a tight IT band, and compensating for a much less flexible left hip. I think if I could just reduce my muscle tension I would be okay. I follow the RICE protocol when needed. My facility is good enough, I'm pretty young, and I've never had injuries before. What gives? The problem is it's the rest of my life that's making me tense. Pressure in school, sitting at a desk and carrying heavy bags. :shrug:

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Yeah, dancers get injuries. It's frustrating. I've had a couple in the past 3 years. The SI sprain I have right now has been about 6 months, I think. It's finally mobile enough to start PT next week. Six months later!


Find a good dance doctor. You'll need one. Evryone does, at all ages, at all levels...

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It's so comforting to know that I'm not the only person who falls into two categories after a class. 1) Feel like I'm on top of the world. or 2) Have absoloutely no business whatsoever doing ballet. :shrug: The start of the term has only made my "level-less" problem even worse. My beginner classes have turned back to a barre that consists of just plies and tendus and a centre of "running to the center of the stage...pique...and run away." B) Then the next night I'm sweating in Int. trying to attempt super fast petitte allegros and five minute long adagios. What to do what to do! :thumbsup: I figure I'll work on my technique in beginner and hopefully improve in int....if my feet ever catch up to my brain!

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Find a good dance doctor. You'll need one. Evryone does, at all ages, at all levels...


I knew I'd get this advice, and I'd give it myself! My hesitation is twofold:


1) I'm a student without a generous health insurance policy.


2) Will I be taken seriously as a currently twice a week recreational dancer or laughed out of the room and told to quit? Funny, I felt fine when I was a lazy couch potato.


On the website for the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries they say they give evaluations to the dance community. Does anyone know if that is only for professionals?

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