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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Frustrated- I know I could do it if I were taught!

je danse dans ma tete

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I've been dancing for about 2 years now, only 2-3 times per week. I work hard, learn quickly, and people are always surprised when they discover that I come from a non-dancing background.


My problem is that in more advanced classes, there will sometimes be combinations with steps that I have never seen. Simple steps that other people learned in the elementary grades of ballet as young children.


Sometimes I can approximate the step and ask someone after class. Sometimes it is quick and I just have to fake it or drop out of the combination and mark it on the side because I don't want to cause a collision.


I am so frustrated. I know sometimes the teachers forget that I am still a beginner. They start to ignore me if I drop out of the exercise even though I am not trying to be rude. I can do everything battu, am fine with lots of interediate and advanced steps, my barre work has been called 'stellar' and 'impeccable' more than once, I have 'great lines' apparently, but throw a series of chaines (which i have seen once or twice but never been taught), or a glisse forward or backwards (same deal) into a combination, and I get lost because I have to try to break it down for myself (no demonstrating at the higher levels, so I can't often just give it a shot... you just hear the terms and do it). And typically there is time only to do it not to break it down. The teachers then typically ignore me and I know they feel I am being lazy, maybe they don't know I am not familiar with such simple steps because I can do the more advanced ones with ease. I know if I were taught i could do this stuff. But even the beginner adult classes I've been to don't teach it. I don't really know where to go from here. I want to get better at ballet but the teachers leave once class ends and you can't catch them unless they ask to speak with you. I hate not being able to at least try things in class. :o

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I'm very surprised to hear that the steps are not actually taught even at the beginning level. It is no wonder you don't know them when you take a higher level. :( Have you thought of a different school, like maybe one that actually teaches something to adult students?

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Ms Leigh, I am currently in a university dance minor program. We take our ballet classes at a company-afiliated school and theory, modern and conditioning classes on campus.


I somehow made it into the program and have been doing pretty well until now. I am realizing more and more that along the way I missed a few simple but key steps. This is mainly because I only had 2 teachers my first year and it seems that every teacher has favorite steps and some they prefer to omit. Now I have another teacher who likes little steps that I have never done before or have only done once or twice in passing but have not really 'worked on' technique-wise. I hope this makes some kind of sense... my English skills slip when I become emotional!


I have tried every studio in the city for extra adult classes, none of them are anywhere near as advanced and are good for keeping up the muscle memory but that is all. Is it time to get a private tutor to help fill in the blanks? Or should I just quit and make this year my last in the program? (Term is over in April). I don't even know where I want to go with ballet, I just wanted to take as many classes as I could and would up a dance minor somehow.

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I'm thinking that you're going to have to do some research on ballet terms and steps yourself.....not in any way the optimal, and certainly not what we'd normally recommend. However, since you're doing this in college, and you are not getting the help you need, you are faced with either continuing on the same way and getting frustrated; having a conference with the teachers and asking for extra help; taking classes elsewhere to fill in the blanks; doing your own research; or quitting, which I don't really think is what you want.

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Arrange a meeting with your advisor and share your concerns. Hopefully, you/they will come up with a plan of action to keep you on track. This is certainly in the interest of the institution as well. Good luck!

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I just wanted to validate this as a general concern for us late beginners. I am blessed with a few really good teachers, and I realize that I am much luckier than most adult starters, but it's still very familiar territory. The lower level, whatever it is called, will only include a subset of the steps a dancer should know, and the next level will include many new step on the assumption that if you are at that level, you must know them. Adult classes are almost never entirely within a classical curriculum, so even if you have access to a Vaganova or Cecchetti or RAD syllabus, it won't match the class. I take classes from several teachers, who have trained in each of those methods, so of course I am often doing things the "wrong" way.


Last year, a few of us were able to hire a teacher for a "semi-private" class - 5 or 6 adult late starters at more or less the same level, who wanted to advance. In that fortunate situation, anytime our teacher found something we had not learned, she would teach it and follow up by working on it far the next few months. It was wonderful! Sadly, she moved to another city and we have not been able to replace her. From this experience I deduce that a relatively small proportion of adult students are seriously interested in advancing, as opposed to retaining skills they learned long ago.


I have the books - Gail Grant, etc - and that can help. You do kind of have to fake it that way - far from ideal, it may or may not be better than nothing but for the really dedicated ANYTHING is better than nothing. Basically, you guess what the step is, do it in class, and hope that you will get some corrections to fix it eventually.


And don't get me started on the lack of men's technique classes! I've given up - if I have to dance like a girl, so be it. As above, better than nothing! I'll watch videos and try what I can in class until a teacher complains. For a glorious six months I had an (RAD-trained) teacher who asked me to do saut de basque when the women were doing pique turns at the end of class. It would have been even better if anyone had ever taught me that step though!

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This sounds like a situation where a series of private classes would be useful, or a version of olddude's suggestion: a group of you run a 'semi-private' class, with the sole aim of catching up on the dance vocabulary. If I recall correctly, you're in Canada, je danse, and I know there there is widespread use of the RAD curriculum. Could you find a private school which would take you into a class doing the vocational 'major' exams? A term or so doing the Intermediate Foundation syllabus might help? (I think it's either the Elementary or the Inter Foundation syllabus where you start learning & working with the whole dance vocabulary, but an RAD expert might advise you better).

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I must admit, I'm not shy when it comes to asking about a step I either don't know or can't remember. In the more advanced class, the teacher gave a combo with loads of steps I knew but had never had put together the way she did it, so I couldn't get the transition. I asked for help. She was surprised I asked, but when I explained that I didn't know how they would fit together, she understood.


Same with us adults, though - if you don't know, how about simply asking? Sometimes, the advanced, or so-called advanced, students might also have a lack but are afraid to let the teacher know about it. You never know until one person breaks the ice.

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Ballet teachers are like that, it's not just yours. They want to keep going with the class & it's the people who are behind's job to keep up & make-up for what they don't know. Unless it's a very small class, then there isn't very much individual correction. I've been in the same position before, it's frustrating & discouraging.


But the teacher's job IS to teach you, so if I were you I would RIGHT AWAY as they turn off the music run to them & ask for clarifications. They probably wouldn't be upset, because after all, a teacher's job is to TEACH. And you are doing YOUR part by seeking them out. If anything it will show that you are committed.


Otherwise there are good websites that will show you each step, like ABT's website. Just Google "Ballet vocabulary" & it'll be the first link. Or type "ballet steps" & you'll find other good sites.

You could also find a lot of YouTube videos. A lot of people post slow, step by step explanations on how to do things, that's kind of what it's come to be known for. Also Anaheim Ballet (on YouTube as well) posts videos. They are very short. Most are just of them dancing (which I always enjoy watching) & some are how-to's. They take questions as well.


I know none of this is quite like asking your teacher, but it can definitely help & you won't feel rushed trying to understand it.

Otherwise I would ask the person at your school in charge of who goes to what class, if she would let you sit in on some more elementary classes, explaining to her your issue. She most likely would.


What I have always done when I didn't get a combination, is to watch the first group go & do it with them in the back. Then my group would go, & I'd mess up. Group one would go again & I would practice it again. You may feel self-conscious but teachers actually look at that positively, like you are really trying, & you really care to do well.

I did ballet for years & was the star of my class. A 12 year break was forced on me & now it's back to basics. I have felt embarrassed at the barre & on the floor about a billion times already, especially at first when my mind wasn't trained to remember combinations anymore. You just have to keep trying. Sometimes I just had to STOP in the middle of it & watch the people in front of me, & do it slowly.


Good luck to you!

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Since you are at an educational institution, I wonder if you can make that work for you somehow. Is there an older student who has done the course before who would be willing to give you (cheap) private lessons? They wouldn't even need a studio space if you were just going through the steps in a basic way. Maybe there are a few other people in your class who are in the same position, who would be able to share the cost. If you had worked on the steps before from a book or video, then this student would be able to tell you if they were being done correctly. Also, (for me at least) learning how to transition between one step and another is as important as actually learning the steps themselves, and this student could guide you on that too.



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It looks like there are plenty of us in similar situations.


I am often the one in my class asking for help with some step I should have learned along the way, but somehow missed. These missing steps can turn up at a variety of "levels" for me too. If you don't say anything, the fact that you can do more advanced steps from memory won't help a teacher recognize that you never learned something simpler.


I found that asking the first time for help with one of the simpler steps has gotten me help with more of them, without my having to ask. Now the teacher knows I have had gaps in my education and when she sees something going wrong, she doesn't assume that it was a one time mistake.


I haven't had steps taught one at a time and practiced that way since college. Even in a beginner class I had last year, we had combinations of at least 3 steps going right off the bat most of the time. I suppose as adults we are supposed to have brains that work faster somehow?????

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It is not polite to stop a class and ask for assistance, it is best to talk to the teacher after class.


I have the same issue with tendu queese (sp?)



All the best!

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MJ, I am now totally mystified by your 'tendu queese' !! Do you mean 'tendu croise'? Can you describe the step. Gosh, this is going to bug me for the rest of the day!

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@ MJ: Temps de cuisse


@ Redbookish: It's rather RAD Adv1. The current intermediate is the former elementary syllabus. The steps Je dance is describing are more likely to be covered in Adv1 (or Adv Foundation)

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@ MJ: Temps de cuisse


@ Redbookish: It's rather RAD Adv1. The current intermediate is the former elementary syllabus. The steps Je dance is describing are more likely to be covered in Adv1 (or Adv Foundation)


Yep, that is it. I do once every 6 months.

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