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Ballet Talk for Dancers

No ballet for a year


Niina

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I am going to spend the next academic year abroad as an exchange student and have found out it will be almost impossible to keep dancing while I will be there. There is a good local ballet school that offers three classes a week for ballet III, four classes a week for ballet IV (the highest level) and a weekly beginner/intermediate open class for adults. The problem is I have absolutely no money to spend on those classes which makes the weekly open class my only choice. However, the class is scheduled for Wednesday night at 7.30-9.00 and the area where the school is located seems a bit scary to me. I would have to walk for 10 minutes in a deserted industrial area to get to the nearest bus stop. The street doesn't even seem to have streetlights! I don't have access to a car and taking a taxi would, again, be too expensive. Of course it might turn out just fine but in the mean time I want to explore my options.

 

I dance five times a week at the moment so going to no classes or just one class a week seems completely wrong. I won't be able to take any other form of dance either, modern is scheduled for Thursday night at the same time as the adult ballet on Wednesdays and after that my only other option would be a weekly hip hop class on Sunday afternoons. I am not interested in hip hop and can't see how it would help me keep in shape for ballet. I don't have access to pilates classes which would probably be the next best thing after ballet/modern/jazz. The things I do have access to include swimming, running, tai chi, yoga, martial arts, ice skating and horse riding. None of these activities seems to compensate for not dancing but would any of them be even close?

 

I don't want to lose the strength and technique I have managed to built up during the couple of years I have danced after I had to quit at 16. Is there anything I can do? Should I try to take a simple daily barre on my own, buy a pilates or a floor barre DVD, go for the hip hop class, just keep stretching, go swimming or what? I am really upset about this and really need some advice.

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Couldn't you find someone who would walk with you or drive there? I mean, you had to go to the school at the beginning but for the rest of the year you could find someone who goes there with you. Or you could get a bike so that you can pass the naughty area a bit quicker than just walking.

 

One class is better than nothing at all.

 

I do not think that a martial art does compensate ballet but it depends on what kind of martial art you are doing. I did Kung Fu and for me it was really good for my upper body and arms, the posture was basically the same as in ballet and we did a whole lot of nice stretching that also benefits dancers and some special kind of full body workout just to keep generally in shape. However, I head to deal with black bruises but you can avoid that in most schools if you do not want to have full body contac fights with other people.

 

What about Yoga? Or Qi Gong?

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A few suggestions:

1. Check at the local ballet school and see if they have any scholarships or work study.

2. Will you be in college or highschool as an exchange student? If it is college see what dance classes they have at the school. If it is not a college, but highschool where you will be studying, maybe check and see at the universities in the area if they have dance classes, if you haven't already. They might be cheaper than the local school or at least in a better neighborhood.

3. I think Claude's suggestion of finding a carpool situation sounds like a good one.

4. As far as activities to do, I would suggest swimming, tai chi and yoga. I ice skated and I loved it, but I ended up with a stress fracture. I think it is a fun sport and has some overlap with ballet, but it is more high risk, as is horse back riding and some of the martial arts. (If you can fall off, be thrown around or kicked think about it). I've also heard that the horseback riding develops different muscles than the ballet, and I would think it would be even more expensive than ballet classes.

5. Working on your own daily barre and ballet tapes is a good idea. It would most likely keep you in shape along with aerobics or swimming to keep up your stamina. Running is cheap but I've known a few people to have knee injuries (and have to get surgery in their 30s and 40s from running). I used to run daily in my 20s but then I stopped and I am kind of thankful because I still have my knees and no surgeries.

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To clarify things a bit:

 

I will be studying at a university that doesn't offer any form of dance. I don't think I can rely on a carpool because the uni is in the opposite direction to the town. Of course I can't be sure until I get there, but I have heard that there aren't many people living between the university and the dance school. Maybe things will turn out just fine and I will find another university student that could walk or drive with me but right now I would like to focus on finding out about other activities that could help me stay in shape in case I won't be able to take any classes.

 

Thank you for your suggestions, though, Claude_Catastrophique and Luceroblanco!

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My advice is just to play everything by ear. Most of all, as an adult dancer, remember you are a recreational dancer. You can most likely take a year completely off ballet and suffer no significant consequences. Technique is a skill and if you’ve been dancing seriously for several years, the amount of degradation in your technique after a year off will be minimal and will return quickly once you are back. Assuming you are about 20, the same is true for ballet related strength.

 

Of course psychologically, you might suffer a little. When we have a work routine that’s been established over years, completely changing that routine is something of a psychological trauma. But you will survive that.

 

My sense is that going to another country to study is a great learning opportunity. It’s not just the classes at the university. It’s also experiencing the culture of that country. I would take full advantage of that if I were you.

 

My counsel to you is to make your studies your first priority, getting to know the culture and people in the country your second priority, and dealing with what you do recreationally your third priority. What you do recreationally doesn’t matter. Now is the time to try different things. I wouldn’t even think about what those things might be until I started school. Take a sense of adventure with you.

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I'd take that Yoga class Niina. Yoga will help you maintain flexibility and it might teach you some new things about placement, control, and connecting movement to your breath. I know it did me.

Bringing a few really good Yoga and Pilates DVDs along with you might be a good idea. I've taken Yoga classes before where the instructor's lack of depth made me wish I was home with my video.

Swimming, tai chi, martial arts and hip-hop also sound like great things to work in. And I agree with Garyecht that, since you've already put in a number of years, your technique will still be there when you get home.

Have a great trip!

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I know how it feels to lose all you've worked for, but realistically, if you dance 5 times a week right now, then even if you were to reduce that to once per week, there is no way you would retain the technique and muscle strength you've gained from your daily classes. It'll be a good way to keep you from being totally lost when you return next year, but you will be at a significantly lower strength and technique level than you are now, and short of not going abroad for the year and staying where you are, there's nothing you can do about it. Even going to the gym every day won't train the same muscles, and won't help your technique.

 

I've been faced with similar decisions in the past so I know how it is, but you have to be honest with yourself about your expectations, and aware of what you have to give up.

 

I completely disagree with Garyecht about ballet being like riding a bike. If you don't dance, your technique will be gone. A year is almost like starting over. I know because I've done it, and I've been dancing since I was a child.

 

I do however agree that if you have no ballet career goals in mind, it doesn't really matter.

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I think that depends on the person and how much training they have. Regaining the control to execute the technique is one thing, but knowing how to move your body correctly doesn't disappear in a year for most people unless there wasn't much experience to begin with. A year just isn't that long. Having a break of 9 years and another of 2+ myself, the 2ish year one the only major hurdles have been strength and speed; needing to rebuild that is to be expected. Definitely not like starting over. :D

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Some counter examples for xSugarplum to ponder regarding the degradation of skill over time as applied to the adult dancer.

 

Two non dance examples: As a young man, I played a sport at a reasonably high level. After retiring from that sport I went on to other things. I did come back to it 13 years later where I taught newcomers the technique of that sport. I didn’t do the sport. Just barely demonstrated. After teaching for 3 years, I went back to performing. Though my physical capabilities had degraded substantially, my technique actually had improved over when I was competing at my highest level.

 

There was a second sport in my life too. After several years of noninvolvement of any kind in that sport, I did it again recreationally for one day. Again, I noted substantial physical degradation, but no degradation at all in technique.

 

One ballet example: Essentially I “retired” from ballet six years ago. Though I continue to dance almost daily (modern and Spanish), I take about one ballet class a year. I believe that in those years there has been almost no degradation in my ballet technique. In fact I sense my use of turn out and ballet turns has actually improved slightly (continued degradation in physical capability however, but that’s to be expected at my age).

 

Physiologically developing a physical skill is a matter of developing specific motor pathways that cause specific muscle fibers to contract thus executing the skill. IF one develops a strong motor pathway, especially when the skill is developed when young and with serious practice, these motor pathways degrade extremely slowly.

 

So when you have been away from ballet for a while, why does it feel as if you technique has degraded? My guess is that issue is more due to psychology than anything else. Coming back feels strange simply because you are not accustomed to the routine of ballet, the shear repetition that is characteristic of ballet. Being away from ballet may increase insecurity, anxiety and hypersensitivity about performing in class as well as before. Yes, you might not be able to do some complex skill like turning as well on that first day but after a few classes you are fine. It isn’t as if you have to relearn everything from scratch.

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Guest Pas de Quoi

I teach adult open classes of various levels and many dancers come into class stating they haven't been dancing for three years, or since the birth of their last baby, or since they left college, etc. etc. All of them talk about feeling "rusty" or "out of shape" etc. etc. and of course they do feel that way. But to look at them, I can see immediately their technique, artistry and musicality (of course it is different for each dancer and does depend on whether the dancer is coming back from an injury of some sort). I would venture to suggest that if one was a beginning dancer returning, one would look like a beginner and if one was an advanced dancer returning, one would look that way as well. Perhaps the advanced dancer's extensions would be lower, maybe he/she would fall out of turns or not do a jeté battu but just a simple jeté but the lines (most important) and the muscle memory would still be there. Good training takes a long time and as Garyecht pointed out in the post above this one, (happily) it doesn't just "go away".

 

I used to take the weekday 11:00 Professional level class at Stanley Holden's and would be just amazed at the caliber of so called "out of shape" dancers in the class complaining that it had been years since they took class. I remember wishing I looked that good and I was taking class every day! :thumbsup:

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Well, I've done other sports too (figure skating) and since it's based on muscle memory it can be gone in as little as 3 months, so I think it depends on the sport. Some sports like soccer or volleyball probably don't go away so fast.

 

As far as ballet, I guess it depends what level you are dancing at. For example, its a known fact any respectable school won't allow anyone who isn't dancing at least 3 classes per week to do pointe work. There's a reason: you're not strong enough, because you're not taking enough classes. There's a reason someone dancing 5-6 times a week gets stronger than someone dancing once a week. I think it's kind of baffling that someone would think taking a year off wouldn't make the muscles you *need* to dance correctly go away. It's common sense to me.

 

When I came back and couldn't do fouettes on pointe for several months, my teachers all told me "the technique is there, but your muscles just aren't strong enough yet". And that's exactly what it was: I knew how to do the step, but my body simply didn't have the strength anymore, despite going to the gym everyday. Things like spotting are also engrained in muscle memory and need time to come back. You will lose quick spotting if you don't do it for a while. Same with centering. If you've ever only been doing single or double pirouettes, they probably won't go away in a year. But if you're doing 6, then you can bet they'll be gone pronto. So I think it depends what kind of level you're dancing at.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Niina!

 

How about adding some barre á terre to your work out plan, along whatever you prefer from the other ideas?

 

All the best for your exchange year!

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Thank you for all the advice and suggestions! I really needed some perspective, I'm not going abroad to dance, I'm going there to study and that will probably take most of my time and energy. It won't be the end of the world if I have to give up ballet for a year (nine months, actually!) and I'm sure I will be able to gain back the lost strength fairly quickly when I return home. I am planning on stretching and doing some floor barre exercises daily and just hope for the best. I'm leaving on Friday and can't wait to see what it will be like on the other side of the world!

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I went through the same issues for graduate school, time and money were the issue. Your studies must come first.

 

Dance will still be there when you finish your studies.

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