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Almost in tears!


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Hi there,

I am a returning adult ballet student. I did ballet for a few years from about the ages of 9 or so 'till I was maybe 12. Having returned to classes, I am realizing that I did not get that far....I was very graceful and got the lead in shows but I was always AWFUL at remembering or "getting" my steps. I don't have the best coordination in the world and though I am a clever person ( I like to think so anyhow) and a talented painter, I feel stupid in my ballet class. I thought I was getting better; my pirouettes are improving, I am understanding things that I didn't at first after about 2 months of classes three times a week now, but I had an awful time last week at my class. We had a different teacher than usual and I found her pace, especially in the floor exercises to be too fast for me. The thing is that, though I am no kid, I am at the younger end of things in the class and definitely fitter than most ( I hike every day) and everyone else seemed to keep up just fine. I just couldn't seem to get the turns we were doing across the floor and I feel like an idiot...I said that I would rather just sit that step series out, but the teacher insisted I try and she danced with me accross the floor, making me feel more idiotic.

I like to be good at things in my life but I am feeling that I am not so at my ballet class, though I know that the goal is just fitness and enjoyment, I want so much to be good. I understand that many of the other women in the class may have pursued ballet for much longer periods than I in the past, but I feel that I should be improving faster. In a class of about 10 women (on average) I am also one of the few who can't yet do the splits.

I think that my body and movements are very nice ( I receive compliments on these), my feet are supposedly beautiful and my posture is better than most...but I am the idiot of the class when it comes to my steps!

Please help with any thoughts or ideas on how to get better. Am I unusual in my inability to " get" it?

I am one of those who has a hard time tapping her head and rubbing her stomach at the same time!

Edited by rlyons
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How old are you? I cannot do a split, never could, and never will. I don't even bother trying. I would not worry about not having a split as an adult who is not planning to perform.


2 months of classes as an adult is not very much. Even though you are taking 3 times a week, which sets you up to improve quicker than once or twice a week. Even though you might have taken as a child, if you are over 25 that was at least 10 years ago. You have a different body and have done many activities since. You also may be going to school full time, be working or have a family to take care of. There are many things on your mind now that were not there when you were 10 years old.


I did not have a problem picking up when I used to take ballet as an adult 15-20 years ago but I think it was because my teacher then INSISTED that we do not look at other people--that we had to figure it out for ourselves. I restarted a year ago and I had a terrible time. I could not remember ANYTHING as far as combinations at the barre. In center I was a little better because the combinations were shorter. I did start in a class that was beyond me last fall--I stayed in the class for a month but then asked to take a slower class because the only way I could make it through was to copy other dancers. Unfortunately, for me, that was long enough for my brain to get used to copying. It took months to break me out of that habit, and until I did, I could not begin to remember combinations. My memory has improved considerably over the year but it is still not what it was when it comes to picking up and remembering combinations, but I keep at it.

The things I suggest, that worked for me (but may not work for you as everyone is different)


1. Make sure that you are NOT copying someone else ever. Get in the front of the barre or behind someone who makes even more mistakes than you do, so you will not be tempted to copy them. Force yourself to think for yourself.

2. Ask yourself after each combination, "what steps are in it? How many? Where does it close? What is my head doing? When are my arms doing? How many counts, etc." Some have other suggestions on how to break it down, but this is what works for me. When I used to take ballet when I was younger, I just had to say the combination in my head once and that would be enough for me to execute it. That is not enough now.

3. Do all the center work, even if you think you don't know what to do, start it and finish it like you do. (Fake it until you make it).

4. Practice, either visualizing or the actual steps at home.

5. Write down whatever you can remember immediately after class. Not necessarily to reference, but just as an exercise to get your brain focused and poised to remember.

6. Ask your teacher after class if there were any combinations you missed, to show them again. This may not work though, as some teachers make stuff up in the moment and forget it.

7. Take classes at another studio or with a different teacher periodically. This always helps me. Whether the class is easier or harder than what I'm used to I always feel more confident coming back to my regular studio after I have taken class somewhere else.

8. If ballet terminology is a problem, look up the terms online or in a ballet dictionary and memorize them.You can't remember the combinations unless you know the terminology. Some teachers will not even show the combination, they will just say it.

9. Before you start class, arrive early, stretch and center yourself.

10. Review mentally or check online/dictionary any step that you were hesitant about in class as soon as possible after class.


I also keep a dance journal. I will write down any notes or corrections from class and also my feelings about the class and my progress. This helps you get the frustration out and put it somewhere that is not self-destructive. Also it serves as a record of how you are doing. You can check back in a couple of months and realize that you learned how to do "X" and it was really difficult before, but now it's easy, and it is gratifying to be aware of that.

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Thanks for the input! This will help lots! Right now, I arrive in class early so I can be in the middle of the barre somewhere so I can copy someone else. I never knew that this was not ok and I always do it...good advice to try not to copy.

It has been, dare I say it, 25 years since I did ballet as a kid...AAAGGHH! So maybe I should not be quite so hard on myself...I am a bit of a perfectionist in most areas of my life though. I grew up with a lot of sisters and we always competed.

It's funny that I can easily keep up with anyone in class from an aerobic perspective, as I am very fit but it's the steps that get me...a lot of the women in their 60's complain about the level of activity of the class but find the actual steps easy enough.

The class I take is called a beginner/ intermediate class but it seems pretty advanced to me! There are some former professionals who have been injured and some adults who took ballet in college so they know more than me.

As far as the splits go...I was 13 or 14 when I last could do them easily...maybe I was still able to do them at 19 or 20 after practice. I am 40 now (scary!! But I still get carded!!) and my teacher thinks if I continue to practice I will be able to do them in a few months.

I am an artist and besides my art, ballet is very much on my mind! I even practice steps in my head! When I am in class, I think of nothing else. I really love it and just want to be the best I can be.

Anyhow, thanks for the advice. I have been looking up the steps online and practicing a lot at home. I will be doing all of what you suggested.

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.....................I think that my body and movements are very nice ( I receive compliments on these), my feet are supposedly beautiful and my posture is better than most...but I am the idiot of the class when it comes to my steps!

Please help with any thoughts or ideas on how to get better. Am I unusual in my inability to " get" it?

I am one of those who has a hard time tapping her head and rubbing her stomach at the same time!



Well you have a lot going for you to begin with, right? The brain can always grow more neural connections, it's not like you are stuck with bad feet or a bad body, so first off I would say count your blessings!


As for the steps- I can relate, I was so incredibly bad at first, I couldn't even get "en croix" at the barre.


Now confusing choreograghy is my favorite part of ballet. I find it exhilerating- having to figure it all out really fast etc. That is what keeps me coming back to ballet and that is what keeps hooked. If the steps were easy, I wouldn't like ballet nearly as much. So enjoy the confusion, it is magical!


Having said that, I have in fact improved a huge amount and put in a lot of effort. What had helped me is:



3)Ballet reference book (Time/money)

4)Writing out as much as I can remember (Time)





9)prayer :devil: (just kidding...)


Good luck & have fun!!

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What I tell my adult students all the time is: Do the steps you know!!


It never fails that I will give a 32 count 'across the floor' combination, with a bunch of steps that everyone in the room knows, and somewhere in the middle I give 1 new step.... and the whole room is paralyzed!! This is when I scream "Do the steps you know!" and guess what, 9 times out of 10, the new step doesn't look half bad.


Remember the 4 P's:





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I'm sorry you were almost in tears.... ballet is supposed to be an uplifting experience! It sounds to me as though the level of the class is past your level of experience, much like me going into an advanced painting class when I haven't yet learned to properly mix colors, hold my brush, or learned shape and line. It's like you haven't yet learned all of your alphabet but you're trying to write a thesis.


I think you said it best when you said, "I am a bit of a perfectionist in most areas of my life though. I grew up with a lot of sisters and we always competed." Ballet as an adult student is about the process and the learning of an exquisite art form. It takes years and years to master ballet even when one starts aged 5 and doesn't stop....the only competition should be with yourself to strive to do better than before. That's it.


I want to challenge you: Next class you take you are not allowed to watch your fellow dancers. Period. You are to simply focus on yourself and your movements; the music and timing, and the usage of your own muscles as they try to create the perfection of line in ballet. I don't even want you to be able to remember what color leotards others wore.


I also think you could drop back to the beginner level for at least one class per week.

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I cannot tell you how helpful I have found these posts, I realised finally :blushing: (I suppose better late than never) what a negative impact copying other people has on me because I am so focused on trying to copy and less on the actual movements and the execution thereof, suddenly it all makes sense.


rlyons I feel for you it is very frustrating when you feel so far behind, if it is any consolation there are lots of us who cannot do the splits and possibly never will be able to and who have also been danced with across the floor by either another more advanced student or the teacher, know that they are only trying to help you sometimes to feel the rhythmn because then for some people the steps come a lot easier.


GTLS Designs comment on focusing on the steps you know and the one you dont wont be so bad is IMHO a great piece of advice which I will definitely be trying to apply this more thank you :devil:


IMO being a bit of a perfectionist is part of being good at any one of the arts that one pursues it is what makes us strive for improvement and ultimately perfectionism, it is extremely frustrating when one is feeling deflated and so far behind but it is also part of the drive to improve.


Good luck rlyons I hope that ballet will give you that uplifting experience that Clara76 talks about for me, it is like therapy.

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What was the turn across the floor called? I didn't see you identify it.


I will tell you, when I started ballet for the very first time, I was at least 26. It was an adult class of mixed levels...and I was beyond frustrated. I remember when we'd do a combination at barre, I'd "just about" get to the point where I was doing 75% of it, then the combination was over.


I'd go home and practice that combination over and over thinking next time I'd have it. Then of course, the next time the combination was a little different.


I was HOPELESS in centre, at first...


It really did take me putting myself in the very front of the line at barre and in the front at centre...saying the names of the steps over and over in my head...before I started really progressing on my own.


So 1) brush up on your ballet dictionary, so you know exactly what you are doing, 2) position yourself where you can't watch anyone else, 3) as the teacher gives the combination DON'T do it as she goes...instead, watch and listen, 4) remember the names of the combination in your head (my brain is saying "tendu front, plie, tendu front, cambre front, cambre back, tendu en croix), 5) just do it. :)

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Thanks everyone! Great advice!

I actually CAN'T drop back to a beginner class as I am already IN the beginner/ intermediate class and it is the lowest level. I think that the teachers we have appeal to the MOST experienced dancers in the class rather than keeping things simpler for the LEAST experienced.

The thing is, I actually had been having a fabulous time in my classes, feeling I was really getting things and last week was just an awful week for me in that we had a new teacher, there were more than usual experienced women in the class and a new combination was introduced.

I am going tonight though after taking five days off and really hope I can not be put off by my own expectations of myself.


I will try not to copy others tonight....I probably already know more than I think I do. I refuse to give up; I could so easily not go again but I will make myself and I'm sure that I will get better in time.

I will try not to compete with others as I am so want to do and I will also simply try to do my very best without feeling disappointed in my abilities.


Thanks to all for the practical advice. It means a lot to me and I feel a little cheered up that I am not unusual! :)

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Temptress too,

The step across the floor was a pique. The funny thing is, it looked easy when the others did it. I can do many of the other steps in the floor work; pas de chat, jumps, etc. but for some bizarre reason, the pique was beyond me! LOL

I found a video online which demonstrates it well.

I wish that my teaches would say things like " lead with the right foot, then step on the the left," etc... but they presume our brains can see all of this when they demonstrate.

It works for many of the others but not for me.


I am also a very emotional, sensitive person and pathetically, after I got into my car after class, I weeped a little!!!! I feel silly now...but I want so badly to be good...I feel about 12 again!


I take pleasure in the fact that my footwork is pretty and that my arms are pretty graceful....I just hate feeling like a thick idiot!!! LOL

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I understand where you are coming from...and for that reason, I take at two different studios. I found a second studio in town of about equivalent "quality" that has more of a beginner class. It helps me break down the steps I had previously been "faking" through.


You should try your piques at the barre until you get the hang of it. Sometimes the thought of possibly falling over the top of the balance (and/or, not getting quite there at all) throws you off. If you have something to hold onto, you can work out the mechanics. Then move it to centre.

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"Wishing the teacher would say..." : these are the things that you are now realizing that you have to notice of when the teacher shows the combination. None of them are going to say "lead with the right foot, then step left" -- at least I have not heard any teacher give that much detail, even in the most beginning classes. These are actually the little details that can throw us off. Sometimes I will have the combination right in centre but rather than closing in back I close in front, and then the whole thing seems wrong because I would have to start the wrong way because of it, or stick an extra step in there to do it right. I once did a few rounds of a combination like that and finally asked my teacher what I was doing wrong and THEN he/she said "oh you didn't close back so..." It is going to take a while to be able to absorb all those details. These teachers do go fast and at most will show the combination twice and it isn't always enough time for us to get everything organized in our heads. I think that you are already ahead of the game because you realized after only two months that something wasn't working for you and you have identified what you need to know in order to do the combination. So those are the questions that you will need to ask yourself. But do not worry if you aren't able to get to those details YET. Since you have been copying, it may take a while just for your brain to get used to the idea of acting independently in ballet class. Like I said it took me MONTHS to get over that after a month of copying. Hopefully it will be easier for you because you are aware of it now and conscious of it. It is obviously easier for the brain to just watch and copy then to figure it out itself so once it gets used to that it's a challenge sometimes for it to think independently. Go easy on yourself. As Clara said it's a process and after only 2 months it sounds like you are doing fine and in a few more you probably won't even believe how much you will have improved. As others have said you have everything else going for you.


I also think that beg/intermediate is going to be a tough class to teach. At my studio there are at least 4 levels of beginner before intermediate. If the teacher is gearing the class towards intermediate dancers then it is just going to be tough for anyone restarting or starting for the first time.

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None of them are going to say "lead with the right foot, then step left" -- at least I have not heard any teacher give that much detail, even in the most beginning classes.


(Coming from my perspective in teaching ice skating to kids and adults)


I think that this quote is SO correct. That's just not how ballet is taught for the most part. Because, like ice skating, ballet is generally taught to children. And adults are much more analytical then children, so when the standard way to teach is to demonstrate and then have students copy, and then correct the students- adults tend to get very frustrated, because they often want a very very specific breakdown of exactly what should happen and when before they are even willing to try the step. The entire teaching method is then broken, because it's based on trying and being corrected.


As an adult ice skater- I learned that way too. You would not get me to do anything until you told me EVERYTHING about it. To the extent that I, like many other adults, OVER-thought it, and were then no longer paralyzed by fear- but by thinking. Instead, it is often better to just DO. (I'm better at "doing" in ballet, where I don't have to worry about cracking my head on the ice)


To the OP: Piques are hard. As a drill team dancer, I only ever did pique turns- so the first time I was just asked to do pique I was astonished how difficult it was to do the motion across the floor.


I also have trouble memorizing combinations. My goal for a very difficult one is to pick the part of the combination I want to get right (for example "jump at the same time as everyone else") and focus on that. Anything else I do right is a bonus :)

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...to the last two responders...

Yes! You know exactly what I mean! And I guess it's true that children pick things up great from copying the teacher... but as an adult, I am analytical and need everything broken down! Sometimes, when one of our teaches says " Just dance"..I do way better as I am just feeling rather than figuring!

Or when we are told "make everything bigger"...I sometimes do better also as I am concentrating more on that than the actual steps and maybe somewhere in there, I know them better than I realize.


As an aritst and occasional art teacher of adults, I can see that adults need more technical direction than a kid might. I often tell an adult student to "loosen up", "feel it"..in fact, that makes something click for me...dance IS an art and by making it all so technical when you are never going to be a prima ballerina anyhow is maybe missing the point.

A teacher told me a few weeks ago that I have "beautiful emotion"....made me smile as that is why I always liked ballet as a kid....I preferred to be an Isadora Duncan, if you will, than someone who merely knew the steps...sometimes I just wanted to focus on the feeling! I need to get this back.....and I will probably do better technically too..if I let go a little!

Too bad you can't have wine in class! I'd probabaly do waaayyyy better! LOL! :)

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I know that this is going to sound all artsy-craftsy, but the next time you feel almost in tears, remember this:


It's not about you. It's not about the steps. It's about the art. Let dance well out of you, and don't be concerned if you don't get the components quite right this time; MOVE! and move beautifully. Balanchine had it right in this case, "Don't think, dear, just do."


Let joy live in your movement.

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