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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Adult Ballet Student: Training Advice


Daydreamer

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Hello, everyone!

 

I am an adult ballet student, and I have a few questions. I returned to ballet a few years ago (I'm in my early 30s) and have been working hard to progress and improve as much as I can. I know that it's much too late to have a professional career, but I would like to reach a performance-level quality and, hopefully, be able to teach one day. I realize that this will be challenging, but I am committed to putting in the time and effort (as well as the pain, tears, and joy) required.

 

That said, I have a question about the classes I am taking and the classes I could possibly add to my schedule. I have been taking 1-2 classes per week during the school year and attending programs elsewhere during the summer. I am currently taking a one-hour, 15-minute adult ballet (intermediate-level) class and a one-hour (mostly teens) intermediate ballet/pointe class per week. I have some options for additional classes, but I am unsure which would be best: I can add an advanced course (mostly teens) and/or an adult beginning ballet class; in addition, I can add some private lessons.

 

Here are some of my questions:

1) Is it better to take a class that is quite a bit above my current level, or is it better to take a beginning class to work on perfecting basics?

2) Is it advisable to also add private lessons? If so, how many private lessons per month should one try to have?

3) My classes are at different studios (I will at least be attending classes at 2 studios, at most 3-4 studios). Is it bad to take classes at different studios and have technique classes in different styles?

 

Thank you very much for any advice you may have!

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Sometimes it is necessary for adults to take at different studios to receive enough classes per week. If you can get enough classes, good classes, classes at the right level for you, then privates should not be necessary. The cost of privates could equate to several classes per week. With the goals that you have set for yourself, your prime objective right now needs to be a lot more classes. Ninety minute classes, and as many as you can fit in. Lower levels once in a while are helpful, but levels above only if the teacher feels that you are ready for them.

 

That said, becoming a teacher is a whole different ball game. You first must become a very accomplished dancer, even if not professional. Teacher training will also be necessary. Just being able to do it is not enough. You have to know how to teach it, which involves a full understanding of not only the technique from A to Z, but the whole progression of it, in terms of what has to be taught before something else can be taught. You need to know how the body moves, what different bodies are capable of doing and not doing, and what are the primary things needed and the motivating movements for what you want to teach. Every excercise at the barre has a purpose that needs to be understood, and related to what they will be doing in the center. I see children all the time being taught pirouettes, and they don't even own a decent relevé in retiré position yet, much less the knowledge of what creates the turn and all of the other many ingredients that go into this very complicated pie! That is just one very simple and obvious example. There are hundreds more.

 

It is a fine goal, but, if you want to be a really good teacher, there is a long road ahead. It can, however, be a very rewarding one. :(

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As per usual, Victoria’s advice is spot on. I’d just add a couple of things. With regard to levels of classes you might take, I think the vast majority should be at the level where you feel most comfortable. It’s good to take some classes where the others in the class are better than you because they will give you models to watch and emulate. More important than level in my mind is the teacher. Some teachers you just connect with and those are the ones you want to follow.

 

The other thing I’d encourage is to focus on shorter term goals for now, particularly finding enjoyment in what you do in class as well as those things mentioned in Victoria’s post.

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Thank you, Victoria and Garyecht! I greatly appreciate the advice.

 

First of all, a question for both of you, since you both addressed this in your replies: The class that is at a more advanced level is about my level or just slightly above at the barre, but the across-the-floor work is quite a bit above my level. The instructor (who is lovely and seems to be a great teacher) told me that I am always welcome in her class and "did fine" in the class that I tried. Would it be advisable to ask if I could take just the barre portion of this more advanced class? Would that even be helpful to my goals?

 

Garyecht, thank you for the reminder to find enjoyment in my classes. I've been concentrating so much on technique, technique, technique that I was forgetting sometimes to enjoy myself while in class! I love being in class, and that should be my main reason for being there.

 

Victoria, thank you very much for your help. I definitely want to add as many classes as possible and, yes, this unfortunately means taking at many studios here. I'm open to (and am currently) taking classes at many different studios, but it is difficult to decipher which studios are the best in my city. I've had to cross some studios with good reputations off my list because they discourage adults in teen (or younger) classes (which is certainly understandable, but unfortunate for me). I chose my first studio because it's the home studio of the most well-known ballet company in my area. Unfortunately, I am only able to take the adult classes there, but, while the majority of students are there for recreational dancing, the teachers are good, and different levels are offered. I chose the second studio through word-of-mouth; it is not a competition studio, and the instructor and fellow students (all teens) welcomed me to their class with no reservations. There are a few other studios where I could possibly take classes, but I am unsure which studios would be best. Do you have any recommendations for choosing a studio, or is there a place on this board where I could ask about studios in my area?

 

Thank you, also, for your insightful advice regarding teaching. While I have taught Pilates and done some personal training, I do not have experience teaching dance. I do, however, plan to do whatever I can to become a really good teacher, and I keep this in mind while taking my classes, as well. That's one of the good things about taking classes from different instructors and at different studios: I am able to observe different teaching and correcting styles, and note how and why certain ways (and different ways) of correcting work. That said, I know that I will need to do a lot of work and a lot of training before I will be able to teach; I know that it will be a long road, as you said. To set some goals for myself, it might help to understand the prerequisites for some potential teacher-training programs. Are there any particular teacher-training programs and/or certifications you recommend?

 

Thank you, both, for all your help. It's so nice to have this board!

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I can’t tell you what you should do. You have to figure that out on your own. I will give you my experience, however, which may or may not be relevant for you. I used to take this class that was loaded with seriously good people—professionals, teachers, the best amateurs, and a few duffers like myself. No way that I was in their league. I especially loved that class when I found myself at the barre sandwiched between two professionals. They were my models and I swear my barre work was better than at other times on those days. In center work, which would include across the floor pirouettes, I’d also place myself in a way I could see the really good folk and try to copy what they did. I did struggle mightily in petit allegro. The combinations were long and the music fast. Incompetent was probably the best description of my work there. Grand allegro was reasonably decent.

 

What I got from those classes was knowing what I needed to work on. I have always been big on practicing outside of class and I used to repeat the petit allegro combination from that class again and again until I could do it, perhaps not at the speed it was done in class, but at least in what I’ll call a smooth, connected way. That always made me feel good. If there were parts of center that gave me trouble, I’d also practice those outside of class.

 

Because the majority of class was made up of such really good dancers, dancers that I could never in my wildest dreams match in terms of skill and ability, I had zero motivation to “compete.” I could spend all my energy just trying to get a little better and got tremendous enjoyment from the class if for no other reason than associating with the best.

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Hi Daydreamer,

Welcome (back) to the wonderful adult ballet world...I'll add my experience with picking classes and forever fiddling with my classes and training to add to the great advice from Ms. Leigh and Garyecht, but as Garyecht so aptly put it, only YOU can decide what will work for you at your level; with your work style, personality, and goals; and with the classes and instructors available to you. It really IS a personal and highly variable dilemma as well as a matter of almost continual trial and error (as soon as you happen upon THE combination of classes and schedule, something changes and you have to adapt!).

 

In my experience, I have found it very helpful to:

1) take my main classes at my current level,

2) also take a class at a lower level to really work on the many little things I know I have to improve upon, with the new awareness of my body as well as a better appreciation of how the little things play into being able to do BIGGER things, which is the 20-20 hindsight that comes with the spiraling nature of learning ballet...you learn some things and those things make the previous things that you learned really "click" ("oh, THAT is why we really emphasized X at the barre, because you have to do X as part of Y" or "Ok, NOW I really know what muscles are supposed to be initiating this movement and those corrections from before totally make sense!". I find that the lower level class can really make me sweat and fatigue my muscles because I can concentrate on the little things without having to worry about learning a new barre combination or choreography.

3) take a class at a level a little above where I am, to see where things are going, to watch more advanced dancers and learn by observing, to push myself (as Garyecht said), and to round out my assessment of where I am right now and what I need to work on to progress.

 

All that being said, that's the theoretically ideal case, and my choice and mixture of classes also has depended upon obvious things like the quality of instruction and organization of the class. I like getting lots of personal corrections, so I like smaller classes with a really hands-on instructor. I also like a collegial atmosphere where the other students have a good attitude, work hard, and are mostly friendly. I've gotten the unfriendly snobby vibe from beginner classes and lots of welcome and friendly help from very advanced dancers in classes that were over my head, so it's hard to predict. I like to dance with really advanced or ex-pros sometimes for the same reasons Gary mentioned, as long as I get the impression that I'm welcome and not "in the way"...again, so variable from class to class, studio to studio, instructor to instructor...which is why no one can tell you what to do :wink:

 

In my opinion, a range of classes gives you good input (classes where you are and lower classes to go back and "clean up" or focus on your weaknesses) AND a good healthy perspective; knowing where you stand in the food chain is good for humility AND confidence, which is not as contradictory as it sounds...everyone starts somewhere and should be proud of hard work and progression no matter how incremental, but no one is so good that they are above working on fundamentals or trying to get even better! The journey is part of the joy. Not sure if this has helped, but I wish you good luck in finding YOUR perfect schedule. :)

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Daydreamer-

I agree with kylara.

As for classes above your level: I personally find them to be extremely frustrating if they are much beyond my level. But they can be fun and inspiring. Having been on both sides of the equation (that is, having been in a class over my head and also having been in a class that was right for me but a "reach" for others), I only recommend that you take care to avoid being a "road hazard" in the harder classes. That is, choose spots in the room where, if you go astray, you don't risk tripping somebody else up.

 

Otherwise, enjoy! :innocent:

 

PS Also be aware that, at least where I've been, the actual level of the class can depend on the teacher, the composition of that class that day, and --oh by the way--the name of the class.

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Thank you, Garyecht, kaylara7, and koshka! Your feedback has been very helpful! And you're right: I must ultimately make the best decision for me regarding my class schedule. After much thought, I decided to commit to the challenging, more advanced class for a couple of reasons: first of all, the instructor is very, very good (in my opinion, better than my other instructors); secondly, I felt good after the class because I pushed myself to try things when my first thought was, "I can't." I feel like I will learn a lot from this class, and the instructor and other students have been very welcoming and helpful.

 

Again, thank you for all your help! Since my city does not have a professional ballet company, it has been difficult to pinpoint the best schools and classes. Little by little, however, I am finding the "hidden gems," and it has helped a lot to use this board to read others' experiences and understand what I should be looking for!

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Just tagging on to say that I don't think you could achieve what you want to on only 2-3 hours of ballet a week. By mixing studios and levels, you probably need to build up to doing daily class. I'd also add some other dance styles: a good contemporary class with a lot of release-based floor work, or Graham work, will add an extraordinary amount to your body's muscle knowledge and proprioception.

 

As for levels -- as others have said, it's good to have a class a little beyond your reach, and a good basic class. I'm coming back from an injury and I'm doing a lower level class than I would usually do, although my studio has a rule (regularly flouted, I'm afraid) that we shouldn't mix levels. It's actually a stupid rule (hence the flouting), but implemented because beginners felt "intimidated" by having more advanced dancers in class. So tact is required in a lower level class, I find. On the other hand, I know that I appreciate having another student to follow!

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Thanks, Redbookish! I am trying to add as many classes as I can (currently at 4 days), and am trying to get daily classes through a combination of studios. I've been concentrating on ballet at the moment, but I do love contemporary and know I should add it to my schedule.

 

I am finding it very helpful to take these different levels. It's a shame your studio has a rule about mixing levels, although I do understand their reasoning.

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