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Hopeless in Center


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I have been taking classes for about 3 months now, with no prior dance experience whatsoever. While I have seen huge improvements in my ability to follow the barre portion of class, in the center I am completely hopeless. I have tried different classes, and part of the problem is that nearly all classes expect you to follow a combination rather than a single step. Since I haven't learned most of the individual steps, it is extra hard to follow. Throw in some pirouettes (which I have not been given any instruction on) and I start to have a panic attack. Beyond the multiple steps, the other issue is that I am also having problems even "getting" the single steps, even very basic ones like glissade, pique and pas de bourre. Even during the few times when I've had these steps demonstrated very slowly and singularly, I am way below average (compared to other beginners) in being able to remember and execute these properly. My panic starts before the step even begins-- I get very mixed up on what foot to start with and what foot to end with, despite being told multiple times! Then if I am able to actually put my feet in the right place, then I have the emphasis wrong (and don't get me started on the arms). If I manage to occasionally "get" a step correctly, this is absolutely no guarantee I can repeat it-- most likely I forget entirely how it felt and am back to square one.


Will this ever change? Any tips?

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  • Geezer


  • KikiM


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Awww...KikiM, that will change:) I only started to "get it" after about a year...so be patient with yourself! The fact that you are improving at barre and keeping up so well there means that centre work will follow :)

I am still not great at petit allegro as it's fast for me and hard to remember the combinations! And some days are better than others ;)

My advice is to be patient with yourself..try to go over things in your head after class and often you will "get it" when there is no pressure to perform in class.

Watch those who know more than you to see how the steps look cleanly executed...and practise at the back when another group is doing the combinations...practise makes perfect :)

You are, no doubt, doing great if you go to classes a few times a week and try to go easy on yourself...you can only do as well as your best, eh!?

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Things will get better, KikiM :) Part of the problem might be that 'beginners' classes are often actually pitched at 'begin-againers' - who took classes for years as children. This is why the teacher might assume that you know how to pirouette, what a glissade is, etc.


I would recommend asking the teacher if you're not sure about a step. Also, as BlleFille says, practise at the back of the class as the other group is doing the combination.


It will take time and practice. I was hilarious in centre floor for ages. I am now slightly less hilarious. :P

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Thanks to you both for your replies and encouragement-- I absolutely do try to practice at the back of the room, and often ask an experienced dancer to show me the step (they are always sooo nice!), but at this stage nothing seems to help! On top of that, when it comes time for center in one particular class, we are called intro rows by ability-- and I am always in the last row, even when new people come. No question that is where I belong, but it is disheartening not to be making progress. But I do want to make clear that despite the ranking system, both the teacher and the other students are nothing but encouraging-- which in some respects, makes me feel worse when I continue to flop (oh those assembles!). I know beginners aren't supposed to be practicing at home really-- but do you think it would help to get some dvd's on center work and try to learn some of this stuff on my own time, or might I risk learning it incorrectly? I was thinking of the Finis Jhung DVD's-- I did take one of his centerwork "workshops" in person, but it was so crowded it was all I could do to keep from knocking into anyone (I have hit a couple of girls before with my unweildly turns-- mortifying!)

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Are you doing any reading to help yourself along in class? I'm thinking about books like Gretchen Ward Warren's Classical Ballet Technique, or perhaps Gail Grant's ballet dictionary. Warren's book is wonderfully full of photographs. There's also ABT's ballet (video) dictionary online.


The advantage beginning adults have over beginning children is that we can, independently, use our intellect (and research skills!) to learn and partially fill in some of the knowledge gaps still left after class. If you are able to review these steps on paper and begin to understand what they are used for and supposed to look like, some tips of how to accomplish them, and what various terms mean, you'll have a head start in the studio. It won't make your dancing perfect, but you might be able to use your class time more productively.


It also sounds like your learning style right now might be better suited to an extended, registered series of (ideally smaller) classes than the open classes and short workshops you've done so far. These classes are more likely to follow a progressive syllabus that will introduce steps in thorough detail one at a time, and the teacher is also more likely to develop an understanding of you, your current abilities and your short- and long-term potential. Both of those things are of immeasurable value at the beginning.

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Per Gav's point on possibly finding an extended, series-style class, Kiki: I know from doing my own research that there are a few 6- and 8-week workshops beginning quite soon--within the next week or so-- at Steps, BDC, and Mark Morris in NYC. I've heard especially nice things about the Steps workshop teacher, Kathy Sullivan, from older threads on this very board. I know you recently did that workshop at Joffrey, but it might potentially be nice to have another progressive course that's spread out over more weeks as a counterbalance to (what I imagine was) the drinking-from-the-fire-hose experience of the Joffrey intensive?


Good luck, keep trying, and above all, be kind to yourself! :)

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Gav-I do have many books and watch the online videos, which help somewhat. But it's like I am missing the boat though on some of these steps.


Disarmedfae, please keep me up to date on which classes you end up in, I am sure we will cross paths at some point!

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Will do, Kiki--I agree, we're bound to end up next to one another at the barre one day soon. Congrats on the successful class tonight, and safe travels!

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Will this ever change? Any tips?


It will change, it probably is changing already, but so slowly that you don't notice it day to day.


I had a wise teacher who used to tell us that "It's when you're falling over your feet that you're learning the most." Learning is hard, ballet is difficult, but it will change and improve.


How many classes a week are you doing? Could you add in a class -- that might help.


And yes!!! Ms Sullivan is a wonderful teacher. I'm more advanced, but still try to take her classes at Steps when I'm in NYC. Her teaching is excellent and she is warm and helpful.

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KikiM, I promise, promise, promise we (by that I mean new adult beginners ie never danced before) were all where you are now! I admit I didnt have the combinations that it sounds like you are getting but I do remember doing assemble's for literally a month before we learnt to do a glissade which we did for about another month before my teacher innocently asked us to do glissade assemble :pinch: (I looked for the "cant watch" icon I have on my cellphone but couldnt find one). 10 years on I still find centre work MUCH harder than anything at the barre; but, yes it has improved.


I bought the Gretchen Ward Warren book last year after all the mentions of it on this board and I had so many aaaahhhhh moments it was quite scary... sometimes I still need the VERY obvious pointed out to me, sometimes I can just copy and get it; but it has taken a long time in coming.


I do find (for myself) that I prefer syllabus type classes which tend to be somewhat repetitive (at least from one lesson to the next the same exercises remain the same) but that is just a me thing...I am a bit of a perfectionist and I do like to get things just right.

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3 months? Itis been over 3 YEARS for me and center work still has my head spinning. But I keep on trying.

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Yet another voice here to attest to that I have been exactly where you were and felt much the same...like I was awful and was totally over my head and dreaded center and would often be in tears after class. But as others have said, it DOES get better but it's a slow and incremental process. You won't see progress until suddenly one day you do or you look back 6 months to a year and see how much you've improved. It's an "immersion" process...you jump in the deep end and pick it up little by little, just by being in class, watching and copying, looking stuff up outside of class (books, internet sites, YouTube clips, etc), asking questions, and just letting it sink in.


I also agree with others (and from my own class experiences) that the class that you are in sounds like a typical open "beginners" class, which is full of returners and a lot of basic background is assumed. I took those classes too until I found a syllabus/registered class that progressively built on the previous class and was geared towards true beginners. If you can find one of those, it will both help you to learn and understand proper technique right from the start, before you develop bad or wrong habits, AND it will build your confidence and keep you from being overwhelmed and frustrated! Ballet and dance should be FUN, but no one has fun when they are struggling mightily and feel too self-conscious and isolated to really let go and make the big mistakes that are necessary to learn.


Best of luck! I know it's hard to squeeze in your ballet with work and other adult obligations, but I urge you to make "me time" a priority in your schedule and not a "if there's time for it" because I think the reality is that there is never time for something unless you insist on it. And doing some things for yourself--to refresh, to get some physical activity, to feed your soul, to escape the rest of the day--will make you more healthy and productive overall, not to mention much more happy and emotionally fufilled :) (I have to remind myself of this regularly, as part of my New Year's goals most recently!)

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I think most people who have begun ballet as an adult have experienced what you are experiencing. And three months is almost nothing in development time. So the first thing is to realize you are just going through the process. Be patient. Remember that some people think it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to reach your potential. And struggle is not bad either. Struggle gives value to what you do. When things come easy, you tend not to value the accomplishments you attain.


I too was an adult beginner. I remember making sure I could always see someone in the class who seemed to me like he or she knew what was going on, so I could copy what they were doing, as my brain certainly couldn't remember. I remember literally having headaches after class because my brain was working so hard. And I was basically near the bottom of ability in the class. But I persisted, often being the worst student in class. Sixteen years later, I have to say I'm OK, by no means a great dancer, but good enough to not feel uncomfortable being in a class with anyone, professional ar amateur.


One thing i did in my early years which helped me a great deal was to keep a notebook where I would write both the technical corrections made in class and the combinations that I could remember. At first I couldn't remember much, but eventually I could literally remember every combination and correction. Can't remember how long that took but it was several years.


The other thing I did was to practice at home. At first my practice was short, perhaps only 20 minutes. But eventually I could repeat an entire class. I would practice by reviewing my notes and repeating things I could remember from class, again both the combinations and technical points. The good thing about home practice is that you can repeat so much, something that you cannot do in class.


I've hear it said (and I believe) that to really make progress in ballet as an adult, one needs to take at least three classes a week. Depending on where you live that may be difficult or impossible. I think you can substitute a home practice for a class if time, money, or availability makes the three class notion impossible.


The main thing in developing skill in ballet is what I call the three Ps--patience, practice and persistence.

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I laughed when I read your eloquent description of your confusion, because it is just what I went through as did I guess many other adult absolute beginners.


My view is its better to do something slowly and correctly, and then build up, rather than starting by doing it fast and incorrectly.


Because class is fast and confusing, given the speed of the steps, its often difficult to see which foot moves in front, which behind, which moves first, etc, especially in the middle of a sequence.


I suggest with the poster above that you get a book, and work the basic steps out slowly and carefully, and practice them on your own, e.g. getting the correct foot in front, behind, see which goes over, under, etc. Then try a bit faster. And then do simple combinations of two steps, so you learn the transitions from one step to the next.


Its possible to remember something temporarily in class while the teacher is there, but then not have the foggiest idea when you get home again. Doing some basic work at home in your own surroundings will help it go in more permanently. And while people often say you should not practice at home, so as not to pick up bad habits, this applies less to adults, and anyway, you are only doing the most basic sort of practice (getting the feet in the right order, etc).


The other thing, is that although teachers think that they are giving you all possible steps in all possible combinations, in fact there are a few patterns that very commonly recur, and you will get used to them. Once you get familiar with those, then you will find it easier to go on to completely novel combinations.


In class, maybe once you feel you can do something slowly, I wonder if it is possible with the teachers agreement to do a simpler version of the sequence at half speed at the back. You will be surprised at how quickly you improve once you know what you are doing.



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The fact is, ballet is tough to master and some people will pick it up faster than others. The key is to not compare yourself to others. Everybody learns at their own pace, so don't get frustrated and enjoy your classes.

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