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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Thoughts after nineteen years of dancing


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In July of 1994, just after turning 50, I was injured and depressed. I needed a change. I had competed in highly physical sports for 40 years and knew I needed some less physical activity I could continue for the next 10 years. I picked dance, an odd pick as I knew from my teen years that I was a nothing special dancer. I was incredibly ignorant, thinking my only choices were ballroom and square dance. I picked ballroom because I had seen ballroom competitions on TV and knew it was a sport. I felt comfortable in the sporting world. Ballet was something for kids and professionals. I had never heard of modern dance, improvisational dance, jazz dance or Spanish/Flamenco, all styles I would later study.


Nineteen years later, I feel quite comfortable with myself as a dancer. In sport I was naturally disciplined and known as a hard worker. I never had talent, but was always pretty good. I think I can now say the same for dance. Dogged persistence pays. Ive also been very lucky. I went to excellent schools and met and befriended the right people. Many performance opportunities. Wonderful friends made.


The most important thing I did happened about a year after I began ballroom. I realized I was never going to be a really good ballroom dancer. As a consequence I broadened my dance experiences, leading me to theatrical dance, beginning with ballet, and further broadening within the theatrical dance world. Over time dance styles narrowed down as teachers left, companies closed, and my body started rebelling against jumping. Now Im a modern dancer, a highly diverse style quite favorable to us old folk. Occasionally I'll do a ballet class without allegro.


I remember well my earliest classes in ballet. I was never the best and was often the worst student. Of all the other students in those classes, as far as I know, Im the only one still dancing. That puzzles me. I understand how difficult it is for a mother of young children. I understand the frustration of a male trying to learn difficult skills. But why aren't others persisting, especially those who have more talent than me. I had some early success as an improvisational dancer and probably thought I was better at dancing than I really was, so perhaps those encouraged persistence.


Though it sounds presumptuous I now think of myself as more an artist who works in movement than as a dancer who executes steps. The difference is huge. After a while attitude and self-perception trumps all. Just as I believe everyone can dance, I believe everyone has some artistry. Only a handful of artists can be exceptional. Most of us are average at best. But even average art has a place in this world. Art makes a wonderful gift; art received is a gift to savor. Making art is loads of fun and good for the soul. As youngsters we all showed our art to each other. As oldsters I think we should do the same even if only a handful of people see it.

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Beautiful Garyecht!!!!!!!!

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So well said Garytech. I wish more dancers thought of themselves truly as artists. :clapping:

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Gary, what a wonderful wonderful post -- it's a "cut out and keep"


I think you say so much about the virtues and rich rewards of persistence, hard work, repetition, facing failure, and difficulty -- I wish some of my 19 year old undergraduates would understand.

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Beautifully put. Dancers who execute steps aren't dancing. As my old teacher used to say "Steps Suck". Thanks so much for this post and reminding us about the importance of artistry and what it does for the soul.

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As this is such a thoughtful & inspiring post, I've made it a sticky (with Garyecht's permission). So we'll always have it on the first age of this section of the MB to read.

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I would agree with the others - this is a great post Garyecht - quite profound!

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  • 4 months later...

Hello Garyecht,

Your story is interesting and shows that ballet can fulfill a life, although you write you do now modern dancing and not ballet any more. If it

is neo classic ballet, you use the same type of positions.

My problem with ballet is remembering the steps when combinations are long, so I have to look at other girls, often in my class some are

ex dancers, so I cannot compete with them, it is just a pleasure too to watch them and I try to imitate them. Some combinations go a little too


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I no longer do ballet class because I really can't jump without hurting my knee. I can do a little jumping without hurting it, but if I do a complete ballet class allegro, after about 2-3 classes, it seriously bothers me. In modern class I only have to do a little jumping, so I survive. I do use ballet vocabulary in modern class. One of the things I like about ballet is the standardized vocabulary.


Last night in class we had a combination that was long, 11 eights. No way I could remember every part of the sequence, so I had to keep my eye on some of the dancers who seem to remember everything. That often happens. Doesn't bother me either. I accept my slowness in learning.


In ballet class I always loved having professionals in my classes. Always tried to position myself so I could see and copy what they did. Those were my best classes. I've always benefited from being around people who were better than me, whether it be on the job, sport, or dance.

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Guest Missmary

Kudos, Gary! I have always felt that whatever pursuit one follows, it is a blessing to study and work among gifted people - the best learning opportunity - as long as you value the opportunity, and don't make it into a competition - often difficult in a our society that is obsessed with competition, placement, grading, rating, and winning.... Your post is a gem!

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Good morning,

Like you, Garyecht, I have knee problems. My sport doctor told me not to jogg anymore if I wanted to preserve my knees. Strangely enough, they do not hurt me when I am jumping, I do not know how long it will last.

Yesterday, at my class, there were three ex-professionnal dancers, very slim and good looking, they told me they were full of arthritis and had a hard time doing some exercices. In fact, their feet hurt also (mine too after a class with more jumping).

The problem with longer combination, it is hard to transmit the signal form the brain to the body instantly, so that I shall be behing just for one second late transmission. It is hard, I hate to be a little behind. I try to make efforts, but it is difficult. When I was 20 years old, I had the same problem, if I remember well. So it must also be a question of being gifted or not. Some girls are gifted in remembering steps even if they don't do them properly.

Professional dancers are really gifted in everything : technique, memory, and have the perfect body. And on top of it they have to be disciplined, hard working. I admire them so much.

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Tatiana -- I really sympathize w/ you with struggling with some things, especially remembering combinations.

i can't speak to the physical limitations - that some of us adults will simply have - but despite having tried a few strategies I also can not immediately pick up a combination in class. Sometimes it is not till the next day even, when thinking it over further, it makes sense though in class at the moment I needed to, I simply couldn't grasp it, let alone execute it smoothly.

I try not to dwell on this shortcoming and do think over time I can improve simply by becoming more familiar with certain patterns, and have more clearly in muscle memory certain key linking steps (which to me are an integral part of the "secret sauce" of ballet) and are sometimes not really mentioned in an explanation of the combination (in class) and unless the student adds those themselves, the whole combo might not come out right…..

As said in many numerous other threads, so i know it is very redundant to say, but I do like to remind myself every so often, that persevering is an important ingredient in adult ballet study! :cool2:

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  • 7 months later...

To answer your question, I think some people don't persist because once they start as an adult, they feel there is nowhere for them to go. Not only can they not go professional, but they often don't even have a chance to perform. Adults who start ballet as adults usually have one choice: just to keep attending classes. At the studios I've gone too, adults don't even do recitals. So there is never a chance to showcase our skills or progress to the next level. I started classes when I was 25; a year later, I was probably ready to go on pointe, but my teacher never discussed it with me at all. Adults also don't get scholarships for their classes the way that younger people do.


I still dance because I really, really love it, so in that way I am probably more of a "real" dancer, than many others.

Edited by lschang
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  • 1 month later...

Well said Ischang! I too persist because I love it and I get so much from continuing to take class. In answering Garyecht we all need goals, validation of hard work and recognition to some degree. Many teachers do not look at adult dancers as having potential to progress. Adult ballet is growing fast and we need teachers who can apply the proper pedagogy. So happy to find this group of serious adult dancers.

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Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers, ebell. Glad you found us.


This is an old thread, so if you'd like to introduce yourself, do go to the Welcome Forum, start a new thread to tell us something about yourself.


I hope you find lots of useful information, camaraderie, and support here.

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