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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet: THE most complicated dance/art form?


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So I think back to the hubris that brought me to ballet and realize now that it seems utterly absurd that I chose to take this activity up so late in life.


Nothing comes easily in ballet. Nothing. There is nothing one does in ballet that is not highly--and I mean HIGHLY--regimented in its execution and form.


Which leads me to my question: is ballet THE most complicated physical dance form? Many dances are highly structured, but I'm not sure I've come across many which seem to have as strict a sense of the ideal as ballet.


Now, don't get me wrong--I LOVE ballet. Possibly I've become addicted to it. It's sheer complicated..ness is what draws me to it, sort of like what must draw people to golf, though I shudder to compare the two. The only way I'd learn golf is if Chopin were piped throughout the golf course, and even then I'd just stand there and listen to Chopin, doing balances en tournants until the group behind us began angrily screaming about needing to play through. But I digress.


Anyhoo. Everything is hard won in ballet. Everything. You think you're doing something well and all it earns you is the ability to add another layer of precision to it.


Are there other dance forms like it in this extreme precision? Plenty of dance forms are difficult and require training, but are any taken to this incredibly stylized extreme?


In fact, are there other whole body physical endeavors at all that are like it in its extreme precision? At the elite level of, say, gymnastics and ice skating, are the movements as regimented? To the point that exactly where your finger is in space, its angle and relation to the rest of the body, etc. Does this enter into things like gymnastics? Obviously extreme precision is required in those endeavors but I'm unsure it has the same level of precision for everything, not just the parts that allow you to perform the complicated maneuvers. And while sports like swimming or running may be as unforgiving in the precise execution of certain movements, people tend to focus on one particular movement and perfect it over years rather than in ballet, where you are required to be able to do hundreds, perhaps thousands, of distinct motions perfectly.


Are there examples in other stylized motion-based forms, like tai chi or the like? Or perhaps other dance forms that are not of the western European cultural heritage but have risen to a level of stylization that would be similar to ballet in its extreme precision in execution?


Anyway, I wonder why in the world I chose this particular kind of dance to start to learn. When I could easily have just decided to get good at Zumba, or salsa. Just because I never really learned to dance until now is not a reason to start ballet, of all things, but probably a very good reason not to.


Too late.


Your thoughts?

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NoTwoSnowflakes --


I am not the most expert to address your question but I just wanted to respond, as another adult student.


For me personally the issue of whether ballet is the most complicated, difficult or complex is not necessarily the main question... to me ballet is just different from many other activities -- not better, more difficult or less difficult -- just different.


I understand what you are questioning -- in fact I have probably had similar thoughts myself..... but then if I happen to see for instance particular artists that take my breath away (the two Tango artists -- Leonardo and Miriam come to mind just as one example), I then admit that ballet, even as precise as it is, I would say, does have rivals even in the dance world..... Perhaps it is a matter of the degree of artistry that one applies to one's particular art form. Comparing them, for me may not be the question as much as realizing how much goes into learning most arts, especially to a very high level.


Having said that, I have sometimes said (sometimes when sweating away in class) the same as you that ballet must be the most precise, the most difficult etc, but really from the larger perspective for myself, I do not think I would come down on the side of ballet being the most difficult, or precise. Somehow there is always an argument to be made for other arts or activities, as well...


Your comparison of ballet with martial arts I might say is in some ways a good comparison, because with martial arts, (there are so many forms and styles, it is hard to generalize but for the purposes of this discussion), some forms are a contact sport essentially, you can literally risk considerable injury -- or certainly loss of a tournament -- through minute, very small nuances in technique... the movement -- or the speed of a finger, slight turn of the body etc. I speak in generalities (because I am not a martial arts expert), but have learned a fair bit just out of interest, and have watched martial arts when possible -- There seem a number of parallels with ballet - their rich history and highly refined and quite ancient principles that is a good comparison you make.


The comparison of martial arts which I can not make w/ ballet though, is that the purpose of martial arts which does head in the direction of self defense and exhibition yes but ultimately martial arts are not meant to be an aesthetic end in themselves, which I think one could argue ballet as being an art to be enjoyed visually, and of course with music.......... In other words it is the difference between an art (ballet) and a martial art (more a physical sport in quality than a 'fine art' which I would classify ballet as) - so they are different disciplines. Can one compare them? In some ways yes, in some ways, no it seems.


One could argue it takes a lifetime to be a master at anything.


One thing that crosses my mind when I ask myself, too at times -- why ballet, why me, now? -- is that certain things just appeal to certain people. Martial arts while interesting are not going to be "my thing" ever, nor is playing the violin........whereas ballet is a more suitable and available -- for me -- activity, and which appeals to me on so many levels -- especially the music as you outlined in your comments, too....... Interesting subject --


If I can try to offer a comment that might address.... I do not think it is too late for ballet --- One has what one has and in and of itself -- as its own end, in the joy of learning, the joy of discovering and the joy of improving one's body's ability to move and master very precise ballet, again it is about enjoying the journey, and has to be as an adult student I feel -- I hope I have not just garbled all I meant to say........ :flowers:

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When you study different dance styles, you find that each style has it's own requirements and skills that you learn to respect. They really aren't comparable. Ballet is the most standardized of the dance forms I've experienced, but that standardization actually makes it less complicated in my mind. For example both ballet and modern have tendus (brushes), but in modern they can be done in either parallel or turned out position. In that sense one might argue that modern is the more complicated.


I've done ballet, modern, jazz, and Spanish/flamenco and each has its own sense of rigor. It's just not the same particular where the rigor is involved. I know for me Spanish/flamenco was the least physical but the most difficult.


I encourage adult dancers to study different dance styles. Ballet is great as something of a basic dance skill. It gives you a vocabulary that becomes part of way of moving. But there is a bigger dance world out there to be experienced.

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Garyecht- well said.


Also for me it is a matter of the type of expression that my temperament and personality are the most compatible with.


I have taken some hip-hop dance, and while I do like it a lot and find it lots of fun, (and would probably continue with it if there were currently adult classes available to me, which there are not), I can't say that its form of expression in the longer term, is something that I feel is compatible with my values and goals for myself in terms of expression.


Ballet for me, makes me reach to express my "better self" -- poised, elegant and beautiful -- ideally. Even if I do not achieve that, I feel the feelings of reaching for this ideal. That is why I choose to focus on ballet for all the time and effort put into it. I feel, for me it is a more worthwhile form of expression than some other dance forms might be. I'm glad Garyecht compares ballet to modern dance -- that is a good comparison to make.


For me personally modern dance does not express anything that I have any interest in expressing. It is just not "me" - be it due to the music it encompasses, or for the general forms of choreography and expression it has. It is not for me, what I would care to cultivate (in movement or expression). I only say that to point out that if one finds a form of artistic expression that one likes and feels affinity towards, that is one I prefer to pursue, considering the many hours, weeks and years one will be involved with it in perfecting one's art.


I apologize if I am :offtopic: or not addressing your question... But your comments do get me ruminating about this subject of how ballet compares to other arts, and why study ballet, and why study it as an adult..... It helps me reconfirm why I have immersed myself in ballet and find it so ever-fascinating and exciting to learn... :angelnot:

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Interesting! For me, it doesn't really matter whether or not it is (I didn't pick it because it was the "most" of anything, it was simply because I wanted to learn it) but now having spend a lot of my time trying to assimilate this enormously precise form into my body, I am curious to know what else is like it in terms of sheer physical precision. The only other thing that has come close to it in terms of the feeling of learning a discipline is musical training. I've had to learn other enormously complicated disciplines, certainly professionally and academically, but ballet has only been comparable, for me, to musical training, in terms of its sheer physical precision and general emphasis on stylized expression.


Anyway, to clarify the question a bit, I've no doubt that there are plenty of things that are as difficult to do well, but the difficulty lies in different places, as Gary mentioned. The difficulty in modern dance is the expression, certainly, but it by design does away with the extremely regimented and stylized positions and movements. Within disciplines that place achievement in line with precision, are there other disciplines like ballet that take it to such an extreme? Gary mentions that within the dance forms that he's done, ballet is the most difficult in terms of overall stylized precision, but I'm curious what else there might be that are outside of western dance tradition, where I'm quite sure it reigns supreme in those elements. Though, I did, actually, wonder about Flamenco. I have never taken it, but have spent time living in Spain (even took a summer intensive there!) and it certainly seems as if Flamenco, from what I could gather about it, has a very detailed lexicon of movements and actions that may very well rival ballet. But to the extent that the angles of almost every bone of the body becomes important? I don't know enough about it to say.


Anyway, suffice it to say I'm quite certain that among western dance forms that we are commonly exposed to, ballet is more regimented and stylized than tap, jazz, modern, lyrical or what have you, but what about other physical disciplines that are not dance-based? Swimming, gymnastics? Or dance/expressive forms outside of the western dance traditions? Indian classical dancing? Non contact martial arts forms?


Again, I guess I'm not necessarily interested in which one "wins" but just as a general discussion of the subject. Always interesting to ponder!

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I can speak about the comparsion to martial arts. Yes it requires extreme precission and control. It is very demanding. Having come to martial arts later in life, I can tell you that my ballet training was a great advantage.


In my teenage years, I took jazz and modern. I played the violin for six years.


For me, while all these things were demanding, I guess the difference I see is the mass of vocabulary contained in ballet. Nothing else I studied had the sheer number of steps that ballet does. In other genres, there is less to master IMHO.

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ToThePointe --


Thank you for shedding light as to a comparison of ballet to martial arts -- I could see that it takes someone w/ pretty wide experience to compare these different disciplines intelligently...


NoTwoSno -- Just want to say also, that your comparison to Classical Indian Dance, I actually find surprisingly relevant, considering that I think i heard once that Classical Indian Dance has about, at least 1000 mudras (hand movements), and if you add to that the hundreds (or maybe even 1000's) of legends and huge background and history that that dance form encompasses, (my understanding is that most if not all classical Indian dances that are traditional depict a story of a legend (and we are talking very intricate, for westerners, possibly difficult to even really grasp without knowing some pretty significant Indian or Hindi history), if i were to continue your 'which is more difficult' approach, I would have to say Classical Indian very well may have far more sheer information to it........ Can't speak as an expert but for me, (grown up in European culture) hands down ballet is going to be much more feasible for me, than Classical Indian, I would say--- I know of one American, named Caroleena (have actually taken a workshop with her) who has studied classical Indian dance for a long time, and has, or currently lives in India and dances w/ a Classical Indian troupe and speaks fluent Hindi --- but that is so rare, I know of only that one person. Have there been notable ballerinas in, or originating, from India? That might be interesting to know, too.......


Again I am not trying to 'win an argument' about this...... I can not address it in a scholarly way at all. But I find this an interesting comparision to make w/ ballet -- NoTwo, I am glad you brought it up. It is the type of thing i have wondered about in passing, but not thought of discussing here --- Thank you.

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I'm glad you brought up the East Indian dancing. It had come to mind with all the hand gestures, but I had no idea it numbered in the thousands.

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It's rather mind-boggling, yes. The centuries of history that India/South Asia has -- including dance history -- actually brings to mind a wonderful film called "Latchodrom", a French documentary though it is largely without any dialog -- showing how dance itself originated in India in ancient times basically, and migrated, including along the Silk Road to Eastern Europe especially with the Roma people, continuing all throughout Europe to Spain in effect, giving birth along the way to Flamenco, North African dance styles which are so prevalent as "Middle Eastern Dance", and many dance forms which originated from "folk dances", all throughout the Mediterranean. Sometimes I sense ballet as being a very elevated - highly formal, studied, evolved and highly structured, and of course documented (with its extensive vocabulary as we've been talking about here and its own special requisites for performing it -- turnout, particular balance capability, and so on) but stemming from humans' love of movement the way all these dance forms have been born and evolved.


One might say that Classical Indian Dance perhaps having some roots in centuries-old folk dance evolved into a refined art in India comparable to what ballet became from its early origins in Europe to a highly refined dance form as well.

The early connection between ballet and some of the earliest ballets, and Middle Eastern dance or themes (Salome, Sheherazade from the Arabian Nights stories, and many more), seems fascinating too. Then when this sensibility appeared again in the dances of Ruth St. Denis in the "Golden Age" in American classical dance (modern and ballet) things came full circle again in a sense, emphasizing the mystery, beauty of ballet.


I love dance history and study of dance - ballet in particular of course. Again NoTwoSno and To the Pointe -- I appreciate you bringing up this subject of comparing dance styles. Anyway if off topic or not relevant please disregard, but very interesting discussion!

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I'm not sure I'm interested in saying what is the most anything ... what's the point? Things are what they are.


What I read from your question is that you're starting to learn a new skill, which is complex and difficult. And in learning as an adult, we also have much more to compare new things with than when we learn as children. There's also the myth that there's a point in an adult's life when they have learnt all they need to know or do. Well, some people might get to that point, but thank goodness none of us here accepts that!


So as an adult, you're far more aware of your ignorance and lack of capacity than a child or teenager. As adults, the wise learners start to realise that the more they know/do, the more they know, realise what there still is to learn.


Which is altogether a very good thing! Keep on learning. But setting something up as the "most difficult" is a bit of a blind alley, in my opinion. Where does it get you? Just enjoy what you're doing, and relish it's difficulty. The greater the difficulty, the greater the sense of accomplishment :toot::flowers:

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I also think that it can be useful to think about how ballet is "built". Not that this is easy, but once you understand alignment, turnout, plie, tendu (use of the foot), spotting and port de bras (and maybe a few other things), you can build the individual steps up. Yes, there are a lot of individual steps to know, but they're all founded on the same principles. That's not different from any other activity, is it?

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I think ballet is quite a complex art form. Wow. I've been a ballet mom for over 8 years. I just sent my children through the studio doors, observed on observation days, and enjoyed their performances. Man, it's HARD! Our studio started offering an absolutely beginner adult class once a week. It is very hard physically, but what's really hard is keeping it all together mentally. But, I love it. And, I agree with Redbookish. As an adult we are more aware of what we do not know or have difficulty doing.


Then, the teacher sends us to the center. :blink:

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Which is altogether a very good thing! Keep on learning. But setting something up as the "most difficult" is a bit of a blind alley, in my opinion. Where does it get you? Just enjoy what you're doing, and relish it's difficulty. The greater the difficulty, the greater the sense of accomplishment


Oh, for sure! Just to be clear, this outcome of this discussion has nothing to do with the level of value I put on ballet, or my learning of it, nor does it augment or diminish my fear of its complexity. If anything, I bet you anything indian classical dance, now that I've read some interesting things about it here, probably has a longer list of stylized motions and regimented movements.


I am simply thinking out loud in a very ancillary sort of way! Sometimes it's interesting to think about things like that as long as they don't overshadow the real purpose for doing this: enjoyment and satisfaction for its own sake.


And believe me, I relish its difficulty. Ballet, and piano, are what keep me sane. :)


In fact, I just had my FIRST pointe class last night. Unbelievable!

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With ballet, yes, I am aware of what I don't know, but I really have no expectations of what I can accomplish that I am not intimidated by it so much as just curious to see how far I can get. I'm so far to the side of novice that I don't indulge myself the hope that one day I would be a truly advanced dancer. If I can get to a place where I am largely dancing in a competent, expressive way, and still able to learn new things at whatever pace I end up hitting, I'll be more than satisfied with ballet and my place in it for the rest of my life.

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