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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Observations and questions about my Beginner Classes


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I'm having a little bit of a dilemma at the moment. I used to do ballet as a child and recently returned to ballet as an adult. I used to go to a pre-pro school (RAD curriculum) so I'm familiar with a strict teaching method so I'm not sure if I'm just being picky because I'm going to adult beginner open classes but I wanted to see what some of you experienced teachers and adult students have to say about my current situation.


I'm currently attending beginner open classes at a school in my neighborhood. It's very convenient for me as it's walking distance but something has been nagging me about the classes. To give you a bit of background, the school is run by a single teacher who is a retired principal dancer. The classes were fun at first but I couldn't help notice that the "basic beginner" classes are tackling things like pirouettes, pirouettes in attitude and piqué turns and performing them pretty sloppily (think falling over and turned in knees). The overall class is pretty iffy in terms of technique. At first I assumed this was just because it was beginner level, but after having conversations with a few ladies, I discovered that many of them had been going to that school for 5 or 6 years! At this point I don't think you should be sickling feet, dropping your elbows and doing tendus with bent knees. Believe me, I am FAR from perfect so this is not me being judgmental but rather observing what students with a few years under their belt look like with technique.


I'm really afraid of developing bad habits and/or injuring myself so here's my question. Is this normal at the adult beginner level? And furthermore, should adults who can't hold up a relevé retiré be doing pirouettes (and even being asked to do doubles?). Any insight would be greatly appreciated!

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In my experience, open classes draw all sorts. There are people who are determined to improve and do. There are people who are determined to improve but don't have the wherewithal or ability to do so. There are people who don't care one bit about improving and stay in the same level for years and years doing, well, I don't know what. There are people who are marginally interested in technique but who are mostly interested in really moving and dancing. There are people who think they're the best dancer in the world and place themselves in classes way above their level or ability. Remember all of these people can be in one room together, too! And adults are almost never "assessed out" of open classes, so they really are a mixed bag. (I've seen it happen only once, when a dancer was in over her head and had no sense of spacing and was a risk to herself and others. She was told she could only do barre of the particular class and chose not to return.)


So, I think it's more important to evaluate the teacher than the other students. Think about things like...

Is the teacher giving corrections to students who make an effort to apply them? (The students who don't make an effort... Well, the teacher probably just doesn't bother much any more...)

Do the corrections reflect the current level and abilities/capabilities/potential of the particular student to whom they are directed?

If you have told the teacher that you are interested in developing strong technique, have you been guided in that direction?

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I think that gav's advice is good -- look to see how the teacher teaches, rather than the standard of the students. Some people like the overall feel & look of ballet, but don't want to bother with the details; some can't do it; some just like the exercise; maybe some only get there once a fortnight. And so on ... you can't know in detail.


But it sounds as though you're not sure about the class and the teaching. And that's fair enough -- that's the freedom we have as adults. So you may want to start looking around for another studio. It's a pity as that studio sounded very convenient, and in a busy life, convenience is important!


I'm in the middle of doing that myself. I've just moved location, and one of the few things I miss about where I used to live is the very high standard of teaching and the general professionalism of the studio I was at. I'm trying a few different options where I am -- haven't found the right ballet teacher yet, although I have found a lovely Contemporary class, so I'm putting the jigsaw puzzle back together in a different way.

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That's some really sound advice Gav and Redbookish. I think that's a great point about open classes in general and how some people don't really care about honing in on technique as much as they just want to dance and move (hey, nothing wrong with that I guess). But for me, I really want to get my technique and alignment right.


I started watching videos by Finis Jhung whom I've only read good things about. Something struck me about his instruction style which was that he broke down every step to it's core founding principles. So for the longest time, I was just trying to repeat pirouettes over and over again hoping that repetition would clean up my pirouettes and help me with balance. In class, the teacher doesn't really show or tell us what to do other than just "Ok. Pirouettes, let's go." . To me, I think that a beginner class needs more, step by step instruction to figure out what to do here and just following the person in front of you won't help you figure it out. But maybe this is the norm? I don't know!


After viewing a couple of video clips of Finis' instruction and stripping away the turn to just the founding principles (like the use of the plié for example, and the "push down" instead of just hopping up to a relevé), I started to "get" it in a way that I don't think that I would have figured out with just classes alone. I'm just using the pirouette as an example here but it's sort of the same with most steps.


So with that said, maybe I should try out some other classes elsewhere and see what's out there...

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My experience is that in open classes you see a great diversity in terms of physicality, experience, and what each individual wants from a class. After all they paid for the class and what something from the class. What that something is differs from person to person, so I wouldn't say that people don't care or are not serious in their own way.


What I believe for an adult student's development is that each adult student has to be responsible for his or her learning and development. I don't think one can expect any teacher to turn them into great performer. Not all students respond the same to any one teacher or coach for that matter. That's why one needs to do things like read, watch videos, and simply talk with other adult students and teachers. You get ideas that way, things you can try out.


Having said that, my sense is that classes have something of a personality, which is largely a function of the students and their own goals and the teacher. When those mesh with your priorities, you are in a good place.

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My hat is off to the (my) teacher who manages the vast array of abilities, goals and levels of dedication in an adult open class. Our class can range from professional ballet dancers in town and wanting a class, to adults of 'a certain age' wanting to get off the couch, and the students are very accepting and I think, respectful to each other, but I admire the teacher whose own standards are tried at times by adults who simply as gav said don't have the wherewithal, and may not improve even after the same correction several times.....


Just a thought- though i used to be a bit put off by adult beginners who don't seem - or can't - take corrections to heart seemingly I have come to appreciate the diversity of abilities in my class because it lets me see.........Where I've come from..........and where i hope to get to eventually...................! :clapping:


i do understand though - if there are only beginning students who may not pick up very well, it can be frustrating. I was at a studio so close to home but slow, as well. Sometimes I do miss it -- the convenience could not be beat. But my ballet study no doubt has benefitted from travelling farther to a class that's more challenging and diverse as I said..... Hard to decide sometimes, but for me, i was ready to move on...... Good luck in what you are going through -- (it took me a year to decide to leave and was difficult though i do not regret it a bit...)

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One of the things that has frustrated me with learning ballet as an adult is just that, that even the best teachers maybe "gloss over" technique or allow you to do harder moves before you're ready. I'd love a class like they do with young kids where you spend like the whole class working on one thing or just a handful of things. But of course, that would drive away everyone but the most hardcore students.


On the flip side though, adults should trust their learning abilities and ability to piece things together. We're able to pick up on things more quickly and refine over time. With any good teacher, the technique will come. It's just a matter of sticking with it and applying every correction.

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hlambers - good point(s)! Yes, the "perfect" learning situation is kind of elusive.... after having tried virtually every teacher and class within a 10 mile or so radius (in a city/big town so there are lots!!) I've found one that for me is probably as close to ideal as I will ever find (not too difficult but still deals w/ important basics when needed, across many ability levels - wow.) But I thank the "ballet gods" every day for having gotten me to this class. (and that came after i tried all of them in the area, as I said, so that tells me something....)


It was there all the time but I was not ready because I do not want to the most beginning adult in an adult open class..........So much to weigh..and ponder ... :ermm::angry::closedeyes: ..... :) ! Aha!

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Just a thought- though i used to be a bit put off by adult beginners who don't seem - or can't - take corrections to heart seemingly I have come to appreciate the diversity of abilities in my class because it lets me see.........Where I've come from..........and where i hope to get to eventually.


This is a really good point, Ludmilla. Thanks for reminding us.


While we can't know why people dance/learn dance in the way they do, I suppose we do make assessments of the kind of class it is, and the kind of teacher that teaches, from the ways that students learn. That seems to me to be what pinkpointe is asking about


It's a delicate balance, isn't it?

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I take an advanced open adult class. Most of the students have enough technique to handle the class well, but we do have the odd one or two who started dancing as adults and sadly never learnt the basics. They just plunged in straight away to the advanced level - maybe there weren't any adult beginner classes around? I honestly don't know. The result of course is that after several years of taking classes, they can follow the exercises and "sort of" do them, but they have no real technique and don't understand that this is the case. It's not the fault of the teachers or in fact the students, who don't know any better. It's just how it is. They enjoy themselves and as they have managed to pick up classroom etiquette along the way, they don't bother anyone.


I think you have to decide if the class is good for you, regardless of the other people around you.. Does the teacher work at approximately your level or is the class way above your comfort zone? Does she correct? Do you feel that you are advancing? Is there a nice atmosphere in the class? If you are just doing class for the sake of a work-out and can't find anything better, then fine. If you feel that you are not gaining anything from the classes and want to, don't be afraid of looking elsewhere and making the effort to go a bit further afield.

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Loved seeing everyone's input here. It's such an interesting experience coming back as an adult but at the same time a little frustrating because I vividly remember just how "hands on" and meticulous my teachers were when I was younger. Correctly placing you and expecting so much more out of you than what my experience is as an adult.

I think I might peruse some other classes in the following weeks and see where that takes me. Seeing what's out there can't be a bad thing. I can't help but feel like I'm "cheating" on my current teacher though! :shhh:

PS> Forgive me if the response is in this thread but, what are your thoughts on the following question: Should adult students who can't balance up in a relevé retiré be doing pirouettes?

Edited by pinkpointe
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Wouldn't it depend on how long they can balance? If a student can't even get to the proper position with proper alignment, probably not. But if a student can hold a steady relevé retiré while holding onto the barre, I don't see why not. For a single pirouette at least, you really don't need to be able to balance that long. It's when you progress to doubles and further on that balance seems to be more of an issue. And for my classes, that's usually when we started pirouettes -- when the majority of the class could hold a correct relevé retiré at the barre with minimum wiggles. In more advanced classes around here, there's more of an emphasis on balancing without the barre and at the centre so we can work on doing more pirouettes.

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"Should adult students who can't balance up in a relevé retiré be doing pirouettes?"


Actually, I don't see why not. Part of "getting" the feel of a pirouette is getting he turning thing. Adults who've never learnt ballet as children may not be used to turning & can be a little afraid of turning and learning the required momentum, so to stop the movement to insist on absolutely clean perfect technique could be counterproductive.


But I'm not a ballet teacher ...


The pirouette is a complicated movement and it's hard to learn all the parts of it to fit together -- some take longer to learn than others. There are a number of approaches to learning generally: break down & analyse a complex thing, and learn each step in the process before going on to the next; OR get the overall feel of something and then work on bits you can clean up or perfect.


I think we need to learn both ways.

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