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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Help! Terrified of upcoming ballet class


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I've danced ballet for eighteen years now, but haven't been to an actual class for over ten years. Now that I'm destined to return, I become more and more terrified as the classes draw closer. It was also suggested to me that I return to an adult beginner class until I can figure out exactly where my skill level is at currently.


What bothers me most is that there will be a few situations that I will have to deal with that most dancers rarely have to worry about, and I would like some survival tips from all of you in how I should go about these situations. (One of the reasons why I stopped attending ballet class ten years ago was so I wouldn't have to deal with these situations.)


My first issue is that I won't be able to communicate with the teachers or other students when I need to. I am vocally impaired and have always communicated with writing or gestures. When I do speak aloud, it is with a very bad stutter and usually takes about thirty seconds for me to say a single sentence. (Fortunately, I don't have to worry about counting aloud to keep rhythm becuase instead of counting things like "five...six...seven...eight..." I would just click my tongue against the roof of my mouth.) But what do I do when I need to introduce myself or ask/answer something in class? What would be appropriate and sufficient enough to not cause distraction or slow class down?


Second, I have an unusual hypersensitivity in which I "feel too much" when it comes to tactile sensation. If someone even so much as bumps into me, I usually recoil or flinch as if I'm getting startled. (Please don't confuse this with tactile sensitivity disorder, for everything feels the same to me as it does for everybody else, just at an unimaginably greater intensity due to having too many nerve receptors or nerve endings or something which I am just beginning to understand myself.) What I want to know is what kind of things should I expect in my upcoming class that I should watch out for, (like an ice-cold barre, or upcoming blisters) and how should I best deal with them?


Finally, I have a few tiny questions like:


Do I need to bring my pointe shoes seeing that it's just a beginners' course?


Where do I line up at the barre so I don't offend anybody?


The course description never mentioned whether or not I need my hair in a bun. Can I just use a scrunchie for all those "porcupine quills" sticking out of the back of my head like I do at home, or do I need to change my hair style so it will curl up nice and neat in a bun?


The course description's dress code just lists ballet shoes, leotard and tights for females, but they never specified what color. Will it be okay to wear ballet pink?


Even though I've been dancing all my life, how will I ever get enough experience back if I can only afford one class a week right now?


How good does my terminology need to be to keep up with the class instructions?


Will I be forced to do pas de deux with a male if I don't feel comfortable doing so?

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I think you are thinking too much :-) There should be no pointe in this class and no pas de deux (otherwise, RUN!) Color of leo does not matter, usually for adult classes teachers are happy when you show up in something that looks like ballet wear, so leo of your choice and if you have shoes, even better! Wear your hair in a bun but if you feel more comfortable with another hairdo, then go for it (important is, that you hair does not distract you).


As for warm up, if it is a beginner class it is possible, that you might have a warm up together before acutal class starts. If not, a class is built to warm you up. Otherwise you may arrive early and take time to do your own personal warm up, what you feel you need.


Do you have the possibilty to contact the teacher or someone of the studio staff beforehand? You might let them know that you are vocally impaired so that the teacher is informed and does not ask you questions (although I don't think that you will be asked much in class so that you have to reply orally). Regarding your hypersensitivity, you might also inform your teacher. Many teachers are very hands on and sometimes push the bodies of student in right directions and guide them with hands (I like to know if I should not touch somebody...I have zero problems touching students so sometimes I might be overwhelming).


I hope I could help somehow.


Keep in mind: You are there to have fun and enjoy yourself!

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I agree with Claude! And if you cannot contact the teacher in advance, just arrive for the first class a few minutes early with a smile and a written note disclosing anything you wish to share (that you prefer not to speak or to be touched, asking the teacher where will be a good place to stand at the barre, etc.).


Have fun!

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Good luck. Don't freak out too much and as bithdiane and gav said try to contact the teacher before the class to explained your situation. People will understand. I found out that adult class are usually friendly and try to be welcoming, may be try to prepare a note for other students. We always welcome newcomers in the changing room, if you explained them they may also help with the teacher communication.

Enjoy !

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It's great to hear you're taking the plunge!


Everything that Claude and Gav say - most teachers will leave students alone for the first class or so, while they observe you and see how you work. And can you email the studio beforehand to explain your vocal impairment and tactile sensitivity? Claude is a teacher who is experienced with adults - you can trust her judgement!


A good studio will be inclusive, and if it's not, that tells you something ...


Do you have a friend or family member who could come with you, just to make sure you can get comfortable? Or is there a "ballet buddy" who could take class with you? Or a friend who's a complete beginner and could take class with you?


If you trained as a teenager but haven't been able to take class since, you'll find you recognise the ballet terms, although different teachers do different things. But at base it's an international language.


Hair in a scrunchie is fine. Ballet pink is fine, or yoga pants or anything in between!


And breathe ... all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

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I agree with what everyone else has written. An adult beginning class (even an adult intermediate class) will not be on pointe (some advanced students might be taking the class in pointe for additional practice) and will not do pas de deux. I would say also there's no touching in classes beyond teacher corrections but just last night I had a class with a guest teacher and we all held hands for a couple minutes to do some moves (weird but I can see why he did it that way).


Absolute yes to contacting the teacher ahead of time with your issues so s/he is aware of them. I always go to teachers before class to tell them mine (last night I let the teacher know I have old calf injuries and sometimes can't do releve when I need to...I can take care of myself, I just like the teacher to know). In your case, do it now, before the day of the class, so there is time for back and forth if needed. If that doesn't work, then print out a note and hand it to the teacher a few minutes before class.


Most adult classes do not have a dress or hair code beyond ballet shoes, clothes that you can move in that allow the teacher to see your form, and hair out of your way. If this studio/class says tights and leo but doesn't give a color, then that's what it is, with any colors you want. But you can ask in your email/communication.


And yes, if a friend can take the class with you, all the better. If it's a chatty group, you might appreciate someone there to answer basic questions "name, where are you from, what's your ballet experience?" You don't have to answer any questions but you may want to be part of the group that way.


The best place to stand at the barre is in-between two students who have had the same class/teacher a few times before. That way you always have someone to follow who is familiar with the routines. But it's not the end of the world if you're in a position where you need to watch the teacher, or just do it from memory of the demo. The ease with which you can do this depends not just on your skills but on how much the teacher guides during the routine and how different the routine is from what you're used to. But if you screw it up, no one will care. Trust me, everyone new will mess up and most old students do sometimes too.


Ask the teacher of course but it should be totally fine to just do barre then leave or observe if a full class is too overwhelming, or if you get too sore.


If you're still completely freaking about this class, another possibility is to step back and wait until your friend's class has an opening and start there.


Good luck!

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The other tip that might help, Celestrial'sKiss, is to source some video footage of adult ballet classes. YouTube has lots.


Here's a little documentary about a teacher in SF (whose classes look amazing):




You can also find extracts from Kat Wildish's NYC classes here (although as a teacher, she's very hands on):




With these videos, you'll see a mix of dancers - those who are clearly very well-trained, those who have talent but late to training, and those who struggle. But they are ALL enjoying themselves, and they're all dancing. It's a special feeling.


Also to say, I've done class in countries where I don't really speak the language, and I get by with a lot of smiling and nodding & facial expressions. Very little spoken language - body language is all!


Just enjoy yourself, and welcome back to the world of ballet!

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Thanks everybody for the support and all the tips, suggestions, and even the video websites. With every reply I get on this thread, I feel more and more prepared for returning to dance classes. I definately intend to meet with the teacher beforehand, and will inform her (I already know it's a female) of my conditions. I plan on bringing a little note pad and pencil along so that I can communicate faster by writing my words down.


I still have a few questions about the barre. I especially like BalletFamily's idea about choosing a spot between two people who have had the same classes/teacher before. But if this is just the beginner class, then that means that NOBODY will have had the same classes or teacher before since this would be their very first class and teacher.


Furthermore, wouldn't budging in between two students be a norm violation?

I don't know how ballet is done nowadays and here in Iowa, but back then in my old classes, we had to line up at the barre according to our rank(skill level), with the most talented dancer in the front. Everyone in my class knew their place in the "pecking order" and to jump ahead of someone who was better than me was one of the greatest forms of disrespect in our class. I doubt there will be any of this in a beginning ballet class as everybody will be starting with the same skill level, but I still (please) would like to know: was this normal for a Ballet 6 class or was it just the preferences of the teachers I had at the time?

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You'll almost certainly find adult classes have a more casual environment. People normally just pick whatever place they like at the barre, and they're free to move around from one class to the next.


As for students knowing the teacher, even if you've signed up for a specific "term" of lessons, there's a very good chance that some of the participants have been taking the same class with the same teacher for multiple terms before :)

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In the adult beginner's drop in class I attend, the instructor will place "newbies" in between more experienced student. No pecking order involved.

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I usually place people that are new in between two good students who know the business. If everybody is new, I just let them choose or might ask them to move after a couple of exercises.

I often place very beginners with two hands at a barre which makes copying very difficutl or I go for cente work first so that everyone is either facing the mirror or can copy me. Different teachers, different methods. :-)

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I've been thinking about this thread, and the title you gave it, Celestrial'sKiss. You say you're "terrified." And you've had lots of practical advice.


Maybe now you need to change your internal dialogue and voice? It's just a ballet class. Only a ballet class. Just 90 minutes of your life. No one will die, or even be badly hurt. You'll do exercises you're very familiar with, to lovely music. All you have to do is do what your teacher asks you to do. Nothing else.


It will be OK. It's just a ballet class. Nothing more.

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I've always used my lesson time as an escape from the pressures of daily life. It didn't always happen that way but it was my mindset upon entering the studio. Try to remember why you are there in the first place and forget all the what if's. If your purpose for attending the lesson is to learn and enjoy yourself, then you should focus on simply that. (Yes, I believe it is that simple!)


Work smart and above all, have fun!

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Hear hear, gcwhitewater!


As my teacher said last night "It's just ballet." She also tells us "Leave your ego at the door of the studio"


I find it very relaxing simply to concentrate on my next move, the next exercise, my spine, my breathing, getting onto my leg. In the 90 minutes of a class, nothing else matters. It's wonderfully liberating.


The first time in a new studio can be scary. But once the music starts for the first warm up exercise, followed by plies, followed by tendus, then it's fine. We're in the moment.

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Celestrial's Kiss says: "I still have a few questions about the barre. I especially like BalletFamily's idea about choosing a spot between two people who have had the same classes/teacher before. But if this is just the beginner class, then that means that NOBODY will have had the same classes or teacher before since this would be their very first class and teacher. Furthermore, wouldn't budging in between two students be a norm violation?"


It really depends on the class. Where I take adult ballet, when there is a new person, we save a middle spot for her/him and explain why. They are free to opt out. For center, new people are in the back row (of two rows total). For going across the floor, new people get paired up with an experienced one.


Chances are that some of the beginners have had the beginner's class before. But if everyone there is equally new, then you just make due.


You can ask the teacher in your note to her to place you in the middle at barre, or you can simply take a spot somewhere in the middle and wait for people to fill in around you. In the unlikely event that there is a pecking order, hopefully you'll be gently informed that your spot is over there.


Either way, don't sweat it. You have enough experience that you can likely fake your way through most of it. Even if you can't, the teacher will understand. That's why it's called a beginner's class. It's a class, not an audition, so if you forget the sequence or do a move differently from how the teacher likes, it's no big deal.


Please let us know how it goes.

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