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Ballet Talk for Dancers



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During my last classes it happend to me a few times that I would end up with the wrong leg in the required position in various exercises both at the barre and in center. 

The remarks from both my teachers were along the way that I should do 'better counting". 

To be honest in most cases I do not count at all. I just don't know were to fit this in. I have to think of where to put my limbs, how exactly to get them there, remember to keep balance, the core tight, breathe and smile... etc, etc. and still be in sync with the others (and the music of course) 

I have tried to count but it made me forget everything else and confused me even more. 

Apparently counting makes sense, so I need to figure out a way to squeeze it into my train of thoughts during an exercise (although it seems counterintuitive to me to add another variable into the equation while I am still struggling with all the others). 

Are there specific exercises that help to learn counting, while still being able to focus on other aspects?  

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Most ballet combinations - particularly at beginners level - are done in 8s. In fact, it's a joke that dancers can't count past eight. And that we always start to count anything with "and 1"

A lot of ballet is quite logical and mathematical. It could be that you're still learning the standard patterns eg en croix - front, side, back, side. You can play with this pattern in all sorts of variations, and with a variety of counts, except that it will usually be in counts/bars of 8: so for example, at the barre, you might do 3 tendus to second, and then a demi plie, and then 3 tendus derriere. 

So then you work out that on 4 counts of 4 (or two lots of 8 really), the tendus to the side close back/front/back so you're ready to go derriere.

It's all about patterns, and in the beginning stages, is usually quite even and symmetrical.

I sometimes don't count but that's because the music tells me when to move, and I'm reasonably musical. 

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I'm pretty good at counting (I can do it internally without even using the numbers) but I still sometimes end up on the wrong foot.  All of us in the adult class do sometimes, especially when first learning a particular move and combination of moves.  And even more especially when new to ballet/dance. 

I tend to do the counting in the demo stage, as the teacher is explaining the combo and then giving the rhythm with the music.

Yes to what Redbookish said, there are generally patterns and nice even movements.  Except when there isn't.  Transitions from one move to another can change things from what you expect.  And of course teachers will shake things up a bit, on purpose.  And for choreography, it can be wildly different.  Arms can be opposite and/or just plain different from what you expect too.  Amazing how a little thing like a step (or lack of a step) or a change in arms can mess you up.


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If I get really stuck, I ask the teacher for a count. If I am really, really stuck I ask the teacher to mark it through with the music and a count. That and copying the person in front usually helps. Remember though that dance counts are not always the same as music counts. 

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Thanks for your answers and advice!

I did indeed discover that there are patterns involved.                                                         

However I am  still so busy figuring out that next move                                                     ---> "ok, tendu to side",  

how to execute it:                                                                                                                   --> "move leg outward, point toe,  do extend arm to side,  bring leg back in, close arm" 

then the next move again                                                                                                         --> tendu to back .....  "OMG person in front of me is already finishing their tendu to back, hurry up" 

                                                                                                                                                       --> "move leg back ..... .... ...

If I start putting in the  counting I am afraid will get delayed  or confused even more. At least thats how I feel about it at the moment. 


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3 hours ago, BalletFamily said:

Yes to what Redbookish said, there are generally patterns and nice even movements.  Except when there isn't.  Transitions from one move to another can change things from what you expect.  And of course teachers will shake things up a bit, on purpose. 

Very well put: "Except when there isn't." exactly because that is the case all the time, and I also did notice that they do that on purpose  :D

Maybe that is also part of the addiction: This feeling when you think you have almost mastered a move and you'll nail it the next time; and then they announce "and now for something completely different". It is frustrating but it makes you (at least me)  also want to get more of it.

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I wonder if, instead of trying to count deliberately, you could try to just listen to the music to get the count established, then try to match movement to music? This is what I do, but then thinking about how to do tendu to the side is very familiar to me. But that's how you develop musicality - by trying to dance "inside" the music - as a teacher on here  at BTfD (Willimus) always says.

So it might be that you are just beginning !  (only dancing since September, I think?)  So don't be too hard on yourself - just doing the tendu is enough of a challenge! Does your teacher give you the option, for example, of doing just the leg movements, without the arms, at the barre?  THat can sometimes help. It's about familiarity and practice.

The other thing I do to develop my musicality is to play ballet class music on Spotify - I have a playlist of Chopin and Schubert piano music  which is often used in class. Again, familiarity.

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2 hours ago, Redbookish said:

trying to dance "inside" the music

I really like that quote. For some exercises I sing the movements to myself in time with the music. Some music /exercise combinations work really well with this approach and the music seems to tell you what to do. Others not so much. For me, singing is like muscle memory so it frees up the brain to concentrate on the quality of the movement. 

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As you become more experienced, you will begin to realise that movements do fall into patterns and that just like constructing a sentence, there are only a few options for the next word/movement. If you have an en croix pattern, remember that to the side if there are an even number of tendus, the first one doesn't change, if an odd number they all change.

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I don't count - at least not the traditional way.  I think it comes from jumping a number of levels and having to figure a lot out myself while catching up to a more advanced group.

For example, teacher gives a tendu exercise that goes: tendu front 1-2, &3, &4, repeat en Croix.  I prefer if she demos - even just with her hands, but I can work with verbal directions.

My brain goes: "ok, one slow, two fast, traditional front-side-back-side pattern" translating it for myself (and I used to have to consciously go "and there's an odd number, so when I go to the side, the first one closes in the opposite direction that I just came from)... I may even mark it to my own 'counts'... and then I layer on the port-de-bras if it's different than what I'm used to.

Then the music comes on, and I "count" baaa-daaa, ba-da, ba-da (x4). 

I've been informed that I have a "weird way" of counting and remembering the patterns, but as it works for me, I should just keep doing it.  One of the many advantages to being an adult student :)

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thanks for all your tips and remarks. As usual I think I want things too fast. Today class went well, I even did some counting during tendus - at least until I got the correction to keep my knees straight.



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Wijnmoer, try counting to get the highlights, not the totality of the moves.  For example:

1 - tendu to front.
2 - tendu to side.
3 - tendu to back.
4 - tendu to side.

Use each beat to emphasize closing to 5th (or 1st).  If you didn't have time to fully extend the leg, never mind, just get that closing beat.  Tip: usually you do close on the beat, which means you're actually starting the move half a beat earlier than you think you should.

For a more complex combination involving jumps or turns or multiple small steps, also go for the highlights.  The most important is that 8 to 1 transition.  The next most important will depend on the combo but is often the 4 and/or the 2 and the 6.  Be on the beat, in the correct position, at those points, or as many as you can manage.  Even if you're not fully doing the move.  It will come.  As you get more experienced, you'll be able to fill in the middle with the correctly executed moves.  

Your teacher will (hopefully) also have barre and center work that is slower and less complex to allow you to focus on practicing the actual moves and getting them right.  Then it will all start to come together.

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19 hours ago, BalletFamily said:

usually you do close on the beat, which means you're actually starting the move half a beat earlier than you think you should.

Thanks a lot BalletFamily, thinking of it this might be one of the things that might go wrong when I am counting. 

I had already decided to try the counting during tendus as I am feeling most confident with those. 


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