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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballet Beginner - Adult. Concerns and questions.


Dancer1880

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Dancer1880

Hello! I stumbled upon this forum and decided to register as I've just (about a month ago) started learning Ballet. I love Ballet, and it's truly the way to express myself - it's in my soul definitely. But anyways, the reason I've made this thread is to ask about some concerns and questions I have. I've done some research and have heard opinions, have been given advice (both from a seasoned, former artist and people who have done Ballet but as a hobby - and lastly, people who aren't very knowledgeable at all about Ballet), on what I should do, and shouldn't do. The biggest concern I have is bulking up if I go to a gym. I live on a campus, and we have two gyms here - one in the dormitory and the other in the school. I have two roommates (who aren't learning Ballet) who just want to gain muscle mass/bulk up. I don't want to bulk up and that's one of my primary concerns. I'm very lanky, have a short torso and long arms (I'm 6'1''). I've been told I have the physique for Ballet by quite a few people. I've lifted (in the past) relatives and friends who are women - not over my head but I've been able to lift them with no problem. As I mentioned I started learning just about a month ago - I'm entering my second month and it's a BIG deal for me because the amount of confidence I've been getting from learning Ballet is just amazing. I've had very little confidence through-out my life and this is so important to me. 

I'm mainly focusing on stretching (above all, the most important thing) and doing what is now a set Ballet routine where I watch YouTube videos and practice along with the instructor on the screen. My friend who did Ballet for 30 some years (though she isn't a dancer any longer), has been giving me very helpful tips and advice that has been improving things. Then there's the people who give advice and mean well but don't really know what they are talking about.

I've been told that men who do Ballet have to absolutely lift weights to be able to lift their partners over their head. I do know that male dancers need to have enormous upper body strength. But do they absolutely, 100% need to lift weights? My roommate who is orchestrating this whole fitness regimen/program which also includes a strict diet (for me personally) won't back down on the weight lifting. I appreciate his enthusiasm and the advice he is giving me but he doesn't understand Ballet. I'd rather listen to my friend who is a former dancer and who still exercises and dances occasionally then someone who just wants to bulk up in body mass. Am I wrong to think in this way? 

I've done other research and it's a mix of "yes" and "no" for weight lifting. I keep seeing the fear of bulking up and that it's honestly a toss-up. Ballet in general is doing more for me than weight lifting ever did. It's targeting specific muscles and muscle groups all at once. It's a real work out. I'm noticing firmness, tightness and a difference which is gradual but noticeable as I progress with it. 

So my concerns and questions really center around weight lifting. I've gotten "no's" and "yes's". I've also been told "do what makes you feel comfortable." So I'm very much on the fence about this. I hope this isn't a re-hash of older threads, and I hope that I'll get some advice here and pointers. It's really important to me, learning Ballet. 

Thanks! 

~ Dancer1880.

Edited by Dancer1880
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Chasse Away

Hi Dancer1880,

Honestly, I agree with the people who are telling you “do what you want”.

 

In general, the reason that dancers (even male dancers) aren’t super bulky is because muscle can limit flexibility, unless you stretch the muscle as you build it, and because it can “weigh you down” for jumps and stuff, after a certain amount of muscle. Of course, as a beginner these things are quite minor in the grand scheme of things, but obviously you already seem invested and dedicated to Ballet. 
 

Since you are also a beginner it will be quite some time before you do any serious pas de deux work. Therefore, there is no reason for you to “need” to lift weights for the time being. Also, you may just never choose to do pas de deux works (or never have the opportunity to). What you want your body to look like is fine, any body is a good body for ballet :) 

 

So basically right now don’t stress. As you progress be weary about putting on “too much” muscle, and if you do choose to go the the gym and stuff make sure you strech lots. If you don’t choose to go to the gym that’s fine, there’s no right way to “look” like a ballet dancer (but it might make pas de deux more difficult if that’s what you want to do). 

 

 

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Redbookish
2 hours ago, Dancer1880 said:

I've been told that men who do Ballet have to absolutely lift weights to be able to lift their partners over their head. I do know that male dancers need to have enormous upper body strength

Whoever told you this has half-knowledge.

It is true that for professional male dancers (and female dancers, for that matter) cross-training is becoming important. Dancers are increasingly drawing on the insights of sports science to maintain strength, endurance, cardio fitness, and resistance to injury. Have a look at the Royal Ballet's Steven McRae's social media in which he charts his use of strength & resistance training to rehabilitate a very damaged Achilles tendon.

However ...

You are a beginner dancer. To be honest, it will be quite some time before it will even be safe for you to do advanced partnering such as lifting female dancers. 

On the other hand, I lift. And I lift heavy for a woman in her early 60s - I regularly shift over 200 kg in the gym on the sled and my deadlift max is 87.5 kg, and my regular training for multiple reps is around 70 to 75 kg. Because I'm female, I don't bulk up (not enough testosterone!), but it's not inevitable that a man will bulk up either (my male personal trainer is long & thin, but can do 100 pull ups in one session and weighs only 70kg). It's about how you train. And I lift so that I'm strong enough to do ballet!

Ballet will help you build long strong lean muscles, especially if that's the way your body is built genetically. 

If you love ballet, Just.Do.It. Don't listen to what anyone else tells you - except your teacher. 

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Redbookish

My second answer & I've made it a separate post because it's too important to get lost in my first response re strength & weightlifting.

Quote

doing what is now a set Ballet routine where I watch YouTube videos and practice along with the instructor on the screen.

It seems from your post (and I could have misunderstood) that you're not actually in a live actual ballet class in a studio?

You really cannot learn ballet safely and well on your own. Please get to a live physical class, with a knowledgeable teacher who can see you and give you corrections. Bad physical habits are really hard to relearn - your body's proprioception - neural pathways get set. 

So more than anything else - find a live studio. If this dratted virus means your choices are limited, sign up for something like Steps on Broadway  or Broadway Dance Centre or other dance studios - there are lots about - Absolute Beginners workshops who do this via Zoom, with limited numbers so your teacher sees you, and gives you specific and personal feedback and corrections. 

You cannot learn ballet on YouTube basically. 

I hope this doesn't spoil your enjoyment, but I want you to learn clean basic technique and without too many bad habits!

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Dancer1880

@Chasse Away , hello! Thanks so much for imparting your thoughts on this! It means so much! I honestly would be happy if I could even land myself in a position of the corps de ballet of a company. I don't really see myself doing principal/soloist work. If I get to that point (years down the road), then so be it. Right now I'm just stretching (lots of stretching) and working on toning my muscles, and doing lots of cardio. I've also started pique and chaînés as my friend who is an experienced artist (she danced for 30 some years) has suggested I do, including practice spotting. So I'm getting used to the trying-not-to-get-dizzy aspect. xD

 

Hello @Redbookish! Thanks so much for zeroing in and giving your advice as well! Yes, watching YouTube I know isn't going to be helpful in the long run - thankfully, I've advice from friends who do Ballet or have done it - especially my close friend who is a former seasoned dancer (she danced 30+ years before retiring, she has also taught classes - now has five kids to look after) She wants to give me Zoom classes sometime soon so she can help me with my turnout - that's the challenge area for me mostly, my arms, hand position and arch are perfect (from her point of view) - its just the turn out mainly. I also purchased my first pair of shoes and I'm SO excited!!! They should arrive today or tomorrow. Hopefully today! Covid has definitely put a damper on things but I sojourn forth and continue in doing what I love <3. 

Thanks also for sharing your experience! Kudos to you for all your passion, energy and strength! It means a lot to hear from others who are knowledgeable and also who know what they are talking about. Truly. 

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Redbookish

That sounds great that you friend will give you class on Zoom. I've been doing classes on Zoom since we locked down (in the UK) in March, and I've actually got stronger & my technique has improved. Mind you, I do a Zoom class with expert teachers 6 days a week ... 

Have fun & enjoy learning this wonderful art. It sounds like you & ballet are made for each other!

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Dancer1880
15 hours ago, Redbookish said:

That sounds great that you friend will give you class on Zoom.

It really is! She will be soon, and she also encourages practicing to be proficient even though I'm one month in. This virus is just compounding things horribly but we sojourn on! I'm glad that Zoom classes are helping you! I'd love to make it to the point where I'm taking six days a week of Zoom classes. That would be amazing. I looked into free classes and really couldn't find any specific Ballet ones - maybe I'm not looking hard enough?

Oh yes, I definitely am enjoying it! Currently taking a break because soreness but that's to be expected. Haha, yes you could say that. It's definitely in my soul and has been for a very long time. ❤️ :) 

Edited by Miss Persistent
Full quote included when not referenced to
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Redbookish

If there's soreness, that is to be expected, but the best way to deal with it is to do more ballet, or go for a long walk, or a swim, or do yoga or Pilates. You'll quickly learn the difference between discomfort & soreness from unaccustomed use, and pain that is signalling injury. One of my expert teachers always says to beginners: "Ballet is not natural, but it shouldn't cause pain."

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Dancer1880

Rebookish, yep I'm learning what is discomfort and soreness versus pain (injury). Thankfully, injury is more excruciating (I've had a few many years ago - including a hernia when I was 4 years old - long story), so it's easily detectable. I stretched this morning, so that alleviated some of the soreness and I think I'll take a nice walk outside - it snowed!!! I love Winter, and snow. Living where I live (Midwestern U.S.) the weather is always unpredictable. But I love it when it snows here - it turns out looking like a picture-perfect postcard from Currier & Ives xD. 

I'm one day away from it being a full month of routine and working out - and I'm SO proud of myself. It's giving me so much confidence - more than I've ever had in my entire life - well as a teenager, growing up etc. So this is such a big deal for me. Thanks again so much for your advice and pointers! :) 

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Congratulations on starting ballet with strength training. I started as an adult and I also do a lot of weights and strength training. In about six total years of ballet, at different studios, I've never been asked to do any partnering, so overhead strength is probably way down the list of things to be concerned about as you get into ballet. There are so many other things to learn and improve at, plus lifting strength is pretty straightforward if you need to develop it. As for bulking up, that generally requires extra eating and calories to support it. I've done a lot more lifting during quarantine this year, and also gained weight. The strength helps with balance and stability, but the weight has impacted my jumping, so there is a tradeoff with it. The bulking part of my program worked a little too well, but it's good to know how the body responds, and I know how to tweak it in the future.

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