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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Thinking too much before performing a step?


Guest tournout

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Guest tournout

How can I stop thinking about performing a releve on one foot just before I do it?

 

Like many of you, I restarted ballet classes after a long break. Now I have progressed to taking classes on pointe. I take an open intermediate/advanced adult class. Before I quit (all those years ago), I never thought about performing steps on pointe – I simply did them. Those classes were considerably more difficult than my current classes. My problem now is that I second guess myself on occasion just prior to performing certain steps. If I don’t think about it, I am fine.

 

What perplexes me is that I can do everything (though my extension is nowhere near what it was). But, I lack confidence. This is adversely affecting the way I execute certain steps on occasion. For example, we did several combinations in the center that included pirouettes (both inside and outside). When I attempted the inside pirouettes, my teacher said I lifted the working leg by the quad (the passé leg) in some weird way – as if I were attempting to lift myself up with that leg. After the correction, I no longer did that and could perform multiples so much easier. My turns also subsequently felt better. I don’t know if I was just concentrating too hard on getting up in releve or what. Another example is that I sometimes “panic” before a chasse pas de bouree (like as preparation before a pirouette). Again, if I don’t think about it there is no problem. My teacher keeps telling me to stop thinking so much. How do I do that?

 

Any suggestions/thoughts anyone may have would be greatly appreciated!

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Mr. Balanchine said it most succinctly, and, I think, best: "Don't think, dear, just do!";)

 

It's a kind of reverse concentration! Nearly a meditative condition peculiar to performing artists. And the only way to get it is practice.

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Guest beckster

I do the same thing - if I think too much then I panic and mess up the easiest of steps. I think your muscles need to learn the step as well as your brain, and it does get easier with time. I too have had the "chasse pas de bourree" panic before a pirouette, and in my case the trick was to AIM for the pirouette, and then the pas de bourree sort of just happened!

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It's a kind of reverse concentration!  Nearly a meditative condition peculiar to performing artists.   And the only way to get it is practice.

Or possibly a meditative condition peculiar to children and to performing artists? And the only way to get it is to unlearn concentration?

 

I guess that the great majority of adults who take up ballet, or come back to it after quitting as children, suffer from this problem - I certainly do. I'd be interested to know, though, whether adults who've continued dancing through childhood and into adulthood suffer from it. Or do they never learn to 'concentrate' in the way that most adults do?

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Actually concentration is essential, and children must have that ability too or they will not learn. But concentration and over-thinking about a step are two different things. Concentration in terms of being "in the moment", focused on the class, learning the combination, hearing the music is necessary. But then you have to be able to let go and "do", which is very much to do with confidence. You have to learn to trust your body to remember what it has been taught. And this of course, as Mr. Johnson said, takes practice! Try listening to the music before you start, maybe visualize the movements in the combination with the music. Focus on the whole instead of on one step. It might take a while to find what works for you, but over-thinking a particular step is a habit, and you break a bad habit by creating a new, better habit :)

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Ms Leigh -

 

Concentration isn't the right word, really - intellectualisation is probably closer. Obviously it would be impossible to learn something without concentrating on it for some length of time! But concentration is defined as the focusing of one's attention or intellect, and I take it to have two different meanings. The concentration you talk about - with the possible exception of learning the combination - seems to have more to do with attention than intellect, making me wonder whether the intellect is a help or a hindrance in ballet...

 

The differences in how children and adults learn ballet is the key to understanding this, I think, and specifically the question of whether children learn through focus of attention or focus of intellect. Adults clearly learn through focus of intellect - for them, the first stage of learning a step is understanding what their body is supposed to be doing. I've heard many teachers say that they prefer teaching adults for just this reason - they understand what they're supposed to be doing much better than children, even if they can't do it!

 

This rather suggests that children learn through a different process to adults, a process that slowly absorbs understanding through attention rather than rapidly constructing one using the intellect. The reason that they do not generally suffer from the problem of over-thinking, then, is that while their attention is focussed, their intellect lies relatively dormant. So perhaps we suffer problems as adults because we misunderstand the concept of concentration - we focus our intellect when we should be focussing our attention. In other words, we need to reverse the concept... Maybe this is what Major Johnson was getting at?

 

Your mention of confidence, though, suggests that this may not be the problem. Perhaps it is quite simply that as adults we have learned that unusual physical movements are likely to end in us damaging ourselves, and are therefore something to be avoided. Whereas a child sees nothing wrong with attempting - say - to spin round and round on the ball of one foot, our experience as adults tells us that we're likely to fall over or crash into something, probably causing ourselves harm. We simply lack confidence, and can only overcome this through practice...

 

What do you think?

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I think you've interpreted my intention properly there, and together with Ms. Leigh's concept of attention to "being in the moment" is probably as close as I'm liable to get to an answer on this tricky matter. Epistemology was never my strong suit. ;)

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I started ballet as a child, and I think also that as an adult I intellectualise a lot of more the steps I execute now (they're also harder, of course, so maybe I require that intellectualisation?), where really, I should just do them and not wonder about the minute detail of how it works and what my foot should be doing after that pas de bourre...etc...

 

I also find it hard to take my mind off the details and get on with it! What I try to focus on to remedy the situation is the very basic placement... So, I'll focus on the squareness of my shoulders with my hips for example, when executing a harder step, rather than wonder where I'll land after that double pirouette finished in arabesque, where my supporting leg should be doing in the turn, what my thigh does and my foot in the air.... (it WILL happen, if you do it just thinking 'do it clean' for some reason!)... Because most steps require that 'squareness' or a basic notion like releve on your full demi-pointe, rather than a lower one, it means you take your mind off the biggy in the middle of the step, and at the same time, make it happen with your rigour over the basic foundation of the step... Does that make sense? :)

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Guest tournout

The discussion regarding the process of learning for adults vs. children rang true for me and made me feel better (even if I continue to struggle with intellectualized learning syndrome -- a.k.a. overthinking). I will certainly try to learn new, better habbits by doing and not thinking. Though (as many of you know from experience) that may prove easier said than done. The suggestion of forcing myself to focus on something specific (like placement) before attempting a step I know I am overthinking should help. I will give it some time and effort and let you know. Thanks!

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Guest Jeujeucda

Ms. Leigh is perfectly right, that's what I realized the day I picked up figure skating and piano again, and ballet reminded me once more this year.

 

When I skated as a child, it was very easy because I wasn't afraid to fall. It didn't hurt and since everyone fell, looking like an idiot didn't cross my mind. Things like spinning came almost naturally... kids just do it. But when I started again as an adult, the first thing I realized was that I approached everything so differently! I thought about everything first, how my body's supposed to be, visualize every detail and drilled my coach with questions. And you know what? It doesn't work that way! I was very unhappy because I was struggling too hard to do the simplest things, and not getting the results I should. :)

 

Finally, about the third week, a revelation hit me one day as I sat practicing piano. I couldn't get my fingers through a particular piece to the point where I was even thinking about how I should be moving my muscles. Then it struck me that it was ridiculous -- whoever heard of learning the piano by thinking about finger muscles!? I had a flashback of me 15 years ago at the piano and recalled how I'd felt then. I'd just -- sort of let the notes come through by themselves. I tried it again that way, let my fingers go without my head. And ta-da, there it was! I went right through the piece no problem anymore!

 

Later that day at skating, I realized it was the same thing hindering me. I was being "adult", way overusing my head. You don't learn physical things with your head, you learn with you body and heart. Babies don't learn to crawl or walk by analyzing the steps! So I quit trying to "figure things out" and just let my body do it, and didn't care if I fell. I'm not two stories up, for goodness sake! And it worked! From that moment on, I progressed way faster, like the kids and teens I skate with. Maybe I'll never get to triple jumps, but everything else are possible, they're only waiting for me in the near future. :D

 

Same thing in ballet. The first day, I again approached it with my head first instead of my heart. Too much thinking. You simply cannot pirouette with your brain. You just have to -- do it. Let your body and heart take over. Be a child. Now, I have no trouble except giving myself patience and time (practice!) for muscle memory to form! ;)

 

Jeujeucda

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Guest piccolo

I just want to add one thing: Think of dancing through the music. (As opposed to "ok the prep is on 1, pirouette is on 2, etc.) Dance through the music. I know when I'm over-intellectualizing my dancing and it falls apart, I just let go and just dance to the music. The music helps me let go.

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Guest mathiskewl

I agree with you Piccolo.

 

I definitely think too much while dancing instead of just dancing to the music. This was especially evident this week. I took a few extra (more advanced) classes this week. I'm usually self-conscience about being behind, but decided to just move to the music and do my best. It worked! I moved much better than when I was worried about getting the moves correctly... As one of my math instructors used to say (with a thick Russian accent) "Just do it! Don't think, just do!" Gee, didn't Nike and Yoda say similar things?

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Guest Jeujeucda

;) :) Hee hee, imagine Yoda doing ballet. Or figure skating. Ah, but the Force can do amazing things...

 

But yes, I think it's the same principle for prefering to start Jedi training as a child and starting ballet/skating young -- you just do it, not think things to death first.

 

Jeujeucda

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Yup - get 'em while they're young, before the bad habits have formed!

 

It strikes me, though, that as adult ballet students, our problem could well be that our minds are out of sync with our bodies, and that the blame lies squarely with our traditional education. Throughout our academic careers, the emphasis has been on the development of the capability to assimilate vast quantities of information and come to a rapid understanding of the concepts that underly it, and as remarkable as that capability is, it can cause us great problems.

 

When learning ballet, it would at first appear to give us an advantage, as many teachers believe - we are able to understand clearly what we are ultimately being taught to do, unlike children. In reality, though, I'm starting to think that it's a huge disadvantage, for the simple reason that we are restricted by our muscle memory. Our body cannot learn with the efficiency of our mind, and in our eagerness to progress, we allow the two to move out of harmony...

 

So by asking questions about the mechanics of a pirouette, say, we come to understand what we should be doing well in advance of our body being able to do it. We try it and fail, but tend to look to the gaps in our knowledge as the cause of our failure. The thought that our body just needs to become accustomed to a new way of moving goes unnoticed, and as we strive to perfect our understanding of the pirouette, our mind and body move further out of harmony.

 

It's really very obvious, but the base rule is 'one step at a time'. Keep the mind at the same stage as the body, and don't let it race ahead. Maintain a state of harmony... When you've been educated in the belief that the body is a mere vessel for the all-powerful mind, though, that's a hard thing to do.

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