Too Squished to Dance? Notes on Spatial Awareness
Feeling like these guys, too squished to dance? These dancers are members of Ballet Boyz, the all male ballet company based in London.
Do you ever feel like you are dancing so close to another dancer that you feel like you could be in this photo? Ballet is an art form with a long history and a lot of unwritten rules. It can be confusing to an enthusiastic beginner to suddenly get dirty looks from other dancers and not know what went wrong or even how to fix it!
When I was a kid there was a commercial on TV for a local storage company and the line “more space” was whispered several times. Of course my sister and I thought this was hilarious and when I crossed the ‘backseat line’ she would hiss “more space” at me and we would erupt into giggles. I often want to whisper this on the subway. But perhaps they would not find it quite so amusing. Like in the subway, in ballet class it also wouldn’t be terribly acceptable to hiss “more space” at your neighbor, however tempting it might be. Still, it’s no fun to be squished–not only is it uncomfortable and doesn’t allow anyone to dance full out, it could also be dangerous–you don’t want to get kicked or whacked in the face.
Dancing in a group is what a corps de ballet does–moving all together, watching each other, and creating the dance as one–and it’s a valuable skill to have. It’s also really fun to dance with other people, matching strides, breathing and moving together. As summer classes get crowded, here are some things you can do to stay safe, protect others and use your space well.
1. Look where you are going. Don’t cross the middle of the floor or step in front of another dancer. When you are finished dancing, move completely off the dance floor so other dancers behind you have room. Be sure you are not standing where a dancer may land from a leap. The moving dancer has the right of way.
2. When your line moves forward and you are finished dancing, move forward and around to the back of the room, behind the other dancers moving forward. I know it’s tempting to turn around and make your way upstage between dancers coming forward, but it is considered bad manners and could be dangerous to you and others.
3. Use your peripheral vision to watch the dancers next to you in order to keep your space in the line or grouping. You want to have equal space between you and the other dancers on either side of you, and in front and back of you.
4. Stay with your group and don’t run over dancers who may be dancing slower in front of you. You may need to slow down to accommodate them, matching your movements with the group and even adjusting the size of your steps. You also may need to speed up slightly to stay with your group. Using the mirror and your peripheral vision can help you hold your space and watch your positioning.
5. If all else fails and you are being squished, move. Either move forward in your line, or back up or wait and dance with the next group.
6. If it’s still too crowded, it’s also ok to raise your hand and ask the teacher to split you into smaller groups. Sometimes there isn’t time for everyone to dance, so the groups may be large, but other times the teacher may be able to make smaller groups. You don’t know if you don’t ask.
Finally, use your common sense, stay aware and look where you are going. If you get any dirty looks, smile back! See you in class!
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Great tips! As a beginner – especially a grown-up one – it can really be hard to figure out some of the unspoken rules,
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Thanks Kit. I think so too. I think in particular holding back can be the hardest thing.
Excellent post! We hear a lot about the need for spatial awareness, but not a great deal of practical advice for how to achieve good spacing. You’ve done a great job setting out the basics, here.
Not running over the dancers in front of me is a persistent challenge for me, since I’m one of the longer-legged, leapier members of most of my classes — but it’s actually been a great skill to learn, since it turns out that being able to modulate the size of one’s movements is important even when working on solo choreography.
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Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment–yes learning choreography really challenges the spatial skill to be sure!
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