If you are new to ballet, or it’s been awhile, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. The hardest thing you did today was to come to ballet class. You made it. Congratulations. Everything else is extra credit.
2. The second hardest thing you did was to climb the stairs. 🙂
3. Welcome! This is an open level class. There may be brand new beginners and dancers who have been taking ballet a long time. Don’t be intimidated. The advanced dancers are there for you to follow and for inspiration. Don’t compare yourself to others, but appreciate those on this journey with you. Watch them, learn from them, and then give it your best shot. In ballet, no matter how long you’ve been dancing, we are all beginners. You will build on the foundations of dance your whole life. Welcome to a beautiful journey.
4. The hardest thing to do is stand up straight. Standing with correct alignment is something you will perfect your whole life. You want your shoulders wide and open, front ribcage soft, lower back lengthened towards the floor and your lower belly held in and up to support you. You are reaching up with the top of your head as if you were hung from a string like a marionette puppet, or as if with the top of your head you could lift ip the dome of the sky. If you get overwhelmed and can’t do the movement but you are working on standing properly, you are still doing it!
5. Don’t beat yourself up for not knowing what you’re doing yet — my god, it’s your first class and it’s all in french! It’s going to be okay! Learning ballet is not just connecting the french terminology to the steps, it is also acquiring a new language of movement. For now, work on translating the shapes we are making into your own body. This is a valuable skill in ballet. Don’t worry if you aren’t very good at this yet, just keep copying – like any other language, you’ll get better with practice.
6. You don’t have to get your leg as high as that other dancer. Alignment is more important. What good is a high leg if you are bending your standing knee and slouching in your spine? Straight, lengthened legs are beautiful at any height. Respect your body and go at your own pace.
7. Do not talk in class. This is the first unwritten rule of ballet etiquette. Respectfully asking the teacher questions is good, but chatting with your neighbor is a sure way to miss the next combination, and marks you as a novice. However, much can be said with non verbal communication.
8. Relax! Ballet is about expressing. Don’t hold on too tightly. Even in a dance form as structured as ballet, there is also a letting go. Within the structure there is freedom and that is where the expression comes. Yes, you must be strong, but relaxation is key, you can’t move if you are too stiff.
9. Breathe! All of dance is about breath. Even flexibility is about bringing your breath into the muscle fibers. Don’t hold your breath in, exhale, and and let it out. Breathing will help you relax.
10. Have fun. The best way to breathe and relax is to have fun! Make your goal in ballet to find the joy in every kind of movement. It’s a good lesson for life too. Don’t be afraid to enjoy it or maybe even smile!
11. You may have heard that ballet is hard. Your friends will say “Oh Ballet–that’s so hard!” It isn’t though — but don’t tell them! 😉 Ballet is built on principles of physics, and how bodies move in space. Ballet is easier than you think — so don’t think too hard, just dance. (It’s often more about play!)
12. Sometimes you get in your head and all you can do is judge yourself — I understand. I do it too, it’s the nature of the beast. But I assure you, no one else is judging you, they are all too busy judging themselves! Go easy on yourself, okay? If this is your first class or your first class in years — celebrate that! Celebrate being here.
13. Listen to the music. Hear the tempo, the instruments, the melodies. Try to match the movements you are doing with the tempo of the music. It will help you get out of your head and you will dance better.
14. If you get a correction, it doesn’t mean you are a bad dancer. On the contrary, it means the teacher sees something that can be corrected that will make you a better, safer dancer. In old-school ballet, it is considered a compliment. If you don’t get a correction, it also doesn’t mean you’re a bad dancer. Don’t take any of this personally.
15. Celebrate every win. Don’t focus on the stuff you didn’t get in the last combination, focus on what you did get! I don’t care if all you got right was the first walking step. Keep your chin up and keep hanging on. Next class your mind will be more focused, and after that you’ll find a little more balance, and pretty soon you’ll find that the things that once challenged you are coming easier. That rocks!
16. Improving is about building one win on top of another in baby steps. And sometimes it seems to take SO long to get to the next level. I get it. But don’t despair or kick the wall. (One of the most beautiful dancers in my studio when I was growing up kicked a big hole in the wall!) We all get frustrated. That amazing dancer next to you was once a beginner too. Instead put your focus into reaching your leg longer than you think is possible. Balance a little longer than you think you can. Lift your leg a little teeny bit higher every time. Stand tall, lift your chin, you are a dancer!
Finally, be kind to yourself. I can’t say it enough. You are beautiful. I am so glad you are here.
*Photo from Upsplash by Laura Marques
This is an expanded version of a post from a few years ago called All the Things I Meant to Say.