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Ballet Class 101, Part III

You're here, you're set, you're at the barre and ready to go!

Things to know during class:

1) As fun as it is to meet new people who share your passion for dance, the minute your teacher walks into the room: zip it! Your teacher is an extraordinarily phenomenal source of knowledge and experience. Listen to everything they say. They are sharing their considerable expertise with you. Absorb as much as you can--take in their words, their gestures, and their silences.

2) If you have chosen a spot at the barre where your teacher prefers to demonstrate exercises, move way off to the side when they do so. Do not bother trying to flatten yourself against the barre--it doesn't work. It's sometimes a bit of an awkward position and sometimes you'll end up standing in front of someone, but the important thing is to never stand there in front of the teacher. If they have to look around you to see other students in the class, you're in the way...and too close!

3) When your teacher demonstrates an exercise, feel free to use the opportunity to do it with them. There are approximately 7 recognized styles of learning. You may be a visual learner. You may be a kinesthetic learner. You may be an aural learner. Likely you are a mixture of all 7. But because ballet practice is a physical art form based in repetition, (every single lesson for the rest of your life will start with demi plies...) it will probably be beneficial for you to follow along while your teacher is explaining. If you'd rather watch first, then please feel free to do so. However, it's not the time to glance at your watch or your phone or gaze out the window.

4) Breathe! It's so common to hold your breath when you get nervous or try something new. Holding your breath will put you on the path of LEAST success. You won't remember the combination and your muscles and your brain will be deprived of much needed oxygen. The more you breathe and relax, the more you will get out of your class.

5) Every correction is your correction. This is a good rule of thumb that will carry over into every subsequent class you take, whether you are brand new or a professional. Try to apply every correction that your teacher gives. For example, if you hear your teacher tell Mary to relax her shoulders, check in to see if your shoulders are up to your ears. Or if you hear your teacher say anything about "turn out", to anybody at all, there's a good chance that you could be more solid in that area. Even if you know for certain that your shoulders are relaxed, bring that correction elsewhere--do a quick scan to see if your ribs are in place or that your neck tension isn't shooting your chin up in the air. The more you can integrate corrections into your own body, the more you will learn about ballet.

6) If you don't understand what's happening or need the exercise repeated, please do not be shy about politely asking for clarification. If the students have been with a teacher for a long time, they will easily and quickly pick up on the patterns that the teacher uses or a certain style that the teacher has. Never be scared to ask to see something again. However, never interrupt the teacher while they are in the middle of explaining an exercise or move. Wait until they are done before you ask your questions.

7) When doing Center, do not stand in the front row or all the way to the right or left. A good rule of thumb to adhere to, is to stand in the middle, back 2 or 3 rows from the front line. Just like at the barre, brand new dancers will benefit greatly from having someone to follow. I certainly encourage self-confidence, but stay away from the first row until you have more experience.

8) Let the more advanced students go in the first few groups when you're going Across The Floor. Going Across The Floor is arguably the scariest part of a ballet class! You are dancing steps that may be unfamiliar, and moving your body in brand new patterns...and there's nowhere to hide. The nice part is that you can take this time to let things go a little and actually move, as you've been carefully controlling all your limbs for the past 45 minutes. Often it is a group of 3 or 4 (or more in bigger classes) that move together across the floor on the diagonal. In a group of 3, you will usually find yourself in triangle shape with the more experienced dancer as the front point. In a group of 4, it's more of a rhomboid shape. In any case, try your very best to hold your position and not run into your fellow dancers. Here's the best advice I can give you while going Across The Floor: do not stop! Even if you cannot perform the steps, just keep walking along with your group until you can get to the other side. The second best piece of advice I can give you while going Across The Floor: EVERYBODY sucks at their left side--don't worry about it.

9) Reverence. At the end of the class, you will follow the teacher in Reverence. It allows the teacher to thank their students for coming and working hard, and for the students to thank the teacher for sharing their knowledge. Reverence is mostly composed of soft arm movements (port de bras) and ends with a curtsy or bow to the teacher, and then a warm round of applause.

10) Don't expect (or even strive for) perfection. Not one adult beginner student aspires to dance professionally onstage. Allow yourself to make mistakes and then enjoy changing those mistakes into ballet technique and self expression. It's all about your process and your progress, not perfection.

I hope this helps. Let me know if it did, or let me know if there's something I should add!

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