Sunday, January 27, 2013

100 Reasons to Study Ballet: Part III

(It's time for another installment of our series on 100 Reasons To Study Ballet.  For a recap, see the previous posts and the brainstorming tool behind it, The List of 100, as described at this website.)

41. Childhood spirit:  Most of us were fairly open-minded, fearless, and less self-conscious as children.  We ran, jumped, spun, leaped and moved without judging ourselves, simply because it was fun or because we were imagining ourselves as a super hero, a wild animal, or even a dancer on stage.  There are moments in ballet class when you can recapture that feeling, run and leap across the floor, and remember how it feels to simply move your body and imagine your best self.

42. Pointe:  Many young girls dreamed of pointe shoes and tutus (and some boys too!), although many did not; I was one of the latter.  I was a tomboy and shied away from girly things like ballet and ballerinas, which I associated with pink and frilly things and adults telling me to "behave like a lady".  However, as an adult ballet student in pre-pointe and beginner pointe classes, I have come to appreciate not only the beauty of dancing on pointe but even more, how much strength, control, discipline, and hours and years of practice it takes!

43. Discipline: Ballet requires enormous discipline, no doubt about it.  You have to show up for class, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year and perform the basic barre exercises with the aim of incrementally improving your technique, coordination, strength and aesthetic.  It takes many, many classes before you feel less clumsy and exposed in centre exercises, and there are no shortcuts. However, one significant advantage that adult ballet students have is that we have learned discipline in other parts of our lives and can apply that skill more easily than a child or teen who is still developing.

44. Patience: Patience goes hand in hand with discipline.  There is no fast track to ballet proficiency, and the best way to ensure that you feel discouraged and disheartened is to be constantly expecting overnight improvement.  Ballet is an opportunity to develop patience, to put in the work and trust that the outcomes ARE happening, just not as visibly or as quickly as we may like.  Notice the complete lack of "Become a ballerina in 30 days with our new revolutionary secret training program!" advertisements in the back pages of dance magazines :)

45. "Slow-boil" improvements: Adult ballet seems to be the antithesis of 21st century life and expectations.  Ballet is ancient, not a new and cutting edge pursuit.  Ballet is traditional, codified, and regimented; ballet does not adapt to you, YOU adapt yourself to ballet.  Ballet doesn't promise body reshaping in 30 days or guaranteed money-back results.  No, ballet demands a surrender to incremental improvement and slow adaptation to physical and mental learning.  There is no instant gratification, but there is much reward for those who can stick with it over the long-term.

46. Exposure to new ideas:  Beginning a new activity such as ballet will expose you not only to dance but also to classical music, played by a wonderful live pianist (if you're lucky) or chosen carefully from your teacher's iPod or CD player.  You will also learn bits of ballet and French and art/music/world history as you listen to the explanation of steps and movements and where they came from. You'll also learn to appreciate a wider range of bodies and ages and types of motion as you watch your classmates go through their learning processes, which will be similar but different from yours.

47. Live music: If you are lucky enough to have a live pianist for your classes, you are in for a treat!  Many of the accompanists who play for ballet class are wonderful musicians who, in collaboration with your teacher, will provide the score for your dancing endeavours.  Dancing to live music helps you to develop your musicality because the tempo, time signature (e.g., 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, etc), phrasing, and style of your music will be constantly changing, which teaches you how to adjust, anticipate, and react to the music, a very important part of what makes dance a performing art and not just another exercise class with background music. 

48. Camaraderie:  If you are afraid that adult ballet will be like high school/dance movies with snooty mean girls and cutthroat competition and body snark, fear not--adult ballet is generally very warm and welcoming and your fellow students will be down to earth, friendly, of all shapes/sizes/ages/backgrounds.  What you'll have in common is that you all had the courage to come to class, try ballet, and enjoy this journey together.  After a while, you'll make friends and chat with your barre-mates, who will ask about you if you miss class and welcome you when you return.  Sharing the sweat and the work is empowering.

49. Satin:  Satin trim is gorgeous, on leotards, on the waistband of a ballet skirt, on the outer covering of point shoes, or maybe even a satin ribbon in your hair.  It's nearly synonymous with "ballet." 

50. Ribbons:  Of course there are the ribbons on pointe shoes (which hit the engineering/design home run of being both functional and decorative) but ribbons are part of ballet costumes, hair ties, and even show up as props in major ballets (the maypole dance in La Fille Mal Gardee or The Ribbon Dance by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo).

51. Overcome fear: It takes courage to set foot in your first ballet class, and to keep showing up and striving to improve.  It's daunting to approach learning a new skill in front of a room full of other people, much less whilst dressed in very form-fitting clothing in a room full of floor-to-ceiling mirrors.  Those exercises en diagonale in centre are absolutely terrifying when you are new, but the good news is that the more you face your fear and accept its presence without letting it keep you from trying (THAT is the secret!) and try anyways, the fear loses its grip and fades away.  This lesson carries through to other parts of your life as well.

52. Pale skin:  We all know by now that tanning and sun exposure are not good for our skin or long-term health.  In that case, the paleness that comes from spending many hours indoors under the lights of the studio or rehearsal hall will be the next "in" thing.  We will channel the ghostly pallor of the Willis and the Sylphides...even those of us who who do not have naturally pale/pink skin.  :)

53. Learn to do the work:
  And once you have shown up to class, you might as well give it 100% effort and attention and work at it.  Even if you only have 70% to give that day due to other circumstances, that 70% is so much better than nothing.  Ballet develops a good work ethic and the positive peer pressure of the dancers working around you will lift you up!

54. Eat better: 
If you want to train like an athlete/dancer, you need to eat like an athlete/dancer.  You are asking a lot of your body (and your brain, which runs on lot and lots of glucose).  Forget the TV/movie version of the starving dancer who subsists on coffee and cigarettes!  You need to eat food, real unprocessed food with variety and good nutritional value, including a good mix of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.  Vegetables and fruits are your friends, as are dairy products and the occasional treat.  Fad diets, fasts, and eliminating entire categories of food (unless you have an allergy) are not for you, dancer. Think of your body as a finely tuned race car that requires high-quality fuel to perform.

55. Rest/sleep more:  Together with good nutrition, your body needs good rest to recover from the mental and physical demands,  and to build those muscle and brain connections necessary for progress with your ballet.  You will feel more alert, stronger, and more mentally on in class after a good night's sleep. Turn the TV/internet off at a decent time and go to bed :)

56. Set priorities:  Having the structure of your ballet classes in your weekly schedule will help you set priorities and manage your time.  When I was a student, I found that I was most productive and efficient when I had a fairly busy set schedule in which I had enough time and energy to do everything but not too much extra to waste.  With an empty schedule, I got less done because I could always put it off.  The same with ballet: I schedule my classes and make sure I am well rested the night before.  I book appointments or late meetings on non-ballet days or earlier in the day so if they run late, I won't miss my class.  Taking the time to do an activity just for YOU is not selfish, it's taking good care of yourself so that you can take better care of the other things in life. 

57. Avoid late nights:  Ballet is a priority for me, so if one of my favourite classes is at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, I rarely go out on Friday night and if I do, I'm home in bed by 11.  I know that sleep and rest will keep me healthy and dancing at my best.

58. Take care of the body:  We've touched on good nutrition and good rest, but asking your body to extend itself for you in a strenuous activity such as ballet means that you need to pamper you body between classes.  Soaking in a warm tub with Epsom salts (and maybe a cold drink and a good book!) feels heavenly to body, mind, and soul.  Getting occasional or regular massages, seeing a physiotherapist for aches and pains and injuries, listening to your body and adjusting your exertion based on how well you recover between classes will tune you up for the long term.

59. Take care of the feet:  A dancer literally depends on his or her feet.  Together with learning much more about your foot anatomy and function, you'll learn to take care of your feet by wearing well fit and comfortable shoes, doing your foot exercises, keeping your toenails trimmed (especially important for pointe shoes!), soaking your feet in warm or cold water, doing self-massage with a golf ball or roller will all pay off in your comfort and ability to articulate your feet during tendus :)

60. Learn to show up:  On most days, ballet class is the event you look forward to all day or all week, but then there ARE those days when you feel tired, frustrated, worn out from a stressful day, and may consider skipping class "just this once".  My advice is GO ANYWAYS.  I have never regretted convincing myself to go to class, and once I am there, I get caught up in the barre exercises, I work up a sweat, I concentrate on the music and the steps, and leave with a lighter heart.  However, I HAVE regretted the times I let myself slack (there are exceptions for made for being sick or injured, of course).  The secret to progress is to just keep showing up to class.


  1. "Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam/
    Lovely spam...wonderful spam!" NOT.

    Non-spam comments/inputs/reactions/sharing most welcome (hint) :)

  2. Love this list! And that it includes things such as 'satin' :) There's something incredibly soothing and peaceful about the feel of running a finger of new or freshly ironed satin ribbons... :)