An Insider’s Tips to Getting Ready for Ballet Class

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-By Annika Russo

Maybe it’s your first ballet class, or maybe you’ve taken class before. I think it is always good preparation to get yourself ready to look the part of ballerina or danseur and get yourself ready mentally for the upcoming year of training at Dublin Dance Centre and Gymnastics (DDC&G). If you are new to ballet or are moving up a level, congratulations! This is an exciting time to make new friends, learn new movements, and become a stronger, more confident dancer. Even if you’ve been taking ballet for a while, here’s a little refresher to start you off on the right foot this year.

What to Expect of Ballet Class?

  • Ballet class is divided into two parts: barre and centre. Combinations at the barre prepare your muscles and brain for the more challenging combinations in centre.
  • To get the most out of your class, remember the corrections that your teachers gives you and apply them to similar movements throughout class.
  • Usually, centre practice is divided into three main sections: stationary exercises that mimic the barre work pretty closely, traveling combinations, and combinations across the floor. Depending on your level, these combinations will include running, turning, and jumping.
  • All exercises have natural progressions and movements that need to be mastered before more challenging movements are taught. Don’t be tempted to rush into steps that are harder than your teacher is presenting. This may hurt your muscles or start bad habits that are hard to break later in your training. Be patient with yourself—mastering ballet steps takes a lot of practice. Your DDC&G teacher will make it fun, though, and give you interesting ways to remember the best way to do steps and how to hold your muscles.
  • Learning the combinations may be tricky when you are first starting and when you first meet a new teacher. You really need to bring your thinking cap and focus your attention on learning the combination. Try “marking” the combination with your teacher to give your muscles a chance to learn the steps. Try saying the counts in your head to help your muscles learn the right timing of the steps.
  • Your teacher will decide which steps to ask you to perform each class, but will also offer correction to you. This is a chance for you to do the steps even better next time you try. Never give up. Look for time to practice the corrections right away: trying it again with the second group, staying after class a few moments, asking the teacher to repeat the combination.
  • Expect that your teacher may touch parts of your body to help your muscles learn. For example, your teacher may touch on top of your knee to remind you to straighten your knee all the way. Or, your teacher may touch your shoulders to remind you to keep them pressed away from your ears.

What Ballet Class Expects from You?

  • Ballet started as a Baroque-age court dance and maintains much of the royal decorum from that time. Students are expected to show courtesy and respect to their teachers and fellow classmates, as well as office staff, stage crew, and parent volunteers.
  • One way to show respect to your teachers and fellow classmates is to be on time. If you are accidentally late, come in quietly and find a space at the barre. Begin a few warm-up plies on your own until you are instructed to join the class.
  • Dress the part. Dublin Dance Centre and Gymnastics has a dress code of leotard (black in the higher levels) and pink tights and ballet slippers for girls; black dance pants and white tee-shirts for boys with black ballet slippers. This dress code is not intended to stifle anyone’s creative flare for fashion. Bright colors distract the teacher from correcting movement and other dancers from focusing. Extra clothing is hard to manage while dancing and may prohibit the dancer or teacher from seeing corrections.
  • Make sure your ballet slippers fit and are neatly sewn with the laces tucked in. It can be very dangerous to have shoes with room to grow and laces to trip over during a centre combination. Ouch! Conversely, shoes that are too tight are dangerous for the foot and do not allow proper relaxation of the foot on the floor. Think ancient Chinese foot binding. Double ouch!
  • Be neat! Wear your hair tied back securely. Not only is it dangerous to be hit in the face with a long braid during a turning combination, but it can be distracting to have your bun come down in the middle of class or your bobby pins go flying out for your fellow dancers to slip upon. Use sufficient bobby pins to secure your hair around an elastic band. Use hair spray or gel to smooth back lose ends around your face. If you’re not sure if your bun is tight enough, give it a go. Shake your head “no” and see if it shakes. If it does, take the pins out, and start over, tightening the elastic and placing the pins more frequently as you wrap. For more tips and styles, see the article “How To UpDos—Ballet Style.”
  • Mind your manners. I know that seeing your friends in class is super-fun, but please keep talking, chatting, and giggling to a minimum or not at all during class. It’s disrespectful to your teacher and your fellow classmates who are trying to dance and concentrate.
  • Also a word about bathroom breaks in the middle of class. PLEASE empty out before coming into class. Our teachers have worked hard to develop a class lesson plan that progressively trains each of your muscles to prepare you for the next combination or the next phase of your training. We don’t want you to miss any of it and get injured because your muscles weren’t ready. We also don’t want you to have an accident, so we will always say “yes” if you have to go! Make sure you always ask your teacher if you have to leave the room.
  • Do the combination as given to the best of your ability. If you need to modify your movement because of a physical condition or injury, your teacher would be happy to help you figure out what’s best for you to change. And always finish-even if you made huge mistakes during the combination. Control your frustration and resolve to do better next time. Better yet, try to repeat the combination with the next group to get it right. That will feel good!
  • Find a place to stand. I know this sounds silly, but it is really important to be spread out at the barre and evenly spaced in the centre. Spread out as much as possible at the barre so that your legs have room to raise without kicking your neighbor. Here at DDC&G, we have some portable barres to ease congestion at the barre in some of the studios. Your teacher may ask you to help put them together and move them to a good spot if your class doesn’t fit comfortably at the wall barres. Also, your teacher may help you and your fellow dancers find spots in the centre in lines. You should try to stand in the “windows” between the lines in front of yours so that everybody has space and can see their placement in the mirrors.

Ballet class is fun, great exercise, and gives you so much confidence…especially if you know what to expect and what’s expected of you. Have a great start of the year at Dublin Dance Centre and Gymnastics. If you have any questions about decorum, dress code, or behavior, please see our wonderful office staff or contact Annika Russo, the ballet coordinator, at annika@dublindance.com or Christina Taylor, the education director, at christina@dublindance.com.

There are many books about ballet class at the library. Here are some suggestions:

My first ballet class written by Katharine Holabird
Going to my ballet class written by Susan Kuklin
Ballet written by Darcey Bussell