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Intermediate Ballet

in Adult Ballet Dancers, Ballet tips, Intermediate Ballet

Increase Your Consciousness and Improve Rapidly

Adult-ballet dancing tips: Read more about increasing your observation skills, the degree of consciousness each time and your focus and how that results in rapid improvement for us adult ballet beginners.

Some years ago, in spite of extreme self-consciousness, I planted myself in a children’s ballet class. The students were about 11-14 years of age and I was about twice their ages. On top of that, many of them had been dancing since they were about 3 years old and were more or less on a pre-professional route to dancing for a career.

How did I get in? I was lucky. The school had just opened in my neighborhood, and they needed students. I was the first student and my first class consisted of me and another adult. But subsequently the teachers’ students from her previous schools followed her and my class became predominantly ballet-driven pre-teens and teenagers.

During one day in class, the teacher decided to pair us up. We had to each take turns to dance the combination, and our partner had to give us feedback. Fortunately (or unfortunately) for me I was paired with the best dancer in that class. I felt so intimidated to be dancing and having her watching me. AND I was embarrassed that I had to correct her.

I couldn’t see anything! My ballet eyes weren’t developed yet and AT ALL. When I had to give her feedback, all I said was, “Oh, it looked good.” She looked at me again to see if there really wasn’t anything to add. I just sheepishly stood there. And there was a moment of awkward silence.

When it was my turn, I’m sorry to say that I had her fully watching me with her super ballet eyes, dancing the same variation she had before. I was so nervous and tried my best. I kinda looked at half shyly and half-eagerly. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was eager because she was such a good dancer and I was looking forward to the tips she could give me.

I braced myself for some divinely helpful tips. Instead all I got was:

 

Be more conscious.

 

Wait. What?

She repeated herself.

Be more conscious of every step.

 

Huh? What do you mean exactly? I asked her.

Just be more conscious.

 

I didn’t quite understand what she meant at that time. I brushed it off as one of those things or response you get when you know when people aren’t very articulate by nature. Maybe she is a dancer, so she’s more expressive and generous with her dancing than her words.

I wasn’t offended or anything, just perplexed.

I never forgot it though, even though I never fully understood.

As I continue to plough on in my journey learning to dance ballet, I kind of begin to understand.

My ballet journey was long: I went through training for ballet exams, took time out to go back to the basics, worked on flexibility, experienced my first few minor injuries. I even learned to dance on pointe, performed en pointe and took part in performances. I started doing a little teaching (young children) and etc etc.

Us adults learn differently from children. We didn’t have years for technique to sink in and the comprehension for how tecnnique is all inter-related. If you don’t nail down a certain technique, it is going to affect everything else.

We adults learn ballet all at one go. We don’t usually have the luxury fully get to understand the details of each plié, tendu, jete. We don’t see how the tendu and releve link together, and how extremely relevant is the plié to allegro. We don’t know how the press down and pull up of the supporting and working leg leads to being good en pointe. Thus, as adults, the comprehension of all these links and inter-relationships either don’t happen or we take a long time to get them. This leads to the extreme LACK OF CONSCIOUSNESS in our dancing as adult ballet dancers.

 

I'm conscious now that my back foot is not pointed

I’m conscious now that my back foot is not pointed

Just look around you in an adult ballet class. Just notice how many feet are never fully pointed. How back legs are bent, how much “sitting” or sinking of the torso into the pelvis. Also notice how shoulders are rolled in, or how shoulders aren’t engaged in center combinations. A HUGE reason of this is due to the lack of consciousness of what you’re doing.

Have you ever thought that you’re looking a certain way, or at least you look okay when you’re dancing a step, say, glissade into jete? And when you filmed it, you found that your 2nd leg (the leg that takes off after the first leg that moves) is weak, and your 2nd foot never fully reached its full pointe? Have you noticed your shoulders bobbing? And your arms jerking around? WELL THAT WAS ME. And I had been doing those simple combination of steps for YEARS.

It was only when I saw myself in a video that I noticed all these things.

So in essence, I increased my consciousness of what I was doing, unwittingly, by accident. Now that I’ve realized all those ‘mistakes’ that i’ve been doing and enforcing (unfortunately), I can then consciously correct it.

So it hit me.

We can speed up the process of learning ballet by increasing the degree of what we are doing exactly each time. We can hone our observation skills, zoom into a certain part in the mirror. We can get feedback from our friends, or film ourselves in a video, watch yourself or ask a better dancer to critique you. You can also force yourself to increase mental focus during class.

INcrease consciousness of details and observation skills

We have to do this more often, or ideally, ALL THE TIME! That is why many ballet mothers film their daughters at home practicing or during private lessons, so that they can review and improve further.

 

“My mom frequently tapes my classes for me to view later so I am able to improve my lines and expression. That really helps me a lot, as often times, I think I’m doing it correctly, but it turns out that I need to improve it further.” – Charmaine, vocational student at Queensland Ballet Academy

 

When I was training for ballet exams, I would set up my video camera, or get my teacher to film me for every exercise. I would make mental notes or even jot down in my ballet journal. Sometimes I would read them at night and mentally imagine myself doing them, especially when I had to do 8 fouettes on both my right and left side.

My professional dancer friend NT told me that when he was training to become professional, he would video himself doing certain steps, and watch a video on youtube/pro videos and compare it side by side. That was how he increased his observation skills.

I use Instagram and even then, I see current working professionals videoing themselves for their own observation and consciousness to improve.

Recently, I’ve been working on my arm movement, torso and pelvis placement during this very common combination: tombe pas de bouree, glissade and grand jete.  I use that spare time after each ballet class and get my ballet friend to film me. I then would quickly look over that 6-8 second video, and make mental notes, increase consciousness of what I was doing, or send consciousness to my fingers, my feet etc, then video again hoping to see later that I have applied my corrections. I would repeat the process at least 3 times (and repeat the favor for my friend). This way, I literally make great improvements rapidly in that mealsy 10 minutes!

It does feel like miracles are working.

Now if only I could commit my “new and improved” to muscle memory. That would be my next goal. Once the muscle memory sets in, I can focus on improving other things or come back to it to refine it further.

That’s how adults can work to improve to look more and more like a dancer. 

And the best part is technique is all related. When you work on your placement of arms for that combi, it works for other combis too.

Be Mentally Tough and Focused

As adults, our mental game is strong. Even then, applying our mental consciousness to dancing takes effort. It is easy to just dance freely in open classes, focusing on the combinations and steps, and not technique. It is easy to make excuses and be lax. No one is going to punish us for not trying our best. We work, we have family, we are tired. It is natural to be that way.

Thus it is too easy to have this mentality “Oh, it doesn’t matter if we don’t stretch or strengthen, it doesn’t really matter if we can’t do a good pirouette. Getting around is “enough”

I mean, of course if you just dance ballet because you purely enjoy it, that’s fine. But it WILL matter if you want to improve and get to the more advanced class. It matters to me because I want to be a good dancer.

If so, then you have to be tough with yourself. And you’ll have to increase your focus. So many times, I start out being very determined to apply corrections with my arms, or my stomach, say before I launch into my pirouettes from the diagonal. SO I start chanting in my head what I’m supposed to think about, “Strong stomach, leave your first arm in front of your belly button, and make the 2nd arm first the first etc” just before my turn. But after dancing down the room, I realized I wasn’t thinking about those things during the dancing!

ARGHHH

So I really understand it is much harder to really apply corrections. Somehow we are clumsier with our bodies and than the degree of sharpness with our minds.

But now that we know how rapidly we can improve by increasing our consciousness, we just got to find a way to make it work for us.

Looking back to that incident where I had to dance my horrible dancing in front of a would-be semi-professional, let’s be really honest here. I probably had a thousand things for her to comment on. She could have said, “Your turn out is not engaged, your arms are stiff like sticks, your ribs are sticking out, pelvis not lifted. Your legs are loose, feet not pointed.” Or she maybe she did give up on me and decided those were the best words.

Maybe she was kind.

Maybe God put those words in her mouth to encourage me. (Because sometimes, it is privately devastating.)

Somehow those words, “Be more conscious” brewed in me and now finally I understand. If I wanted to improve the technique and the quality of my dancing, all I had to do was to be more conscious. After all, I know enough technique to be able to try to work on my own. I don’t need someone to tell me to turn out and point my feet. I know all that. Now it is all about bridging that gap between what I know and what I DO.

So what happened to that little dancer who gave me this precious ballet nugget?

She is a professional now.

 

🙂

 

in Advanced Ballet, Ballet tips, Beginner Ballet, Intermediate Ballet, Uncategorized

Pirouettes

I was helping my friend with her pirouette that day. She is a beginner adult ballet dancer, with probably about 10 months in with twice-a-week classes. Understandably, almost every adult ballet dancer I meet are obsessed, or rather, pre-occupied with how to improve their turns.

There is just that something about turns. Even professional dancers and semi-professionals themselves are always working out how to improve them in both quantity and quality.

Unfortunately in the adult ballet dancer’s world, we don’t really get access to slow, repetitious teaching thus, adult ballet dancers are seldom great turners, unless they have been recreational ballet dancers since young. I’m referring to those who has only picked up ballet during their adult years. That’s not to say that I’ve not seen adult ballet dancers nail their turns, doubles even. It is just that majority seldom went beyond a single pirouette. And they generally don’t execute them with quality.

As I was figuring out how to teach turns, I recalled my journey in learning how to do a single pirouette, how I did my first doubles and my accidental triples.

Then I had to do doubles, landing in an open position in an attitude, and how I learned to fouette.

I also remembered how I learned how to do a pique turn, and a lame duck, then all that in a maneage and eventually, I had to do all that en pointe.

I wouldn’t say I am a great turner or I have the most perfect pirouettes. I’m just sharing with you what I have learned, and what helped. I will also share the areas that I’m still struggling in.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Strengthen your ankles

In my first few weeks of learning ballet, I couldn’t releve (stand on demi-pointe/toes) very high. I would get cramps in calves. My ankles will give way. My heel only slightly lifted off the floor. There is no way you can do a pirouette with your heels just slightly off the floor, unless it isn’t a ballet pirouette. There is a big sense of “up” and “high” in a ballet turn. How to strengthen your ankle? Do a lot of ironing-tendus – tendus where you iron your foot through demi-pointe with a straight knee.

Practice Balance

Exercise 1

My first ballet teacher would make us do a tombe or chasse pas de bouree diagonally across the floor into pirouette preparatory position in 4th, then releve with leg in retire. We did that repeatedly for 6 months. This balance is the crux of the turn. Thus, we should focus on the balancing on that leg for a long time, instead of focusing on the turning motion

Exercise 2

An exercise that really helped take away the intimidation of a turn is to do a quarter turn, then plie releve into another quarter turn and stay up as long as possible on demi pointe. Eventually, I would do a larger turning circle, like half, then full circle, then maybe full circle and a bit more, and eventually double turns.

Exercise 3

Start from 5th or 4th position, plie and then releve into pirouette position. Repeat on both sides for as many times as you can. This will help your body enforce that pirouette position into muscle memory.

How PULLED UP are you on your leg?

Be conscious of the pulled-up- torso from leg all the way to the hips to the head. Are you ‘sitting’ on your leg? I I thought I should explain what does this ‘sitting’ mean, since I’ve heard more than one ballet teacher yelling at their students. This ‘sitting’ means ‘slouching of the torso into the hip’. It is more common place than we think. I often like to look around at regular people (non dancers) in the train as I travel home, at how many people are ‘sitting/slouching’ into their hips on the top of their legs. The answer is – almost everyone. I blame our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

Many adult ballet dancers were once these regular folks too – thus, there’s a lot of ‘sitting’/slouching action going on in ballet class, and they don’t know it. Who can blame them?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a teacher who would shout “Supporting leg – MORE UP!!!!” which essentially translates to “STAND TALLER ON YOUR SUPPORTING LEG”. Your supporting leg has to feel as though it is drilling into the ground, and the result of that is the opposing action of your torso, a sense of pull up, and ‘growth’/growing taller, thus, you are more taut in that position.

NOW LISTEN, the pull up action of the torso has to be initiated by the pressing downwards pressure of the foot and the leg. The action of pressing down will cause the torso to grow upwards or what is known as pull up. If you think just about pulling up from the torso, without considering your leg, then what you get is that common ribs out look (sticking your ribs out), or an extremely tensed look with a raised shoulder and stiff neck.

Of course, this applying-downward-pressure-of-the-foot causes a natural opposing force of a pulled-up torso… has to happen without compromising alignment – i.e. tilt of the pelvis or curvature of the spine. The pelvis should be held strongly at neutral (with a lifted feeling off the legs) and you should think about making the spine as long as possible. TIRE BOUCHON, as teacher yells at me. It means corkscrew in french. These are the same opposing forces that happen as you open a champagne bottle.

You can practice this – ensuring that you are extremely pulled up in correct alignment in all 3 exercises for improving pirouettes suggested in the previous section.

Weight Placement

As a beginner dancer, we are less conscious of where we are placing our weight in. If you have just started ballet, you may not understand what I mean by “weight placement”. However, that is essential to ballet. It is one of the most important lessons we have to master, all the way up to advanced levels. Even the professionals are consciously feeling and searching for their weight placement.

What it is referring to – in layman terms, is where is most of your body weight is. If you’re wearing high heels, your weight is actually ‘back’ on the heels of the shoe. Thus, it actually throws your body alignment into a ‘sexier’ pose – your breast are pushed forward, bottom is stuck out, and you have a bigger curve of your lower back. If you’ve been wearing heels for a long time, then kicked them off in exchange for some nice comfy bedroom slippers, you’ll realize that you have to adjust your weight. Initially, you might feel your heels feeling sore, from too much pressing – a muscle memory carried over from high heels. As you adjust your pelvis and alignment naturally, your body is re-calibrating to put more weight over the whole spread of the foot.

In ballet, we must try to put our weight over the ball of our foot as much as possible. This will ensure a more taut body, and one that is more responsive to a wider range of dance movements and quick footwork.

We will also grow more sensitive to where we “place our weight” during movement in dancing, as we advance in technique. The more sensitive you are, the more you can control your body.

Similarly, we have to be more conscious of our weight placement in pirouettes, especially in the beginning, because we’re not so sensitive to our body yet. Ensure that most of your weight is at the ball of the foot before you releve.

The quicker your body understands how to place your weight dynamically, the quicker you will master your turns.

Spotting

Spotting is not a technique isolated to dancers. Ballroom dancers and other types of dancers have to have a good spot too, otherwise they look and are amateurs. Even ice skaters.

Spotting may be defined ‘whip of the head to the front, before the body turns to that facing’. It helps you prevent dizziness.

In my experience, learning how to spot correctly takes a long time. Or maybe I just didn’t get it as quickly as I should have. My spot is sufficient for a single pirouette, but insufficient for 2 or 3. My ‘2nd’ head is slow and my teacher nags and complains at me all day.

There is also spotting for Chaine, pique turns and lame duck.

There are several theories of how to learn to spot. I’m not sure which ones will work for you but you can try all of them!

Exercise 1

Stand in parallel position with hands on hips and face the mirror. Keep looking at yourself and slowly shuffle your feet as you turn your body away from the mirror. Keep looking at the mirror for as long as you can, then quickly shuffle back to face the front. So in other words, you ‘leave your head/face’ behind and then whip your head quickly to the front.

I had one teacher who told me to tie a pony tail then think about slapping my own face with my pony tail.

Some asked me to imagine being slapped as I turned around.

(Just a note: Some teachers disagree with the above methods and then to start arguing – but I’m not here to argue.)

Exercise 2

Look for a focal point and focus your eyes at that point as you turn. You don’t have to think about anything, you just are dancing and moving and trying to keep your eyes on that point at all times. Sometimes it could be a piano, or a water bottle on top of a piano.

Exercise 3

Look for a general large area, it could be a big grey door. Just remember to keep your face towards the door. I like to imagine that I have to show my face for the photographer to take a picture of. So if I’m doing 3 turns, I need to show my face towards his lens 3 times (I know, it’s so dumb but it works SOMETIMES).

Arms

Placement of the arms is important, not just to aid the turn, but it is also for visual aesthetics. Shoulders should be pressed down, elbows lifted, and hands at first position.

What is common in adult ballet dancers are – dropped elbows, arms not held by the back (thus wobbly), and also sometimes, the arms are not central to the body but lopsided to one side.  

I try to think about keeping my hands in front of my belly button. I still don’t have the arms I want in turns.

There are also different theories of how to use the arms in pirouettes.

Theory #1

From 3rd position arms, open to 2nd then bring both arms back to first as you execute the turn.

Theory #2

While the arm is in 3rd position, say, the right hand is in front of belly button, and the left hand is in 2nd position, move arm, leading from elbow, and keep it “moving” along with your body, and share that force with that left hand as you close into 1st position during the turn.

Theory #3

Assuming same arms in 3rd position, the right hand does not move at all, and the left hand is the one that uses force as you bring it into first during the execution of the turn

Regardless of which theory you use, if you can execute a nice looking pirouette, that is really all that matters.

The problem of too much arms

Some dancers use too much arms to force the turn, and as a result, the torso is twisted and the correct ballet alignment cannot be maintained. The twist in the torso works against you. It is almost be impossible to be pulled up correctly. If you do it this way, you might get by with one turn, but not with 2 or 3.

In that few occasions that I teach, I tell these dancers to turn without the arms. Then they are forced to compensate using other muscles (and break their bad habit) , and initiate the turn with their legs. In doing so, they sometimes find the correct pull up. The arms are really used for balance and some force for the turns, but most of the power of the turns come from the legs.

Advanced Technique

The nice turns are UNLIKE SPINNING. Spinning looks like when you successfully spin a coin, it goes round and round evenly.

Beautiful pirouettes have a nice ‘whip’ feeling to it. Like when you whip the air with a piece of ribbon. There is a kind of a stretch before it comes back.

Also, advanced dancers are not just pulled up and on high demi-pointe, their core is strong, arms are held, and their head and neck relaxed.

Before their final turn (say in doubles or trips or quadruples), they tend to pause for a moment in the air, and grow even taller, with a slightly lift with their entire body, hold their for half a second, before landing nicely.

Just something to think about.

My Pirouette Story

How I went from single to doubles to triples and landing in all kinds of positions

After about 4 months of ballet classes, my ankles were stronger, and I could do a sufficiently-high demi pointe during releve.

I was really confused by pirouettes from fifth position, the preparatory position from fourth, closing in 4th or 5th and of course was really confused by en dehor and en dedan. I remember trying desperately trying to figure it out at home. My advice: ASK A FRIEND in the studio! Some time will be needed for the coordination to kick in.

SINGLES

I remember my first attempt to turn. Of course, I didn’t spot, so I turned like a zombie (as though I had no neck and I was a big block of wood). That doesn’t matter, if you can sustain an UP, on your leg, I believe you’re halfway there.

My Japanese teacher I remember would stand at the corner and wave at me, smiling and calling my name. I would respond by looking at him and as a result, I learned to spot. HAHA! (Maybe you could get a friend to try that for you).

There was once on a very very good day, I was turning and nailing my single pirouettes. Your body will just know that it was a good one. My German teacher was proud of me and asked me, “do you know why you are turning well today?” I shrugged my shoulders. He said something that I would never forget. “It is because during the barre, you were on your leg (which means my weight placement was good and correct)”.

DOUBLES

But he was also crazy. He would constantly ask me to do doubles, even though my single still kinda sucked. Looking back now. I didn’t agree with most of the things he taught me, but one thing I have to credit him is that he forced me to do doubles, no matter how bad they were, or how I fell and sat on my bum while trying. He made me overcome the fear of doing doubles. After a few dramatic and spectacular falls, I quickly realized I was still alive. Still, I would caution you to be careful, especially those who have weak and extremely flexible ankles (lest you have a strain).

I remember the class where I did doubles. He purposely gave me a combination to extremely fast music, and in concentration to keep up with the music, I had no time to fear, and I just whipped around rather effortlessly. (Maybe that could work for you too.)

I smiled for the whole week long after that. Before bed, I would replay that moment and feeling where I first did my doubles.

TRIPLES

I remember both separate days where I did a triple pirouette. As usual, NOBODY SAW. It both happened in a small studio when we had a couple of minutes of our own to practice our turns. For one of the turns, I was at the right corner of the studio, in front of the mirror. I launched into a pirouette and then kept going and realized I turned 3 times. The same thing happened to me doing a double pirouette en pointe.

PIQUE TURNS, LAME DUCK

Spotting and facing/position of the body was very important. I will elaborate on what helped me technically another time. But , I remember watching a random video of a professional over and over again until I could figure out what his legs were doing. Same advice as above, as a friend to show you! At least, nail the coordination down so that the technique can settle in (or concurrently). Eventually I got this. In fact, I felt these turns are the EASIEST TURNS.

FOUETTES, TURNING AND ENDING IN AN OPEN POSITION

I needed a strong releve leg, a pulled up body, and correct placement. I needed to come back to the pirouette position, then lifting before ending it nicely, otherwise I can’t do all the above. Once I understood the technical requirements, and built up sufficient strength. It is all about practicing it carefully, not being slipshod in my work.

MY TURNING JOURNEY THUS FAR

I’m generally not afraid of turns, though am nervous with triples with different levels of comfort on different studios. I don’t beat myself up if I can’t turn because turning is not everything! As a beginner adult ballet dancer, I used to judge how good a dancer is by their turns. Now, being a little further along the way, I realize there is so much more to dancing and so much more being a beautiful adult ballet dancer than turns.

However, it is always fun to work on turns.

Lastly, to comfort and encourage all of you who might have a bit of trouble with turns, don’t worry! If you’re a female dancer, all you need are double turns. It is the men who are expected to do 4 and above!

 

HAPPY TURNING! Hope that my article helped a bit  🙂

 

Love, Seira

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Stretching before class
in Advanced Ballet, Ballet tips, Intermediate Ballet

Stretch Before Class!

In my book and in several articles like this one, I have said you don’t need flexibility to start learning ballet and that you will become more flexible over time. At some point however, you would probably want to be more flexible.  You’ll then increase your efforts to stretch in order to be more flexible quickly.

Stretching before class

So when do you stretch? For almost everyone, it just makes sense to stretch after class because you’re warm.

However, I do believe, for intermediate and advanced dancers, that it is vital to stretch BEFORE class.

This topic might be controversial…but I believe that dancers should stretch before class so as to be able to achieve maximum flexibility and range of rotation and height during class.

The stretching that is done after class fulfills a different purpose – that is to increase your flexibility – such as working towards a full split. The stretching before class is to ensure that you are fully able to work with what you have. To dance with the maximum height of leg you can ever do and turn out to the maximum rotation. If you don’t stretch before class…you probably would not be able to do that.

Let me explain.

If you’re like me, always trying to find express or ‘cheat’ ways to obtain the greatest amount of flexibility in the shortest amount of time (and probably least amount of effort) FOR AN ADULT nonetheless, you’ll come across many contradicting theories about stretching.

This is the main consensus.

It is generally believed that you shouldn’t stretch when your muscles are cold. You should warm up first before stretching. Thus, you shouldn’t stretch before class.

When your “muscles are cold” – it means either literally cold, or that you haven’t been doing anything that gets your heart rate up, even if you’ve been walking all day and landed in the studio just before ballet class.

Thus, many teachers would simply “warm” the students up by plies and tendus.

Many recreational dancers themselves wouldn’t really stretch too because they believe that they can warm up using the barre and then stretch before proceeding to the center exercises.

So bottom line, what is happening is that dancers are not warmed up or stretched to their maximum flexibility during barre and probably this carries on to center.

Maybe this is fine for an adult beginner, who may not have much range of flexibility yet. The teacher for beginner adults may not be as strict about a tight fifth position or maximizing your turn out as your plie or tendu.

However, as you become an Intermediate and Advanced dancer, you would want to maximize what you have. This means your flexibility, your turn out range, your inner thigh muscles’ strength ….and you can only do so if you stretch and gain maximum range BEFORE ballet class.

Always Work with Maximum Range

Why is it important to ensure you’re fully stretched to the point where you can use your maximum range?

  • Making the best of what you have

First of all, you want to maximize what you have, with whatever body God gave you. We may not all have perfect ballet bodies, but we make the best of what we have.

  • Setting the correct muscle memory

When you’re working using your maximum range, you’re training your body to work in one way, with one point of reference, instead of many different points of reference. This sets in a strong muscle memory. Working with your full limit is an easier reference point than anything in between..

  • Training your body to increase range

By working at maximum range, you’re also unconsciously stretching and pushing yourself to reach maximum potential. You don’t know how far you can go if you limit yourself by working with 70% of your turn out, or leg strength,

  • Safe practice

By stretching out, you’re also making it safe for your body to work. If you don’t “open your hips”, stretch your foot, or your hamstrings, you might be working them in a state of tension. If you apply more force to tension by forcing your hips open in a wide turnout before “loosening your hips and getting them warm”, you’re setting yourself up for potential injury.

Unless you have a gifted body with a loose, 180 degree turn out, you can come to class and stand in a nice tight fifth position. If you don’t, what you’re doing is simply turning out from your ankle. You might be overstretching its ligaments, and worse, your knees are not over your toes during plie…now as adult dancers, we don’t want to create less opportunity to dance, right?

Thus, it is important to stretch and open the hips, warm up the knees, ankle and foot…even your waist, torso, back and shoulders!

Professionals Stretch Before Class

Some people frown on stretching before class (because you are supposedly ‘cold’)…with good reason, I believe. Usually they had not been professional ballet dancers themselves.

It is true from science that there is more potential for injury if we do any high-energy activity (or stretching) when we are not warm.

Contradictory to what these recreational dance teachers advocate for are dance teachers who were professionals themselves …and who believe just the opposite. They often start their classes by commanding everyone to stretch and warm up into their splits.

My friends who graduated from vocational ballet school share the same sentiments. They complain to me when teachers tell them not to stretch before class (but stretch after barre). They say, “then how can I close in fifth or develop my legs really high? I will feel so tight in the hips that I will use more energy than usual!”

To them… to stretch = warm up

That is how they warmed up. They stretched.

These vocational school students, and professionals literally get on the floor in all sorts of positions (usually not into full splits right away) to release tightness in their glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, feet, arches, toes etc. Eventually they get into splits and over-splits.

Everyone has their own stretch routine to prepare their body for class.

To Stretch or Not To Stretch?

Before class?

My take on this is….

Yes, stretch. Stretch and get your maximum range before class.

This is especially if you’re dancing at an intermediate or advanced level, and have achieved a relatively good amount of flexibility.

But to be safe, especially, if you’re not really used to this or you don’t quite know your maximum range…do a slight jog on the spot or jumping jacks to get the body warm.

Then slowly prepare your body for maximum stretching…do small stretches first leading up to big stretches such as splits or over-splits. Do not shock your body. Shocking your body by diving into the big stretches first will just create a state of tension in your body and make stretching even harder.

Personal Experience

From personal experience, I feel it is more dangerous for me not to stretch before class. I’m firstly expending wasteful energy to try to get my legs higher and hold my stiff turn out wider. I’m also potentially injuring myself, twisting the ligaments in my knee or ankle when trying to work in a tight 5th position. I feel I’m fighting my own body and I do not feel as “free” in my movement. My body is also ‘asleep’ before class, and if I stretch it before class, it is more ‘awake and alert’ and thus more responsive to do whatever I mentally command it to do.

Also, in trying to become a better dancer, I realize the need for more hard-core stretching!

But Isn’t Stretching Before You’re Warm Dangerous?

So why do some dance teachers or science studies show that it is dangerous to stretch if you’re not warm?

First of all, if you’re a beginner at stretching or at exercise, you might not yet have developed the sensitivity of your body. You won’t be able to pinpoint exactly which part of your body feels tight, or stiff. You may not know where is your true range, or your maximum. By going doing some hard core stretching, you might over-exert and end up straining your body.

As a beginner, you’ll also won’t have full command of your body (yet). Your control of how deep to go is clunky and clumsy. You might lose a grip, slip and fall into a stretch position far deeper than you intended. That’s how many adult beginners injure themselves stretching. Thus, the risks of getting injured are far less when you are warm.

Thus, I believe these are the reasons why it is generally discouraged not to stretch before class…simply because you are not “warm” enough.

Conclusion:

I can’t tell you whether it is absolutely right for you to stretch before class. This is because every body is different. That’s why it is absolutely crucial to be sensitive to what your body is telling you.

As for more advanced dancers, I feel it is vital to stretch before class. If you feel you need to warm your body up, by all means do so…do that jog and jumping jacks. But yes, you do have to make the effort to stretch out everything before class!

in Intermediate Ballet

Advanced Ballet Exams – Advanced One by the Royal Academy of Dance

After my adv exams, I wanted to take some ballet photos for memories.

After my adv exams, I wanted to take some ballet photos for memories.

This is my story about how I took my Advanced One ballet exams by the Royal Academy of Dance.

I took my Advanced one exams about 1.5 years after my Intermediate exam. It was a big jump for me because I had skipped Advanced foundation. I went straight to training for Advanced one because the majority of my classmates are pre-professional students and that was the way my ballet class was progressing.

I had to make a decision, more importantly, I had to convince my teacher to let me take the exam, and of course, train very hard for it.

Preparing for ballet exam

I made preparations and calculated the amount of time, effort and money I would need to do this. I knew I had about 1.5 years. That would seem like a long time but not quite enough for the complexity of learning ballet, Even though I passed my Intermediate exam, I wouldn’t say it was perfect nor was I comfortable with every ballet step in it.

First thing I did was to let my teacher know my intentions. To be honest, she’s not one of those beloved ballet teachers that we love to read about – who believed in me etc. She was very blunt and told me I would probably fail the exam. If you haven’t read my story, I’m one of the rare adults in pre-professional program. I’m nowhere nearly as good as her other students.

I told her that I will work very hard and try to pass the exam. And from there on, I worked very hard and I also took private lessons whenever I could afford.

The second thing I did was to buy the DVD and rip the music (couldn’t afford both). I sat down and watched it over and over, and got up and tried to mark/do the steps required of me. I wrote down all the things I haven’t learned or not quite manage. As much as I could, I would practice them after class. Renting a studio is expensive, so I would just use the 15-20 minutes after my open classes to practice in the large studio

Fouette Pirouettes

One of these steps were my fouettes pirouettes. I have long admired them and I seriously never thought that I could do them one day. I remember my teacher first teaching them to me on the barre. I did the fouette action without turning at the barre for a few weeks. My teacher wouldn’t let me do it like the others, so I remained at the barre for a long time.

One day, a relief teacher came in and we started practicing fouettes. She didn’t know who was good, so we did them all together. I gathered courage and attempted 3 wobbly ones at the back. No matter how technically wrong it may have been, it gave me the courage to try it again.

The next time we did this in my regular teacher’s class, I just did my awful fouettes without the barre at the back. It caught the attention of my regular teacher, and she finally agreed to work on it in the center with me.

I didn’t stop there, waiting for my teacher to schedule them into her classes. After all, I’m not like the rest of her students. I knew that I couldn’t rely just on my twice a week class to get them solid. I had about 6-8 months to my exam. I practiced an additional time of twice a week, after my two adult ballet classes. I even had my friends video me and I replayed them in slow motion.

I had managed to do them comfortably by then, but about 3 months to my exam, I realized I had to do them on both sides. So I started practicing my other side at least 4 times a week (after my ballet classes using the ‘free’ studio).

The end result is that I felt very comfortable and confident doing both sides. Though I worked hard everyday, I still feel surprised at myself. I mean it’s not perfect, but it’s more than I ever thought I could achieve.

Important ballet lesson: Conscious Consistency

This really taught me a lesson – about how powerful CONSCIOUS CONSISTENCY in learning to dance ballet. Why ‘conscious’? I feel that’s because we sometimes fall into a trap of just taking lots of ballet classes without really thinking or talking to yourself about what you want to improve.

There were so many other things I had worked on, fouettes in the end weren’t my greatest hurdles but the battus were – the beats. I watched in awe of how my teachers and some of my classmates execute them so effortlessly. I always felt it was ‘cest impossible’! (Please excuse my french). At the end I managed, but not with as much ease, control and beauty as I hoped. That made me want to work on them now for the future!

Pointe was hard for me too – I had needed to build up lots of strength. Free enchainment was quite hard, because I had skipped advanced foundation, I hurriedly went back to study the syllabus in case I had missed something.

On exam day, I managed everything with as much performance as I could but I think I danced my variation (dance number) the best. It was also my favourite of the whole syllabus. The free enchainement part was the worst, because my teachers never used the proper RAD terms anyway. Thankfully I managed to pass that. I now feel it was important to just keep going and try your very best even though I felt like I was going to die.

Results

My results came out, and surprise surprise, I did better than my Intermediate exams. It doesn’t matter because examiners sometimes have different marking standards and my Intermediate examiner was quite the killer. I wasn’t elated but I felt fulfilled. I won’t say results don’t matter to me because knowing me, I always feel that I could have done better. What truly what is important is that I did the exam and I’ve improved my technique and expression by so much.

Improvement is really what matters

Looking back at where I’ve come, from Intermediate exams to now, I have definitely improved and that’s what matters. 🙂

I no longer struggle with double pirouettes and I can do them both en dehor and en dedan to an open position (which was required for RAD advanced one exams). I go back to Intermediate class sometimes and now the whole syllabus seems easy. I’m a lot stronger on pointe. My arch improved and so has my flexibility! There has been some growth in my my expressions and artistic consciousness. Sure, in my opinion I still look stiff and I still have artistic coordination to work on but if I compared it to my old self, I am dancing better now.

Now in my spare time, I’m doing some ballet teaching for the lower grades, helping out my other ballet teacher with her classes. She is quite impressed by how I’ve cleaned up the children’s variations. One mother, whom I’m privately tutoring as a favor came up to me and said she can see how her daughter dances more beautifully now. I think it is through my exams and performances which have forced me to work with “how can I make this more beautiful?” I credit that to all the hard work I’ve put in for exams and private coaching.

Yes, I paid an arm and a leg learning to dance ballet, but truly I feel more fulfilled than when I bought a Chanel bag. It was truly hard work trying to get as much time in the studio. I won’t lie, I had to sacrifice lots of other things to make the time and commitment to be in the studio.

The future – Taking Advanced two ballet exam?

As for pursuing the next RAD ballet exam – the Advanced two? They have changed the syllabus now, making it more difficult. I went to watch an Advanced two class the other day. I’m very sure I’ve maxed out my abilities for now!

Pointe is way much harder and strength does not come within a few days or weeks. I’ve still got to work on my battus (and a host of other things). I will probably take my Advanced two, but not just yet, I want to build a solid foundation for my basics. I want to work on the quality of each step for now.

Thank you for reading my story of my Advanced One Ballet exams!

Learning Ballet As an Adult
in Intermediate Ballet

RAD Intermediate Exams as an Adult

How I did my RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) intermediate exams as an adult – why I did it, my training and exams. *** UPDATE: How I did my Advanced one RAD exams.

Lots of people ask me why would I, at a ripe age of 31, do my RAD intermediate exams? It didn’t make sense. I wasn’t going to be a dancer, nor teacher, nor pursue any sort of career in the dance world, so why take RAD exams?

Read why adults take ballet exams and what they have to go through to do it.

Read also about how I managed to learn RAD syllabus as an Adult.

Why I Chose to Study the RAD Syllabus as an adult

For one, I took RAD classes when I was little, and later when I was teenager, so I had fond memories of them.

Two, I had been going to adult ballet classes/open classes for a while then, and felt the lack of precise training.

Three, I wanted to dance…I remembered learning variations, and port de bras combinations and enjoyed them. I wanted to dance a variation instead of the 20 second variation at the end of an adult ballet class.

Fourthly, I noticed the difference between the adult ballet dancers who were syllabus trained before (when they were a child/teen) and those who started learning ballet in open classes (it doesn’t matter if they had prior dance training or not). There was more artistry in those who were syllabus trained and I wanted that.

Later on, I would add this – it gave me a chance to work on my foundation of ballet training. The basic principles of classical ballet are everything!

Adults in RAD Syllabus

Depending on where you live, getting into an RAD class might be a challenge. Though, it is getting more accepted and more available now. See also the RAD ballet exam levels.

Traditionally, there was an age limit in each class. By the time, you were 15, or an adult, and didn’t have continual ballet training, you were usually thrown to Grade 6. That was the reason why many of us, even those who learned ballet as a child, couldn’t go back to our old ballet schools. We didn’t have any where to go. Thankfully, the Royal Academy of Dance changed its system and now there are no age limits for ballet examinations.

Unfortunately, the ballet schools and studios took a long time to adjust. There are still snobby schools who ask you how old you are, and would not let you take classes with their school even though you have passed at certain level or have taken RAD examinations, just because you’re an adult. It doesn’t matter that you’ve swallowed your pride and are willing to do class with 14 year olds!

Your best bet would be to email RAD in your country directly, or its headquarters
Royal Academy of Dance in the uk to ask for schools/studios teaching its syllabus. You can either call
or email those schools and ask if they allow adult ballet students in their classes. Be prepared that you might have to do an audition.

That’s what I did, and got in contact with a studio. They were snobby to begin with, and refused to let me into the Intermediate class even though that’s the level I stopped because I had no certificate to prove it. I started with Grade 6, very soon after got asked to join Intermediate Foundation, then Intermediate, then got asked to join Advanced in a span of a year. (I progressed quickly because of extra private coaching.) However, I found a more suitable studio and switched and did my RAD intermediate exams with them.

In the RAD intermediate program at the the new studio, there were about 10 adult ballet students aged from 21 – 45, with only 2 being in their 20s alongside with 13-15 girls aged 12-16. As the year progressed, 8 of the adult ballet students dropped out, with me and the 21 year old (who technically just turned 21) who progressed and complete the examinations.

It is a huge commitment, especially if you would like to do RAD exams, whether or not you’re a young teenager or an adult. Most of my adult ballet dancer friends didn’t quite understand that.

My Training for RAD Exams, and Experience of Exams

The following is a journal entry I wrote for my Ballet Diaries, written on April 2, 2013

I took my RAD Intermediate exams yesterday, at a ripe age of 31. I started training for the exams at 30, though at 29 I had to get back into shape from not dancing consistently for a couple of years. Getting back into shape was pretty intense. I lost 5-6 kg (12 pounds) in the process, became flexible and my posture has been better ever since.

Of course, I invested a lot into it, seeking the best teachers I could find, and reading, taking lots of good classes and visiting my physiotherapist to loosen those stiff muscles I gained from working at the computer for years.

It wasn’t the RAD organization nor the syllabus that I particularly cared about, but it was the specific training for exams that I was after. It was a system of learning and I felt that it worked for me.

I put in slightly over a year of training for this particular exam. It was boring. It was the same old barre and same old music. The centerwork was indeed challenging for me. It took me so long to finally remember the steps. I had to be so familiar with the steps before I could work on the quality of the movement.

I remember I took about 8-10 months before I really felt comfortable in Allegro 2 exercise. It was only in the last 3 months that I felt that I coped with it and to not be filled with fear and dread each time it was our turn to do the exercise solo or in pairs. Up to the last month, I still made the occasional mistake of doing a glissade derriere instead of a glissade devant.

I had many breakthroughs which strangely occurred in the last 3 months prior to the exam. 80% of my breakthroughs occurred in the last month. I think it had something to do with the fact that you’re doing the entire syllabus over and over again that something happens to your muscles, plus the miracle effect of watching yourself on video.

In the last 2 weeks, I had myself recorded doing the entire syllabus five times. I would record myself doing, say the Adage exercise, then watch it, see what I don’t like, become more conscious of what I was doing, and then record again, repeatedly, all depending on how long the patience of the person who was recording me would then run out. Watching yourself and then applying the corrections is amazing. I believe you can save yourself months of classes depending on your teacher to correct you sporadically. That is why private lessons are important for those who need to catch up.

(Note to self: Buy a proper video recorder with its own stand).

When the exams came, I was nervous for sure. But I enjoyed being able to dance with a live pianist. I messed up a bit of the free enchainment, but carried on with the exercise. I smiled (though not the full on cheesy smile) and performed as best as I could. Everything went relatively well with little or no mistakes, though of course my pirouettes could have been cleaner. Though reflecting back, I was so consumed with performing I wonder if I pulled up, and if my ribs were in, my knees were straight and if I pointed my toes as best as I could. You’ll never know…I just hope my muscle memory kicked in.

Now that the exams are over, I feel a huge sense of accomplishment. I think back about the breakthroughs I had:

Breakthroughs

  • 1) linking steps are smoother
  • 2) developing the artistic side of dancing the step; being ‘gentler’
  • 3) having a more elegant carriage of the arms
  • 4) being able to dance with my chest pulled up and ribs in
  • 5) being absolutely comfortable with pique turns on both sides
  • 6) doing doubles en dehor and en dedan (though they could always be cleaner and more reliable)
  • 7) understanding what it means to pull in opposite directions, pulling up as you go down
  • 8) mastering allegro 2 and allegro 3
  • 9) learning how to do a little lift of the arms, legs, before going down
  • 10) learning how to hold the arms form the back not from the shoulders.

Ballet Training that Still Needs Work

Of course there are things I need to work on:

  • 1) Keeping the knees straighter all the time
  • 2) Grand jetes
  • 3) Keeping my core and back engaged all the time
  • 4) Ribs in – all the time
  • 5) Pointe with 100% energy, right now I’m pointing with 60% and thinking it’s 95%
  • 6) Establishing classical poses – to become more familiar with the ‘travel paths’ of arms and limbs.

 

Doing the Intermediate exams also meant a couple of things for me. I had always wanted to do the exams back when I was 18, but I was too afraid of the ‘free enchainment’ component to enter. I’m glad I achieved my childhood dream. Passing the exam meant that I now have access to the more advanced classes and more specific training – the kind you don’t get in adult ballet classes or open classes.

It also means because I will have obtained a certification of completion, I will no longer have to go back to the kiddy classes. I can proudly say I’ve a ‘right’ to be there. Of course, it means nothing really in the real sense of learning ballet, but at least I have a choice on what class to take. Before, without any certification, in my experience at least, the teachers will always put you in the classes with the young girls and being an adult who fiercely believes in good training, had to suffer the humiliation of taking class with these young girls.

At least in the advanced classes, though you’ll definitely meet younger girls, there is a wider age range of women who took their ballet exams then went overseas to study, or got married, had a baby and came back to do class. I feel more comfortable there.

So that was my objective, maybe some people might find it silly, but at the moment, that works for me.

Thank you for reading!

*** UPDATE: Read my journal entry about my Advanced one exams

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