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.
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.
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!
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.