Ballet Basics

for Those New to Ballet Classes

What Are

Schools, Methods, Systems of Ballet

2 Kinds of Ballet

Professional Preparation &

Lifelong Health

Choosing the right Studio

&

Teacher

What is a Ballet?

There are 5 basic positions and a bunch of steps.  Mixing some steps and positions together produces a combination.  Assembling combinations produces a dance.  Assembling dances together in a way that tells a story is a Ballet.  Ballet is a language without words.  Steps are words.  Combinations are phrases. Dances are chapters.  A Ballet is a book.
Professional Preparation
The process for developing professional ballet dancers has been around for centuries.  It's why the Methods developed.   It's something like beginning study for a PhD at age 6.  Do not think that you can compete with these "PhD's" by taking a class or 2 now and then, here and there.

It begins at age 6-7. Level 1 (Beginning) one class per week. Level 2: two classes per week, Level 3: three classes per week. Level 4: four classes per week, Level 5: five classes per week. Pointe shoes arrive after Level 3 and after age 10. Teen years are spent in intensive summer workshops and by age 16-18 the dancer is ready to perform. Age 18-21 the dancer is ready to join a professional company. If the dancer has not made it to the pro's by age 25 the career is over before it began.  But if the dancer makes it into the pro's, the career can last a very long time.

Life Long Health and Beauty
These programs are less structured than Professional Preparation Programs with regards to age and number of classes taken per week.  The same emphasis on technique and putting forth effort within the class exists (or should exist) in the Lifelong Programs as in the Professional Preparation Programs.  The key difference is that a dancer who does not intend to audition for the pro's in late teen's can begin ballet at a later age - even as an adult age 39 and holding.  Beginners should take 1 class a week, then progress to two classes per week.  Physical conditioning can be maintained at two classes per week.  A high level of physical fitness can be developed with 3 classes per week.  Just 2 or 3 classes per week leaves plenty of time for other interests (assuming the dancer is organized.)  But, if one desires to dance as well as the pros then the old 3 to 5 hours per day 5+ days a week applies.
Many Lifelong Programs offer performance opportunities in local venues and recitals.  The goal of such performances is fun for the performers and hopefully the audience as well.

Personal Goals
Make the Difference:
Get honest.  What do you really want from taking ballet?  Do you dream of performing in a ballet company?  If so, does 3 to 5 hours per day 5 days a week sound like a dream come true?  If so, a professional preparation program is for you!
Do you want to perform but have interests in non-dance activities? Does 3 - 5 hours per day in a dance studio sound like a sacrifice?  If so, a tournament school might be for you.
Do you see dance as a great form of exercise, with the fitness value far greater than performing on the stage?  Do you love pushing your body to the limits, but not for 3 to 5 hours a day every day?  If so, you are a lifer!  A Lifelong Health & Beauty program is for you.
Under the ballet umbrella of Professional Preparation there are "Schools" or "Methods" of how to teach ballet Each school/method has been handed down from one teacher to the next.
There is the Balanchine School, Checcetti Method  French School, Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), Vaganova System,

These methods are taught all over the world.  Many instructors claim to be "eclectic," meaning they have studied in several different schools and use the techniques taught by 2 or more "Schools."

Common Ground
Zandance history of ballet timeline shows that ballet began in Italy, traveled to France, then to Russia, then to the world.  The Ballet Russe Company began in Russian but became international. It had Russian and English Dancers and an Italian instructor (Checcetti).  This produced a mix of styles that the dancers carried with them back to their homelands.  As a result, there is a common thread connecting all Methods, even tho each Method evolved in a different country.  Balanchine was Russian trained but added his own twist after arrival in USA.  Royal Academy (RAD) is English but was influenced by Checcitti and Russian schools. has its roots in the dancers who trained with Ballet Russe when Checcetti was instructor.  Vaganova is Russian, named for a Russian teacher who compared teaching notes with Checcetti.

Differences
Each of the above Methods produces a different body/muscle shape.  The Balanchine method is easy for untrained eyes to spot.  The dancers are long and lean, not from lack of food, but from the style of exercises performed.
Other differences include the way hands are held, terms used, body positioning when facing corners, abilities to jump high, or dance quickly.
Certification:
Some Methods have a structured program and issue certificates upon completion.  When a dancer or teacher states he or she is "certified," he or she means in their Method.  Unlike an Accountant or a Doctor, the certification is not universal; it only relates to the Method within which the dancer trained.  If you want to look and dance like a RAD dancer, then it is important that your instructor is certified by RAD.

What are Tournament Schools

These are dance schools organized around competitions with other dance schools.  They usually offer a mix of ballet, tap, and jazz.  Classes are offered to prepare students to compete in the tournaments.  They are fun and dancers get to bring home trophies.  Trophies are not handed out in Professional Preparation programs and usually not part of Life Long programs.
The “right” teacher depends on what you want from class. If you want to be a professional dancer, don't pick a lifelong health teacher.  If you don't want to be a pro, pick a lifelong teachers.  Either way, ask to observe an advanced class.  Does the class inspire you?  Do you want your body to look like those of the most advanced dancers?  Do you want to perform? Then find one that does performs a lot.  Do you prefer to skip performing?  Find one that does very little.  Either way, you will become a better dancer if dance rehearsals are separate from class time.

Inquire about the length of the barre (warm-up).  A 20 minute ballet barre is not long enough to do the muscles any good, unless the class is a 2nd class and muscles are already warm.  After signing up, if you discover the studio's dancers are prone to knee and ankle injuries, find another teacher.

Many studios have several teachers.  Inquire about the level of teaching experience of all the teachers, not just the head of the studio.  Do not confuse teaching experience with professional training and performing.  Teaching is different from dancing.  For example, Vaganova was a good but not great dancer, yet she was a superior teacher.  Bottom line, it's okay to sign up with a teacher and then after a few classes, change teachers.

Studio walls also tell the story.  Are the pictures of the studio's students or of the great Masters or dancers in fantastic poses?  Are there bulletin boards filled with announcements, news clips?  Such can give you a feeling for the studio before the 1st class is taken.

Check the Studio Floor
Good teachers are found in elegant and shabby corners of the world.  The floor tells a lot about the teacher.  A floor that fails to give when a dancer lands is hard on the body.  The old studios were converted space, upper floors in old buildings.  As a result the old wood floor and supports had seasoned and had a natural shock absorbing spring to them.  New wood floors are almost as bad as dancing on concrete.  Inquire about the floor.  How does the floor dance?  Take your shoes off and try sliding your foot over the floor.  Does it feel slippery or sticky?  A good teacher will tell you about the floor and what has been done to make it danceable. There are coverings that make even concrete safe to dance on (the covering needs to be more than a quarter inch thick.)  A good teacher will tell you about the floor and what has been done to make it danceable.  The teacher may use terms like "sprung floor" (good).  What has been done does not matter as much as the attempt to make it a good floor.  Teachers who rent space may not be able to fix the floor.  In such cases, the good teacher avoids certain steps.  For example, a good teacher may avoid teaching high jumps on a floor that fails to give, or avoids teaching some turns on a floor too slippery.

Starting Ballet Can Be Frustrating

Ballet is gradual steady progress. While this is good for the body, it can be frustrating to those who wish to see fast results. One can attend classes regularly, but not notice improvement from class to class.  Then, one day, something difficult suddenly seems easy, or the awareness stricks that the leg is higher than it used to be.  Truth is, there have been improved all along, too small to notice.  In addition, a good teacher will keep adding to the level of difficulty.  As a result brain is focused on the new that can’t be done and fails to notice the old accomplishments.

What's 

Traditional Grande

?

Traditional

Allegro ?

I’ve coined 2 terms to describe 2 kinds of ballet that can be found in USA today.  Both have their roots in the European Masters of the early 1900s.  Both have schools/methods. Yet, they are quite different.  “Traditional Grande,” is characterized by large movements, high jumps, a wide variety of turns, often to waltzes, mazurkas, often with predictable choreography.  Most of the classical ballet seen on today’s smaller stages is “Traditional Allegro.”  It is quicker, more 2/4 and 4/4 than 6/8, often with unpredictable choreography.  Today’s audiences love it.  It is my opinion that Traditional Grande, is best for lifelong and adult classes, because Traditional Allegro sometimes breaks the rules to gain the speed.  For example, a rule of Traditional Grande is, when landing from a jump, heels on floor, then plie.  In Traditional Allegro, the heels may not touch the floor between jumps.  This looks great, adds speed, but landing shock is not diffused into the floor, the joints absorb the shock.  Eventually, the joints suffer.
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© = Rozanne W. Faulkner, 11/12/2017
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Page Updated 12 Dec 2017

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