Does it inspire you? Do you want your body to look like those of the most advanced dancers?
Do you want to perform?
Find one that does 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.
What should I look for
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 in old buildings, on upper floors. 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.
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?
Why is my teacher
always picking on me?
Because she (he) likes you and thinks you can do better. I assure you teachers only pick when there is something to pick at. Just try to do what your teacher is telling you to do. If the correction makes no sense then request a private class and in the private see if you can get the instructor to offer more detail or explain the correction in a different way. If that doesn't work try a class or two from other teachers. You may find they all tell you the same thing but in different ways and eventually, one of them will say it in a way that makes sense to you and you will leave saying, "Why didn't anyone tell me that before?"
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.
Schools or Methods,
Systems of Ballet:
Under the ballet umbrella of Professional Preparation there are "Schools" or "Methods" of teaching.. They are the "how to's" handed down from one teacher to the next.
These methods are universal, taught all over the world. Many instructors claim to be "eclectic," meaning they have studied in several different schools and use the techniques taught in 2 or more "Schools."
The When Then Was Now 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 taking in 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 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.
Other differences include the way hands are held, terms used, body positioning when facing corners, abilities to jump high, or dance quickly.
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.
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 or Life Long programs.
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!
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.
How does College and Dance Tournaments fit into Professional Preparation Programs?
Some professional preparation programs offer college programs for advanced dancers. Traditional Colleges and Universities may offer dance, but most are not Professional Preparation Programs. Examples of professional preparation programs that offer college degrees are: The Juilliard School; The Cornish College of the Arts.
How do Dance Tournaments fit into Professional Preparation Programs?
Tournaments are not part of the traditional Professional Preparation Program. One can do both, as long as tournament performances do not remove the dancer from the Professional Preparation classes.
Lifelong Health & Beauty Programs:
Life Long Health and Beauty 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.
Beginning ballet at age 5 or younger has become popular. Much depends on readiness which varies from individual to individual. A child must:
Be able to follow instructions.
Be able to listen and try to do as told.
Have an attention span of more than 15 minutes.
Be potty trained.
MUST want to dance!
Formal Ballet Training usually begins at age 6 to 7 because ballet is not about pretty costumes. It's about technique. The biggest part of technique is body alignment (posture). Most children under age 5 have "hollow back" - curvature of the spine at the small of the back. It is impossible to assume correct ballet body alignment until the "hollow back" disappears. Efforts to turn out the feet before the body is physically ready can cause rolling of the ankles - a serious problem in the years that follow.
Ballet Can Safely Teach:
Pre-Ballet Classes can be fun and provide exercise while the child waits for the body to develop. But there are drawbacks. 1) The child thinks of the class as ballet. If the class is all fun and games then the child thinks formal training is all fun and games. 2) It's often the child's first experience with a teacher. If the teacher sugar coasts everything (and passes out candy at the end of class) the child will have a skewed view of what teachers are.
A Pre-Ballet Class can teach:
Class Structure (ballet is barre followed by center floor and cross floor combinations.)
The basic positions 1st, 2nd, 3rd, are safe (save 4th and 5th for formal training age.)
All arm positions
Formations (dancing in lines, circles, squares.
Most of all it can teach the joy of movement.
Note to teachers: Remember the attention spam is short. Frequent changes in formations can help. Never keep a child dancing until she or he is tired of dancing. End class while they still want more.
What Can Parents Do To Help?
Play music and let child move to it.
Take child to as many performances as possible.
Find books and videos about dance, especially ones that inspire and share the stories of the classics, and of how hard work pays off. Watch the many videos of the Ballet Classics such as Swan Lake. Skip the cute books showing little kids poorly positioned, in costumes taking ballet classes.
Visit good dance schools and observe advance dance classes. Many company schools have windows into studios. With advance permission, you can stand in the hall and watch and learn.
Parents, if you really want to help, take a few ballet classes. It's the only way to understand what your child is trying to do. If possible, take class with your child. Then you practice at home in front of child and guess what? Child will ask to practice with you.
Volunteer your time to the studio, or recital. You will learn a lot working side by side with other more experienced dance parents.
While quick questions are usually welcome, many instructors are on a tight schedule. The minutes prior to class are mental preparation time for teaching the class.) If you need a lengthy conversation, make an appointment or email. Always get answers for your questions; just find the right time.
What Can Parent Do To Hurt?
Some of the following may seem ridiculous, but I have had them happen in my studio more than once.
Purchase Pointe Shoes for child without instructor permission.
Be consistently late for class.
Criticize the teacher in front of the child.
Come into class but instead of watching, talk loudly to the parent sitting next to you.
Give directions to your child while child is in class. “Pay Attention” and other comments should only be given before and after class.
Tell the teacher and your friends how awkward and uncoordinated your child is, while your child is standing near, listening.
Intermediate students must make a choice - go for a professional career, or enjoy ballet at a less intensive level. If you desire a professional career, make sure you are enrolled in a professional preparation program. If you do not want a professional career, find a Lifelong program that offers 2 to 4 ballet classes per week.
FAQ: My Body is Not
The Right Type
for ballet. What should I do?
Few dancers are born with a ballet dancer's body. It is developed through ballet exercises. If you want ballet, take ballet. You will be surprised at how your body will re-shape in just six months of 2 to 3 classes per week.
There is a "wrong type" for pointe work. Some have an extra bone at the heel. It can prevent a dancer from getting over their pointes. The bone can be surgically removed or the dancer can consider other wonderful forms of dance such as Lyrical Jazz, Modern, Flamenco, Irish Step Dancing...
FAQ: I Don't Like Ballet But My Teacher Says I H
ave To Take It. What Should I Do?
Some have the soul of a ballerina and others the soul of a Tap or Jazz dancer. Your teacher is right. You will be a better tapper, jazzer, or ice skater if you take some ballet. Your ballet class will be more enjoyable if 1) you take ballet from a teacher who loves; 2) spend your ballet time thinking about how it is the same and different from the form of dance that you love. 3) take ballet until you figure out the secrets of turns, jumps, and leg extensions.. You will never regret knowing how to fly.