Tuesday, 18 July 2017

A Guide To Your First Adult Ballet Class

Ballet can often seem quite intimidating to the outsider. Most of the terminology is in French, a lot of people start class when they are just 3 or 4 years old, it has an air of elitism about it...but it doesn't have to be like this!

Ballet is one of the most beautiful art forms, giving you a chance to express yourself through movement, dance to some of the most beautifully composed music and meet some of the most interesting people. Ballet is for everyone, any age, and here I've put together a little guide to help you on your way to your first adult ballet class!

This guide is aimed at adults who have never taken a ballet class and also those who might have taken ballet when they were younger and are coming back to it as an adult.

Finding a studio

Finding a studio can be a little confusing but I promise you, google will be your best friend. The easiest place to start looking for a studio will be online. Searching for 'adult dance classes' or 'ballet for adults' in your area and also in the nearest city to you. Speaking for people in the UK, if you live in/near a major city like Manchester, London or Leeds, there are a couple of big dance studios who cater primarily to adults. In smaller towns, quite often your local dance school will hold adult dance classes one or two times a week. It's a good idea to get in touch with local dance schools and see what they have to offer. Most of the time, adult dance classes are pay as you come rather than paying for a term.

Finding your level

In general, dance classes are usually split into 4 different levels. Below is a simple breakdown of each one so you can find one you think suits you the best.

Beginners - Beginners is usually for people who have had little to no experience in the specific dance genre. The classes are a nice, easy pace and each step is explained thoroughly. A good amount of time will be spent on each exercise which gives you plenty of time to ask questions and really concentrate on getting your technique and placement just right. Ballet terminology is in French so with these classes, each term will be explained to you (you are not expected to understand these terms yet so please don't worry!).

Sometimes, you might find more advanced dancers in these beginners classes and that is most likely due to an injury or illness that they are recovering from. These classes are at the perfect pace to help with getting back to dance after injury.

Intermediate/Improvers - This level is for people who have been to the beginner classes and are now looking for new challenges and to learn new steps. The more you progress through the levels, the bigger ballet vocabulary you'll get. The pace of the class is often a little quicker than beginners and you'll be expected to know and understand some of the basic ballet terms, especially for barre work. Depending on how many years and how much strength you have built up, intermediate level dancers may also start to think about pointe work (if they choose, it's not compulsory for adult dancers).

Advanced - Advanced level is for people who have been going to ballet class for quite some time and have built up a good amount of technique, vocabulary and stamina. These classes are a much quicker pace in order to fit more exercises in and you will be expected to understand the majority of the terminology. Of course, you will still be learning new steps, more advanced techniques and your stamina will be pushed. This level is often suitable for pre-professional and professional dancers too. An advanced class can often be longer than beginners.

Open - Open level can be very hit and miss but these levels are incredibly common especially in the large dance studios. Open level is just that, it's open to everyone. You will be dancing alongside complete beginners and professionals. The teacher will usually take an intermediate level approach or adapt the class to the majority. Open level classes can be quite intimidating if you've never danced before, but they can also be a lot of fun and a chance to push yourself and challenge yourself.

What to bring to class

Traditionally, ballet dancers wear a leotard, pink tights, ballet flats and sometimes a ballet skirt and you can absolutely wear that but to be honest, nowadays you can go to ballet wearing leggings and a t-shirt. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable and are able to move. It also helps if your teacher can see your body (so leggings are great for that), purely to make sure you aren't twisting in a way that could injure you. There are so many lovely dance shops on and offline in the UK and I'd be happy to post them all in a separate post if you'd find that helpful? For me, I like to wear some leggings or tights and shorts, a leotard and a loose fitting top over that. I'm all about those layers so you can adjust as you get warmer.

Ballet shoes are more important than the clothing. Some studios will allow socks or bare feet but I'd highly recommend investing in some proper ballet flats. Ballet shoes are a lot different than normal shoes so I'd always recommend going into a dance shop to have them fitted first. After a few months of ballet, you'll soon figure out what works for you and what's comfortable.

A towel is also handy to have with you, a water bottle, cash for the teacher (correct change is always much appreciated haha!), and some warm clothes like a hoody and sweatpants for after class to keep your muscles warm.

The structure of the class

No matter what the level, ballet classes (mostly) are structured in exactly the same way.

Barre - Barre work will always come first. This is a way to start to slowly warm the muscles and wake the body up. It gives you a chance to find your centre (your balance), work out any kinks that might be bothering you and prepares you for centre work. Barre work will often build upon each exercise, gradually getting harder and working your body and brain more.

Centre - This follows directly from the barre but again, starts off slowly and gradually gets more intense, building towards jumps and leaps. Everything you learned at the barre will prepare you for the exercises in the centre. You will also cover petite allegro (small jumps) and pirouettes (turns). Centre work is usually done as a whole class or sometimes the teacher will split you into groups if the class is large.

Corner - Corner work comes last as it's the most intense. This is usually saved for grande allegro (big jumps/leaps) and sometimes pirouette exercises. The combinations are a lot more 'dancy' and you'll often go across the floor in small groups or in pairs. Very rarely will you be asked to do something by yourself unless it's a professional level class (or you have a particularly harsh teacher >.<).

Cool down - Some teachers will do a cool down at the end of class followed by the bow or curtsey. The cool down is there to relax the body and muscles and can often help to prevent tightness and injury.

Within a ballet class, you might come across some odd rules and etiquettes but it's honestly nothing to worry about. Ballet is steeped in tradition, so there's always little oddities that seem so strange when you're new but you'll soon learn to love them! If you'd like a post on ballet classroom etiquette, just let me know and I'd be happy to write that.

I really hope that you found this guide helpful and helped to answer any questions you might have had about starting ballet. Above all, ballet is not scary, it's not just for people who can already dance and it's not just for the young. Ballet is for everyone, whatever your background or age. It's fun, it's beautiful and it's powerful! So go grab your shoes and get researching them studios.

Have fun!

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