Recently I’ve been getting lots of emails from people wanting to start (or come back to) ballet, often in their twenties. I’ve been more than happy to reply to people and help them prepare for their first class, and it has made me think about what advice I would give myself, if I could go back 3 and a half years to when I first started ballet.
I thought I would share some of the advice I have been giving out in the hope that it might answer some questions people have, and calm some fears. I also asked for some help from my twitter followers and got some great questions and tips that I’ve tried to include. These tips are in semi-chronological order and I’ve tried to cover most of the big topics – let me know if I missed anything off!
Finding a class
So you’ve decided to try a ballet class? First off, that’s awesome! Seriously. Even if you try and class and find ballet is not for you, it’s awesome that you want to give it a shot. Now you just need to find a class, right?
To find a ballet class, Google (or your favourite search engine) is your friend. Just do a quick search for “Adult Ballet classes in your town/city” and see what crops up. You should hopefully find a few different options crop up. If not try just searching for “ballet classes” or “ballet schools”.
If you have a look at the websites you’ll probably see lots of different options. You may be offered “Introductory Ballet”, “Elementary Ballet”, “Beginners Ballet”, “Basic Ballet”, “Ballet 101″ and more. Are all these going to be the same level? Probably not! Unfortunately, there’s no standard naming convention for ballet classes, especially not in adult classes. Your best bet is to look for anything that sounds like “introductory”, “basic” or “beginner”. Usually schools will have a little explanation of what their class names mean (with a guide to how much experience you need to take it), but if you’re in doubt at all then give the school a call and ask over the phone.
If possible, try and find a school that offers a ballet ‘course’ – my first class was a “Ballet 101″ course at Princeton Ballet School. This had a set length (I think it was about 8 weeks) and the class gradually increased in difficulty over that period, allowing students to build on various moves. There’s also the advantage of having the same teacher for all the classes!
If you have a few options available, have a look at all the schools and pick the one that you like most. You might end up trying classes at a few schools in the future to find the best class, so it doesn’t matter too much which if your first one! If you’re a guy, you might want to try and find a class with a male teacher – it won’t really matter technique-wise when you’re starting, but it can help you feel more comfortable going to class (it helped me when I started!).
So you’ve found a local school and booked for your first class. What on earth do you wear?!
It’s easy if you’re a kid taking ballet class – you’d have a class uniform (generally set by the exam board) and you’d simply wear what you were told. As an adult there is much more flexibility (pun intended!) and each school has different rules. Check out the website of where you’ll be takling class – they’ll often have some guidelines for adult dancers. However, this doesn’t always include advice for male students!
The ‘standard’ ballet outfit for guys is black tights and a white t-shirt, whereas for girls it’s usually a black leotard and pink tights. However, each school has their own guidelines so you’ll want to check first. To be honest, you don’t need to worry too much about clothing before you go – the important things to have are ballet shoes (some places say you can take class in socks but I think this is a bit dangerous!) and if you’re a guy you should get a dance belt. I’ve mentioned in previous posts about getting a dance belt, but the easiest way to get one is to go to a dance shop. They’ll be able to tell you what size to get (judging by your waist size), but they may have to order in one for you (I’ve been shocked at how little male dancewear shops tend to stock!).
For answers to loads of questions about dancewear, make sure you check out the BalletForMen Free e-Book, which is totally awesome. And if you’re in the US, you can always order from the fantastic BoysDanceToo who will, I’m sure, be happy to answer any queries.
Preparing for your first class
I get lots of people asking me how they should prepare for their first ballet class. My answer: don’t! There’s no need, and trying to do some ballet before starting classes means you could pick up bad habits and risk injuring yourself.
If you’re absolutely desparate to do something then you can get into the habit of doing some light stretching every day (after properly warming up!). Don’t do anything too tricky, just stretching out the hamstrings and doing butterfly and pigeon stretches will help.
And you can always prepare for going to your first class by watching some ballet If you’ve never seen a live performance (I hadn’t before taking class) then you can check out the DTB Guide to seeing a ballet.
Now a drumroll please! It’s time for…
So, the day of your first class has arrived – eek! You’re probably a little nervous and not really sure what to expect.
First, make sure you arrive early enough to get changed (you don’t want to walk/bus/drive there in a dance belt!) and find your way to the studio. You’ll probably have to wait for the class beforehand to finish, which can be a great time to introduce yourself to other dancers in the class (and possibly the teacher). Unlike the stereotypes, the adult ballet world is super-friendly. There’s no competitive atmosphere, and everyone is really supportive and nice. I’m sure if you introduce yourself they’ll give you advice about the class and lots of words of encouragement.
Head into the studio and find a place at the barre. If you’re a guy, it’s polite to help move any portable barres to the centre of the room – especially if they’re old and really heavy! You can also check with your neighbour at the barre if the spot you’ve chosen is free – some people stand in the same spot each week so it’s polite not to grab their place. You’ll find one of the nice things about ballet is that it’s quite old-fashioned in terms of manners, so the basic rule is to act like a gentleman/lady and you’ll be fine.
What to do once the class starts? I always give the same piece of advice. It’s so important I’m going to put it in big letters:
Finally, when class is over you’ll probably have a “reverence” where you bow/curtsey to the teacher and (if you’re lucky enough to have one) pianist, usually followed by a short round of applause to show your appreciation. I always go up to the teacher afterwards to thank them personally and they generally seem to appreciate this. This also gives you a chance to get some feedback or ask them some questions.
What do you do after your class? My main advice would be to start a “Dance Journal”. This is just a small notebook you keep in your dance bag and use to jot down comments after each class. Your comments don’t have to be deep (and don’t worry about spelling – I wrote “gleassay” for months before I realised it was spelt “glisse”!) they are just there to remind you what corrections you had. You can then glance over your journal before a class to see what you should keep in mind.
Don’t rush into taking lots of classes after your first. Your body needs time to adjust to ballet and doing too much too quickly will risk injury. @RosieCox007 asked what to do between classes? Keep on stretching between classes but resist the urge to ‘practice’ until you know enough technique. It’s very easy to teach yourself bad habits, and even injure yourself, if you’re not careful. Once you get onto balances then you can practice these in between classes – standing in first or fifth releve when brushing your teeth or washing the dishes!
Once you’ve started taking a regular class, as I said in the last section – slowly build up classes. Talk to your teachers and they should be able to recommend classes when you’re ready. Don’t be afraid to try another dance school if the class isn’t for you – you might not find the perfect teacher first time! @Bella_Isy asked what to look for in a good teacher, saying that she found it took her a long time to find the right one. I’ve been lucky to have always had amazing teachers, but I would definitely look for a teacher who encourages you and gives you feedback/corrections. I’ve heard stories of teachers sitting in a corner giving no feedback to students at all – this is no use to beginners! I personally like “hands on” teachers who will manually correct your position, but I know other adults who really hate this.
The important thing to do when moving on in your ballet “life” is to pace yourself. Don’t be afraid to take basic level classes even if you’ve been dancing for a while. I still take the occasional “Basic Ballet” class and find it really useful to look at some of the fundamentals of my technique. And believe me, it’s perfectly possible to finish a “Basic Ballet” class and be knackered and drenched in sweat!
If you are interested in performing, then after a year or so you might want to look out for a local adult group. There’s quite a few cropping up now – my local group is Ballet Bristol, and in London I know about Chelsea Ballet and London Amateur Ballet. There’s usually a wide range of abilities with these groups and they should be able to let you know if beginners can join one of their classes. Even if you don’t get to perform for a while, they can be a great chance to meet other dancers and take another class.
I’ll finish with a lovely tip from @ClareKenward on twitter: “keep remembering that you’re doing it for fun or fitness when you can’t do a step right the first or fortieth time.” This is definitely true – being an adult recreational dancer can be demoralising when you see ten year old children out-pirouetting you, but just remember that we’re doing this just for fun!
So that’s my blitz through how to start ballet as an adult. I’m sure I’ve missed loads and I’m sure that you, reader, probably have more questions. Let me know if you have any tips or queries in the comments section below, on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. I’ll try my best to answer them all, and if there are loads I’ll probably merge them into a new post.
Until next time, keep on (or start) dancing!