Tuesday’s Thoughts: Whys is ballet so darn hard?!?!

“Plie is the first thing you learn and the last thing you master.”  (Suzanne Farrell)

So why is ballet so darn hard for students in today’s day and age?  I believe it’s because ballet technique does not come overnight in an Amazon box.  In a world where everything is so instantaneous, ballet training is a lifetime journey.  There is no Instacart for ballet.  I have been dancing for thirty-three years and still find new, interesting ways to move that allow me to grow as an artist.  There is no ‘winning moment’ when you score a goal or come home with a trophy.  Ballet is an art where you learn to master moving your body by ultimately gaining control of intricate muscle groups.  Placing your bones in a way that allows you to float, spin and move across space in a magical blur.  Even after a performance there is still more to learn and master.  You must find the thrill in small wins, new lessons and enjoying the journey.     

Also, similar to a student learning math and reading the outcome is either correct or incorrect. 1+1 is always 2, if a student answers 3 on a test it is incorrect.  The feedback given in a dance classroom can be difficult for a young student to decipher.  It is ultimately constructive criticism about their own body; not words on a paper or pages in a book.  Many dance teachers choose to make corrections in a ‘compliment sandwich’ form of positive reinforcement, constructive criticism, positive reinforcement.  For example a teacher may say, “Suzy your tendu looks better, make sure not to sickle your foot, you are doing a great job, keep working on it.”  Even in this format a correction can feel so personal and hard to take in the moment.  Even as an adult when we receive constructive criticism our first human response is to be defensive or blame others.  Hey, we all do it sometimes but I think we all know that choice stunts our growth.

Finally, dance technique is extremely difficult to master.  Oftentimes I have to work with students for as long as a year before they master a correction.  A year can feel like a lifetime when trying to master a skill set.  But, like I said there is no instacart for Ballet… just hard work, sweat and maybe a bloody toe or two.  Afterall, “anything worth doing is worth doing right!”  Even if the ‘right’ does take a year-or-so!      

Until I was twelve years old I was simply ambivalent about ballet.  I had to do it to be part of the dance team, so I lived with it.  I LOVED jazz due to its sharp movements and theatrics. What isn’t there to love?   Tap allowed me to make loud noises so that was ‘cool’.  But, ballet?  BORING, DULL… but, it was so pretty so I could deal with it.  As a young student I found ballet exercises to be tedious and did not fully understand or enjoy the slow, methodical movements.  Then one day it all clicked.  I smiled internally because I suddenly realized how to engage my rotation muscles properly while executing  a plie!  I had an epiphany.  All this time I thought I was doing it right, but I wasn’t.  I suddenly was hungry to learn more and ready to do the actual hard work.  I understood how this ‘ballet stuff’ could make me better.  Doing a plie correctly allowed me to float off the floor like a butterfly and pirouette with ease.  Mrs. Renea was my teacher at the time.  She spent so much time dissecting each movement for us.  Teaching us exactly which muscles we were trying to engage and where each movement should initiate from.  She was patient and kind, telling us that we might not understand now but that we would someday. Man, was she right!  She never gave up and kept correcting me even though I may have seemed ambivalent.  I will always appreciate her for that.  

Now I find that I simply cannot live without ballet.  On March 13th of 2019 the whole world shutdown to slow the spread of Covid-19.  It was also the day I decided to close my doors for in-person dance classes indefinitely.  You know what I did after I sent the email informing all my budding ballerinas that we would not be holding classes that evening?!?!  I closed my computer and slowly walked over to the ballet barre.  I turned on my classical music and executed a full ballet barre: plies, tendus, degages, rond de jambes, frappes, adagio, barre stretch and battements with such purpose.  As I did the work at the barre everything else disappeared.  Sweat and tears were dripping down my face.  I found peace for that forty-five minutes.  Ballet continues to give me purpose, discipline, reassurance and peace.  The barre over the years has become my second home!  🙂

So why is ballet so darn hard?  Honestly, it isn’t.  🙂  Young dancers have to be patient and trust that the foundation of ballet will create the stepping stones needed to float, spin and move across space in a magical blur.  They must understand that in time they will find joy in the work, in the journey.  Sometimes you just gotta have faith!  Do not give up! The proverbial Amazon packages you tried ordering from Instacart with all the advanced leaps and pirouttes are waiting for you on the other side.  😉  Let me tell you a little secret, it will totally be worth the wait!  

Live Love Dance,
Mrs. Jen 

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