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What to expect at your first ballet class

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:00pm

Maybe you've thought about taking ballet but never actually done it? Or maybe, your dance team coach/studio owner is requiring you to take ballet for the first time this year? It's a beautiful art form and can benefit all of your dancing (even hip hop). Here's what to expect:

How to Prepare

Here are some questions to think about/consider before your first class:

What is the dress code at the studio that I am going to?

Most dance studios (particularly ballet classes/studios) have a somewhat strict dress code. This could range from a tighter fitting tank tor and jazz pants with your hair back and ballet shoes to X brand X style X color leotard, X color (Yes, there are different colors of ballet pink. There's theatrical pink, ballet pink, European pink, light European pink.. the list goes on.) X brand tights with/without a backseam, X brand X material X color shoes, hair in a bun using X brand of hairpins and a hairnet.

This all depends on the level of professionalism (NOTE: recreational ballet IS OK) at your dance studio and the level class you are taking.

In a beginner class, or a class without a specific dress code, it's best to wear pink tights and a black leotard with pink ballet slippers (for the ladies) or a tight fitting white t-shirt and black jazz pants with black ballet shoes and white socks (for the men). Usually, warmups (sweater shorts, tight fitting shirts/sweaters, legwarmers, etc.) are acceptable but be prepared for the instructor to ask you to take these off at some point in the class. This is so he/she can see your placement, alignment, and see how/what you are doing with various muscles.

What training does my prospective teacher have?

Biography 1: Madame Ballet Teacher trained at Studio X for most of her life. She studied dance in college and has had X years teaching experience. She is grateful to be teaching at her childhood dance school, Studio X.

Biography 2: Madame Ballet Instructor trained at X School of Classical Ballet. She has performed with X, Y, and Z ballet companies for over X years. She is excited to now be teaching at Studio X.

Biography 3: Madame Ballet Trainer has been on faculty at Studio X for X number of years. She received her training from XXX and has studied pedagogy with ballet instructor, XXX.

From reading these biographies, many new students would be more inclined to try taking a class from Madame Ballet Instructor in Biography 2. But, an extensive performing career does not necessarily mean that that person would make the best ballet teacher. This does not apply to ALL ex-professionals. Ideally, Madame Ballet Trainer or Madame Ballet Teacher would be the better choice for a beginning class. This is because A.) Madame Ballet Teacher knows the studio and its dancers and training method well, and B.) Madame Ballet Trainer also appears to have been on faculty at Studio X for a length of time AND has studied pedagogy, aka: How To Teach Ballet.

Is there a placement class/a class for people of my age and level?

If you are 3-7 years old, you will have a very small amount of catching up to do to be at the same level as other students your age (I don't suppose many 3-7 year olds are going to read this, though...). There will most probably be a class for a student this age that is the correct level no matter how advanced they are.

If you are between the ages of 10 and 13-14, it will be a little more difficult. Usually, this is the age that experienced ballet dancers will start to take a pointe class 1-3 times a week. This means that the teacher has approved the student for training in a special type of shoes that allows the dancer to rise to stand on the very tips of her toes. Dancing on pointe requires at least 3 years of ballet multiple times a week, with very few exceptions. Most studios offer a class for dancers in this age group (sometimes combined with an adult/older teen class) for students who have not trained long enough to progress to pointe work or are beginner students.

It is hardest for students ages 15-Adult to catch up with other dancers the same age's level of technique, strength, and experience. A lot of dancers this age have been trained i ballet since they were young children. But, most good dance studios offer a teen/adult beginner or basic technique class for students in this category and more advanced students that want to take an extra ballet class to focus on brushing up on basic technique.

A placement class is a beginning-intermediate level ballet class to asses the level of new or beginning students before deciding what level class to place the student in.

If you feel like you are not working hard in a class, or that the class is more advanced than you are, inquire with the studio or teacher about changing level. It is important that you work hard, as it is that you work slowly and carefully on technique and strength, but a too-hard class can inhibit your improvement and ultimately cause injury. Likewise, a class that is not at least somewhat challenging does not provide room for improvement.

A note:

When choosing a dance studio, if you have never taken a ballet class before (or only have once at a very young age) and the teacher tries to tell you that you are ready for pointe work, RUN. Fast.

At the Class

The class will probably start with exercises at the barre, a railing running along the wall on at least one side of the room. You will start standing at the barre holding on to it with one or both hands. The instructor will demonstrate and explain an exercise. If you have any questions about what you are about to do, now is the time to ask. Then you will do the exercises to music from an accompanist or a CD/tape/record player.

These include plie,


rond de jambe,

and battement

among many other things.

You will learn the basic ballet positions and turnout of the legs. It is important that you don't "force" turnout, or rotate the leg from the ankles/knees instead of the hip. Very few people achieve 180° turnout naturally without years of work and training.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

(DISCLAIMER: by including these videos and photos, I am not trying to teach you how to dance ballet. This is extremely dangerous and almost impossible over the Internet.)

It is likely that your teacher will correct your body placement and alignment by manually adjusting you. This is something you will have to become accustomed to over time.

After various exercises to warm up and strengthen the feet, legs, arms, back, and abdomen at the barre, the class will progress to the center floor. You will repeat the exercises you did at the barre, usually in different combinations with different port de bras (arm movement). These exercises include some of the basics mentioned above along with allegro (jumps) and adage (see below).

Usually, the center floor portion of the class will begin with adage or adagio (both mean the same thing, literally: slow; in this case: larger, slower movements using the upper body and arms more as well as the feet. This usually involves slower sustained leg lifts in a more advanced class).

Then the class will practice balances on one and two feet without the support of the barre, and possibly various turns. In a beginner class, these usually include:

chaines [ sheh-NAY ] turns, and

(I couldn't find a video of JUST someone demonstrating this turn so please ignore the instructional aspect of the above)

pique turns.

There are many more advanced turns in ballet such as pirouettes, tours, and fouettes that are not generally taught in beginner classes.

The class will then progress to petite and grand allegro. Allegro, literally meaning quick, refers to a jump. Petite and grand refer to the height and size of the jump.


this is a petit jete

(the second jump in the sequence)

and this is a grand jete.

See the difference?

The class will learn basic allegro at first, usually including changemant [ shahnzh-MAHN ], echappe [ ay-sha-PAY ], and glissade [ glee-SAD ]. Eventually, the class will move on to more advanced jumps as the students advance in technique and strength.

At the end of the class, there will be a reverence , usually a small curtsy or bow, to show that you are grateful for the teacher and/or accompanist and shows respect towards respect them.

3 Ways to Make Sure Your Ballet Teacher Will Like You:

1.) Put effort in to EVERY LITTLE THING you are asked to do. This will make ballet more fun and will help you improve more quickly

2.) Use all corrections your teacher gives (you specifically, or the entire class) even if you think you are already doing what the correction entails. This shows the teacher you are paying attention, and, once again helps you improve more quickly.

3.) Thank your teacher before you leave, even if the class already has as a whole. Like the reverence , this shows your respect for your teacher and the time and effort they put in to teaching you ballet. Very, very teachers teach dance solely to make money. Whether they are the nicest or the meanest teacher, they love dance (hopefully) and teach for this very reason.

End of your first class. That wasn't too horrible, now was it?

Stay on your toes,


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