What I learned from ballet (so far)


If you know me-or just read some of this blog-you know that I consider ballet the most important technique that a dancer can study. And I'm not just biased. The foundation ballet offers is invaluable whether you go on to a professional ballet career, take up jazz, decide to be a modern dancer or whatever style you prefer.

The following are a list of things that I have learned from ballet which have translated to many things in life both personal and professional:

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much..." Luke 16:10
This is the golden rule of ballet. In order to advance in ballet, you must be proficient in the most basic of steps. The more you prove yourself, the more you advance. You master the plie' before you can saute' and must be an angel (and "dance" that part in a professional manner) before you can dance the part of Clara in The Nutcracker.  There are no cutting corners.

"Those who listen to instruction will prosper..." Prov 16:20
It is impossible to excel in ballet (and many other facets of life) without receiving and acting upon criticism. No one is a professional grade dancer right off the street. Instructors and mentors help you get to that point but you have to be able to humble yourself in order to listen to critiques and then use them to be better. Just a good rule of thumb, overall, whether you're dancing or not.

"All hard work brings a profit..." Prov 14:23
The old saying goes that it takes about 15 years to learn ballet technique but the rest of one's life to make it look easy. But if you aren't willing to put the time and effort into it, you could be dancing for 30 years and still not be very good at ballet. Ballet-as with most things in life-requires effort in order to succeed. Whether or not you make it to principle dancer, hard work will mean improvement in dance.

Life isn't fair but that shouldn't stop you from doing what you love.
The instructor at an audition will take an immediate dislike to you for no apparent reason, the studio owner's niece will get the choice part or an injury will put you in the wings for a season. That is just how things go but you never, ever let that keep you from dancing (or anything else for that matter). Even if you have create your own path in or alter yours a little, you do it because it makes you happy and you don't take "no" for an answer.

Eyes up, chin up, and shoulders down.
One of the very first things you learn in ballet is good posture. In fact one of my very first instructors used to repeat the phrase "eyes up, chin up, shoulders down" before nearly every combination in class to drum it into our heads. This is also good for speaking in front of a group of people (think public speaking class), standing in line at the bank or trying to get the attention of that cutie across the room. The key is to stand tall even if you don't feel confident to project an air of confidence in difficult situations (or ballet classes). It takes you further than you think not to mention your spine and lungs are a lot happier.   

Look before you leap.
Literally and figuratively. In ballet you need to be aware of the people dancing around you and where you are going. While it is possible to get "lost" in the dance, you still need to be alert to who are what is around you to avoid colliding with fellow dancers or even end up executing a gorgeous pas de chat off stage into an orchestra pit (not fun). In life it also pays to carefully consider next steps as (both walking and otherwise) so you don't go blindly into a bad business deal or, well, an orchestra pit.

Keep moving.
 A friend would argue that this primarily applies to people who like to stop in the middle of combinations across the floor (especially grand allegro) because of some recent traffic jams/near collisions in class (also, see #6) and I'd have to admit that can be true. This also applies to any mistake made in the studio, on stage or even someone in your life is suddenly revealed as untrustworthy. Don't let a mistake paralyze you into stopping. Keep going. Improvise. Make a glorious solo!

Check your ego at the door because you're not that great.
I actually learned this in my very first audition. It's a memory I would like to forget because I walked in thinking I was at least one of the top four dancers and found myself very mistaken! We all have our weak points. Even certain ballet stars (who shall remain nameless) were often absolute rubbish in class. So, balancing your ego to a healthy amount is important. No one wants to work with a diva.(Divas happen to be very replaceable) It's important to remember there are (literally) always younger dancers coming up behind you who can turn more and jump higher because they have learned what not to do from watching your mistakes.

Pain is a part of the process.
If you have a low pain tolerance, ballet is not for you. You're going to hurt, you're going to be sore and you're going to spend hours of your life soaking your feet in ice which is about as fun as it sounds (meaning not at all). But it's through these "growing pains" that you improve and advance in your artistry. An instructor once told me "If it doesn't hurt, you're not trying hard enough." I think the same could be said for a lot of projects we take on. If it doesn't hurt a little (literally or figuratively) we probably aren't trying very hard. Risks bring pain but that pain brings progress or rewards.
Disclaimer: Of course,there is bad pain which means injury. I'm talking about the other kind that just means muscles and limbs are developing to accommodate your ballet technique.

It's important to share what you've learned.
This was exemplified by the amazing instructors and mentors I have had over the years. Remember those dancers who can turn more and jump higher? They're still going to need help learning how to emote or even just to tune their ear to Stravinsky. Being a great technician alone doesn't cut it. That's where the "seasoned" dancers come in. We have something to offer which experience has lent and we shouldn't keep it to ourselves even if we are a little intimidated that we'll be replaced. We all have to retire sometime.

So, what do you think? What have you learned from ballet, dance, or whatever your vocation/favorite hobby happens to be? Share it the comment section below.



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