Last weekend I took a ballet class at VeryNiceCompany in the Big City. When I first wanted to start taking classes with VeryNiceCompany, I asked them what level I should start with. Considering my previous dancing experience, they recommended the intermediate level. I’m lucky I didn’t listen and chose beginner level instead. As I was stretching for my beginner class, which was after intermediate I glimpsed through the studio doors. Fouettes en pointe. Yeah. I don’t think I’ll be going to intermediate in the next few years.
Anyway, here I was, all ready for some nice basic plies, some adagio in the center and maybe a few glissades across the floor, but apparently beginner does not mean beginner at every dance company. It seemed that a few pros/semi-pros/ people who have been dancing since they were toddlers had come to the class and the instructor tailored the class to suit them. There were pirouettes en dehors and en dedans across the floor combined with pique turns, arabesque saute’s and echappes. I was lost even before I went across the floor. But that’s ok. I’ve already learned to make a fool of myself in ballet class.
Last spring I was taking an intermediate class at another school. From the very beginning, I was scared of going to class, because every week the teacher seemed to add more and more challenging things. My basics were shaky. I couldn’t perform up to the standard of the class. So I stopped going for a few weeks. And then Johanna from Pointe ‘Til You Drop gave me a virtual kick in the derriere and so I decided to drag the said, extremely out of shape, gluteus maximus to class.
As soon as I entered I sensed that something had changed. There were more people in class. People were wearing black leotards and pointe shoes. I glanced at the clock and the sign on the studio door. Right time right place. Check. As it turns out, our teacher had invited the youth ballet company from the Big City to come and give a “master class”. When I first heard this, I freaked out so fast my head began spinning. Inside my head there was a broken record going “Fail, fail, fail, epic fail.” And sure enough: I failed. I failed just by looking at the dancer near me perform six o’clocks. I failed as I stumbled across the floor. I turned en dedans when I was supposed to go en dehors and vice versa.
Long story short: after making a total epic fool of myself in front of a bunch of pros, I don’t think I’ll ever be embarrassed to make a fool of myself in any other dance class. In fact, I think I learned some fundamental things about making a barre port de bras look “airy” and graceful.
Unfortunately, not every dancer who came to the beginner class at VeryNiceCompany last week has had the same experience. After class, I exchanged a few words with a fellow “astounded” beginner. She said, she wasn’t sure if she would be coming back, because of the pros/semi-pros/really good girls. She didn’t want to make a fool of herself doing things she did not know how to do. And this is where I think dance school in general could do better.
If the level says beginner, then it should be beginner. Not intermediate, not advanced. But plain beginner. Because the mind of a beginner is fragile. We feel naked putting our bodies out there, into that big hall of mirrors. And we feel as though everyone, especially the really pro girls are judging our failed en dedans pirouettes, our poor port de bras, the flat grand jete…
Most of the time they’re not even looking at us. And even if they are, so what? I know most pros/really good people don’t come to beginner classes to show off. They come there to practice their technique just like all the real beginners. But they should also not expect the teacher to tailor the class to challenge them, with the rest of us cowering in the corner, because we know we will mess up that combination. And the teacher should know better than to do this.
On the other hand, a part of growing as a dancer is learning to mess up. It takes courage to go out there, and be “I’m going to totally blow this combination and these other people might roll their eyes and be like what is she doing here, but I’m still going to do it.” Because you won’t always be the best in everything. It’s the role of the teacher to create the right balance in the class: to add a little challenge to push everyone out from their comfort zones, but also reinforce the confidence of the dancers by doing movements and combinations within their range of skills.
Also, take note of the pros/really good girls. You can improve just by studying them.