Beginner ballet?

Because sometimes dancing isn't all about perfect glissades across the floor. Source: click on photo

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.



  1. I’ve found myself in a awkward position. I’ve come to a point where the beginners class has become a bit too easy, and my teacher suggested that I try the open class. It’s an open class so do what you can do, and skip what you can’t, so I was told. Seems good enough, I’ll give it a shot.
    So I get there, and I began to worry, all of the girls are in matching leotards, most en pointe, and the two guys have this air about them which just makes me that much more convinced that I’m in way over my head. I’m positive I’ve seen one of them on stage before. I got through barre well enough, I made a few mistakes, but nothing too horrendous.
    Then floor began and we were doing things I’ve never heard of before, and it’s far from what I’ve ever done in any class before. I could feel my stomach and heart drop. Nearly everything in me told me to find the nearest door and run. I stayed and did what I could, and then hid behind the portable barres when it was way too hard with another student who was struggling as much as me.
    I’ve since gone back, and I got that same feeling to run, but again stuck it out.
    It’s now my plan to revisit that class soon, hopefully this coming week. I know it’s going to kick my ass, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

    • Hi Chris!

      Thanks for commenting. I hope you’re going to continue taking the open class, because I certainly
      am not going to stop going to the “beginner” class. Whenever, I get embarrassed and want to just sink through the
      ground, I think, “What if this was the last dance class I’m ever going to take, and here I am hiding behind the other girls
      just because I don’t have their perfect ballet bodies and amazing technique.”
      Besides, if you stick it out for a year or so, you’ll be one of those people with the awesome jumps, turns,
      extensions etc. looking at the newbies cower behind the barres.
      Hope you had a good time in Chicago!

  2. I take a beginner class even though I am sot a beginner. I take it to build up my strength and technique. I like that it goes slow. A beginning class can be as challenging as you want it no matter what your level. I am somewhere between intermediate and advanced. I agree that the instructor should keep it beginning and not tailor it. The more advanced dancers should look at it as an opportunity to work out the bad habits that you fall into when you start to do more challenging moves. I have been able to correct many things by feeling the whole movement and go slow. It is also not fair for the instructor to not keep the movements beginning for those of you who are doing something you want to explore.

    • Hi Christine!
      That’s so true. Beginner classes can be absolutely as challenging as you make them: ugh… ultraslow grand plies in fourth position
      always squeeze the juice out of me. But it’s a great chance to really make sure you keep those hips square.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment! I really appreciate it

  3. Sometimes I take a basic level class to work on my pointe technique, but I never consider it too easy for me. Sure, I have more experience and I need to work on different areas, but I never consider basic level an opportunity to show off. If anything, I work even harder to dance as clean as possible!

    • Hello, Johanna!
      I guess the problem is really in the instructor: they spot the advanced students coming to beginner class and then decide to move the whole class two levels up to suit the level of the advanced students.

      But that aside, you’re right! I’m taking a beginner class again, because it’s a good opportunity to work hard on placement and turnout without overly complicated barre.

      (Btw, thank you for including me in the blogroll on your page! *does a virtual reverence*)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s