If you’re really intent on becoming a transcendent ballet dancer, then it’s important to take multiple ballet classes throughout the week. Not only does this practice enhance one’s flexibility, form, body awareness, performance ability, and more — but like anything in life, doing something for only 60 min per week just isn’t going to make you great.
Just look at Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, which examines the ingredients of successful behavior. In order to do anything approaching a “professional” level, you need to clock something like 10,000 hours of practice — approximately six hours a day, every single day, for more than five years. Sound like a difficult process? Well, perfection takes time and effort, doesn’t it?
Ballet is a Massive Language
Ballet comprises many, many moves and a massive language. A dancer doesn’t only need to understand correct placement, but they need to gain flexibility, perfect their form and learn the idiom itself. It’s impossible to get through ANY language — much less the entire, complicated language of ballet — in a 60-minute beginning ballet class. It’s just too much.
Also, the role of an experienced instructor is paramount. It takes a teacher pounding it into a student’s brain to emphasize the importance of each movement. Of course, by taking multiple classes, a student will also get access to more corrections. They’ll have more of a chance to make (and subsequently correct) mistakes. Multiple classes also translate into additional chances to express mistakes until they’re perfected into the correct placement and form. And guess what happens then? Yes, that is when all that work begins to become Art. With a capital “A.”
Developing Ballet Skills
If you’re looking to do a little homework, a great reference is Gail Grant’s “Technical Manual and Dictionary of Classical Ballet” — it’s a comprehensive reference for ballet terms. It’s hundreds of pages. Back in college, I had to memorize the entire book, and it took me an entire semester. Hence, it’s why one needs to take 5 to 6 days a week of classes to become a performance-caliber dancer.
And that is just learning ballet. All the theatrical elements involved with effectively “becoming” a character and portraying emotion to an audience simply constitute the next level of learning.So are you really considering pursuing ballet, either in college or even as a career? You have to take multiple classes per day. Let’s take my own experiences for example.
Between ages 10 and 13, I took ballet classes four times per week — three of those were hour-and-half ballet classes, then either a modern or a jazz class or a Russian character (folk) class. When I was 12, I went on pointe ,and one of my ballet classes became a point class. By the time I was 13, I took pointe throughout the entire class. On the weekends, we rehearsed for a ballet or a show. That was at my studio.
Then I was accepted to Pebblebrook High (for dance, significantly), and I took 2 to 3 dance classes and an acting class at the high school. Then my mother picked me up and took me to my studio where I took 1 to 2 classes per night. I averaged about 4 to 5 dance classes per day, Monday through Friday. Saturdays we rehearsed.
During my senior year, I auditioned and got into GA’s program. I took all my academics before noon, and then I was off to dance. GA’s ballet classes were up to 3 hours long, Sunday through Thursday, and then we attended rehearsal from 3 pm to 7pm. For the mathematically challenged, that was approximately 26 to 30 hours a week. And I still wasn’t what I would consider “perfect” as a dancer.
CNJBT Case Studies: Nathalie and Erin
I have a couple protégés who currently attend CNJBT, and they’re worthy of note when it comes to the conversation of how multiple classes yield considerable results. The first is Nathalie, who’s truly a hard worker and possesses a solid foundation.
Natalie went to Texas Christian and came from a very similar back ground as I did. So her schedule was a lot like mine when she was studying. Now that she’s in her early 20s, we’ve been working more on Nathalie’s expression and her overall presence as an artiest. It would clearly be impossible to deliver any results with only one class a week.
Erin, on the other hand, is 12 years old, so she’s been on pointe for a year. Overall, she’s a very gifted modern and Jazz dancer. She comes to me for the ballet, the pointe and the contemporary classes. Significantly, I also coach her. By the way, that was also an integral part of my own ballet education — like Erin, I would take a private coaching lesson at least twice a week.
Erin has a raw gift. She’s very graceful, naturally flexible, has a great body type, and possesses excellent facility/feet. What I’ve really been stressing with Erin are transitions and clean technique. I tell her this, “Erin, you have all the nouns, verbs and big words but you need the ‘And’s, But’s, To’s, and An’s’ to connect those words. If you didn’t have those you wouldn’t have a sentence. Just a bunch of sloppy words on paper.”
After about 6 months with me, Erin even started winning these competitions… and I never really engaged in competitions, but that just goes to show you the importance of a strong ballet foundation as a dancer. She’s progressing and is growing by leaps and bounds. As her instructor, mentor and coach, that makes me very happy.
An Addendum: Dance is For Everyone
Of course, please understand that CNJBT welcomes recreational dancers too! In fact, it’s my deeply held belief that dance is for everyone — it builds independence and confidence, is great for exercise while learning an art, and it provides an overall sense of structure and discipline.
But if you really want to excel, then ballet is like anything else — conditioning for tennis, football, or soccer; becoming a writer a doctor, or a lawyer — you have to do it every day, for hours each day. You have to love it. Want it. You have to go through a lot of heartache. The tough parts and the adversity are what make you good.