The first thing that every new adult ballet student needs to understand is this: No matter your age, it is never too late to learn ballet. Learning ballet is a lifelong pursuit for many different people with many different goals and abilities, so it’s always a good time to start your journey. Once you have internalized this, you will be ready to pursue your education with the right frame of mind and attitude.
However, those attributes alone won’t necessarily get you to where you want to be, in terms of ballet technique and mastering new skills. Here are a few tips that will help you reach and exceed your goals as an online student navigating the adult ballet world of virtual dance instruction.
Find Your Space
Ballet as an art form is quite disciplined, and executing the proper technique requires a somewhat strict adherence to “tradition.” The classic ballet studio environment is no different: there is almost always a ballet barre, a mirror, and a wooden or Marley floor.
As we have written about before, a home dance space or studio is a must-have for an aspiring student of online dance. To create a home ballet studio, you’ll want a well-lit area, with reasonable flooring (wood, vinyl, or laminate are preferable in that order of ranking), large mirrors, and a decent sound system.
The type of floor is important because many ballet moves require you to brush, point, and swipe your foot across the floor. While you can get creative and perform these actions on many types of surfaces (carpet, grass, even sand!), as adult beginners, you’ll want a flat floor. If you have the choice between tile with grout and a smooth wooden floor, go with the smoother surface! Mirrors and a great sound system, if you have access to them, will make you feel like you are really in a ballet studio. If you don’t have mirrors, but still want to see your form, you can position yourself in front of a reflective window or appliance.
Last, but definitely not least, you’ll want to find a ballet barre! A traditional ballet barre is about the width of PVC pipe and comes to about waist height (between the top of your hip and the middle of your rib cage). Couches, chairs, dressers, and countertops seem to act as decent stand-ins—just look at all the footage from ballet companies rehearsing at home during the pandemic!
Set Your Pace
Ballet as an art form has a lot of terminologies. It’s easy to catch on quickly (even easier if you speak French!), but it may take a few tries to remember the difference between a plié and a passé!
One of the many advantages of online dance classes is the flexibility and customizable pacing. On-demand classes and dance tutorials can be paused, rewound, or slowed down to meet the pace that you find most comfortable and conducive to starting your ballet journey.
To appreciate the immersive nature of virtual ballet instruction, you’ll need to get familiar with these interactive qualities to use them in a way that works best for you. Remember: You are front and center in online ballet lessons; the pupil is the star. Don’t be afraid to repeat classes or individual lessons however many times you need to master the techniques being taught.
Focus on Feedback
Take advantage of the virtual student community available to you in online classes! When the opportunity occurs during live classes for feedback and questions, be certain to participate if there are concepts you need help with or ideas that require further clarification. Ballet training is full of little details, and ballet teachers always love to explain the nitty-gritty of the basics, since every type of adult dancer from beginners to professionals often starts class with the same basic exercises. Treat the virtual classroom as a real classroom, and use the time you have to ask productive questions that will help you on your path to ballet proficiency.
Dress the Part
It doesn’t get more ‘ballet’ than pink tights, a black leotard, and a slicked-back bun. But is that type of outfit really necessary for your first ballet class?
Not necessarily. However, there are a few reasons that a bun, a leotard, and tights have remained the staples of proper ballet attire. Tights are ‘tight’ on purpose. If you have purchased any high-tech athletic compression-style yoga pants recently, you might know why. The slight compression of muscles helps with circulation and support in the challenging poses that advanced ballerinas find themselves in. As a beginner, this benefit does not apply quite as much, but it’s a good reason to wear leggings instead of sweatpants if you decide to go the more casual route with your dance gear.
Ballet can be danced barefoot, in socks, or ballet shoes. Ballet shoes, or ballet slippers, are preferable as they provide support to your foot in the right places, and provide the right amount of grip and slide for balances and turns. Advanced dancers tend to opt for fabrics like canvas with a split sole, and of course, pointe shoes when taking a ballet class en pointe. Beginner adults are often told to go for full sole leather ballet slippers to develop their feet the right way as they learn. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of preference. You can get fitted for ballet shoes at your local dance store, or order them online with the proper measurements of your feet.
Never Miss A Warm-Up
A warm-up is built into almost every ballet class, as you start with small exercises at the ballet barre, gradually making your way through bigger and bigger movements. However, seasoned ballerinas know that warming up before the beginning exercises at the barre is the key to a healthy, more efficient ballet class.
There are many benefits to being a beginner adult: you know your body better, you have better proprioception than a young dancer, and you’ve grown a relationship to music and rhythm. But, we can’t sugarcoat the other side of the coin: as a beginner adult student, your body may be less spry and forgiving at first, which can make you more prone to injury.
A lot of ballet is danced in what is called a turned-out position. This involves rotating your legs so that the backs of your knees face each other as your knee caps are turned on an outwards diagonal. This is achieved by using the muscles deep in the glute to turn your legs out, and stabilizing your body with the rest of your muscles. It can be difficult to sustain at first, so take it step by step and listen to the teacher’s advice on how to pursue your turn out in a healthy way!
On the bright side, you get to work out different muscle groups than you normally would! During class, be sure to listen to your body and don’t strain yourself to the point of pain. It’s great to challenge yourself, but keep in mind that you are in control of the flow of the lesson. Take your time, be consistent in your training, and stay healthy!
A Full Body and Mind Workout
Ballet is a full-body experience. A lot of ballet takes place on one leg, and like in yoga, there are many balances and transitions to and from your standing leg.
When a dance teacher refers to your ‘standing leg,’ they are referencing whatever leg is standing straight and supporting most or all of your weight. The other leg, which may be bent in a passé, or stretched in front of you in a tendu, is called your working leg.
But do not be fooled by the moments of stillness! If you’ve ever seen a ballet on stage, you’ll know that ballet can be a lesson in stamina and endurance, as well. Having good cardiopulmonary fitness can help you to get through a ballet class, and likewise, taking a ballet class can improvise your heart health!
Try visualizing what you’d like to be able to do as a ballet dancer and work towards making that happen on a timeline that is self-affirming and healthy. And, don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Beginner ballet classes are about attitude as well as movement, so make sure that you are enjoying yourself mentally as well as physically during your online learning experience.