Posted by Rebecca King on 07.20.2014
A Letter to My Former Ballet Student-Self:
It has been over 8 years since we have met. Since then I have become a corps de ballet dancer with an internationally renowned company, toured across the world, had the opportunity to dance many of classical ballet’s most beloved works, and worked with today’s leading choreographers. How did this happen you ask? Sometimes I wonder the same thing. After picking up some teaching gigs this summer, I decided that I would like to send you a note filled with the lessons I have learned, because everything looks different from the front of the studio.
First, let’s talk about class. Though chit-chatting in class is seemingly harmless, it is extremely difficult for the teacher, who is giving everything they have at the front of the room. Being a teacher and commanding the attention of young people for an hour and a half or more, is no small feat. So Rebecca, please pay attention.
Your teacher has extremely valuable information to pass on to you. You never really know who their teachers were, or who taught their teachers. Ballet is passed down by word of mouth and every teacher has important information that they want to share with you. So Rebecca, respect every teacher, even if they aren’t your favorite. All they want is to pass on their art form to you.
Take corrections and remember to implement them, not just later in class, but the next day and the next week. Writing down corrections and notes from rehearsal is the best way for you to learn. How many teachers told you to do that? Did you listen? Well, better late than never.
Always learn each and every combination. You cannot expect to fully benefit from the way a class has been constructed if you don’t know the steps. When a combination starts, you waste the first portion of the exercise trying to learn the steps and the pattern. This is distracting and doesn’t allow for you to fully focus on your placement, technique, previous corrections, etc. Additionally, it drives the teacher crazy. And Rebecca, this still really applies to your present-day self.
If YouTube had been around, I would expect you to watch every single ballet video. Every video that the Internet had to offer, should consume your free time. How else will you know what the broad world of ballet has to offer? How will you know what your ballet teachers’ backgrounds are? So Rebecca, watching Giselle, Le Corsaire, Sleeping Beauty, and Baryshnikov’s Nutcracker, etc. no less than 1,000 times each may have driven your parents crazy, but imagine what it’s like now with YouTube. Or you know, you could always just invent YouTube…. But in that case this conversation would be completely different.
You may not like to read, but grab a book on Balanchine. Learn the history of the art form, so you will have the knowledge to explain to others why ballet is important in the world we live in and a cultural institution worth advancing and preserving. So Rebecca, put down Harry Potter and grab George Balanchine: The Ballet Maker by Bob Gottlieb.
Every teacher your whole life told you all of these things, so this shouldn’t be anything new. But for some reason all these lessons didn’t quite sink in until later. Would it have seemed more crucial to you if these words came from someone you felt that you trusted? Well that’s why I write to you now. Hindsight is always 20/20 and now I see these things much more clearly. Follow this recipe to your dreams.