Thoughts on the culture of ballet class…

This is the final week for most of us who attended summer programs. By now, most of us ballet students are back at home, resting, or on vacation. Some of us (including myself) may have finished a little while ago, and are already taking a stab at getting back in shape. Regardless of where you are in your end-of-summer agenda, I feel that we have all definitely learned something this summer about ourselves and our art form.

Summer intensives are a great time to get to know your body, learn under what conditions you learn the most, and discover new things about ourselves. (One of the many beautiful things about ballet is that it seems to have a never-ending collection of new secrets to uncover.)  Without the distractions of school, college, for some of us work, and the daily bustle of life in your hometown, the training regime and program you are participating in can really shine on its own. It’s a very immersive experience, your mind is very focused, and you always seem to be very hyper-aware of your body and inner rhythm. With such a set and deliberate daily routine of dancing, most of us find that we take a daily “inventory” of our body each morning, and we become very in-sync with our levels of soreness, fatigue, limberness, and strength.

For these reasons, I feel that the time coming off of summer intensives is a good one to talk about the culture of a intensive ballet training program. But, this discussion is not limited to a summer course; this could be a year-round program or even time you set apart for working at the gym or cross-training.

To begin this analysis, let’s discover what ballet isn’t. For one, it is nothing like going to the gym. If you ever spend time at your local gym, which most of us do in order to take advantage of the cross-training facilities, you will notice people passively working out. This is just a burden they must do to meet a requirement, whether it is a requirement of society, of their doctor, or of their health. You can see this in the way they act…their brain is clearly elsewhere: watching the mini-TV screen, on their phone, listening to music.

For dancers, ballet class should be the opposite of that. This is not a way to burn calories. You can’t become a better dancer with a set regimen. There is no “magic number” to ballet…no trick. You can’t just passively follow a routine to fill the hours in class or cross-training. You can’t follow a precise meal plan created by someone else and expect it to work for you, regardless of how your body might feel. You can’t watch ballet just for the sake of watching ballet. As dancers, we have to be responsive to what we need at the time, whether that has to do with the day’s level of fatigue, the strain of the week’s rehearsal schedule, or even the place you are at technically that season or time in your career.

So, ballet is something very personal, focused, and engaging. As you plan for your training going into this next season or school year, and you consider the types of cross-training you will need to get back into shape this summer, I urge you to remember that ballet has nothing to do with numbers or agendas. This is not a formula that can be calculated rationally. Dancers aren’t robots that can be controlled or changed by a specific regimen. Just as ambiguous, individual, and special this art form is, each dancer is special, different, and deserves the immense focus of themselves and those who have been assigned to instruct them.


I hope you enjoyed these thoughts. Please leave a comment down below with anything you would like to add.

P.S. The remainder of my posts about my summer program at Ballet Chicago have been temporarily suspended. I am working very hard on gathering my thoughts on this matter, and it was just such an immense and impactful experience that it has been hard to summarize it into bullet points. (In fact, that was exactly the focus of this post.) But, I am planning to share with you what I can soon, once I figure out the best way to do so.

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One thought on “Thoughts on the culture of ballet class…

  1. Your words and phrases were layered with meaning as you explained the difference between ballet from the heart and doing it mechanically. What a journey to move into discovery and understand that’s what you are doing! Beautiful thoughts, Ella!

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