By Kate Feinberg Robins
My beginning adult ballet students often ask what they should practice at home. One challenge in practicing ballet is that there is so much, it’s hard to know where to start when you don’t have a teacher to guide you. Every class I teach is different, because an important part of dance training is putting steps together in different ways. This is why even professional ballet dancers take company classes, where the company’s ballet master or ballet mistress gives practice exercises.
A company class at the Royal Ballet
Once you’ve been studying ballet for a few years, or even a few months, you’ll start to understand the patterns of ballet exercises, which we call “combinations.” At that point, it will be easier to make your own exercises to practice at home. But if you’ve just begun and everything is new, then where do you start? Or maybe you understand how to create a combination, but you just want to focus on doing it, without the extra complication of also putting it together. You just want a simple way to practice at home between classes, without putting too much thought into it. So where do you begin?
These three ballet barre videos offer good practice routines for beginning adult students.
I chose them for 3 reasons:
How to use these videos when you practice at home:
And most importantly, have fun!
By Kate Feinberg Robins
Lazy Dancer Tips is one of the most thorough and well produced Youtube channels demonstrating how to use ballet exercises for general fitness. Here is my list of pros and cons:
Overall, the pros far outweigh the cons, so I encourage you to take a look at these videos and add them to your fitness routine.
By Kate Feinberg Robins
As an adult ballet dancer, I am continually working to find that balance between correct technique and the joy of dancing. I’m always worried about protecting my lower back. Like many dancers, I spent years training to bend in all different directions, without always doing it correctly. As I got older, the flexibility stuck, but the strength to hold my posture in alignment did not.
Then there was pregnancy with its joint-loosening hormones, all the extra weight my body had never carried before, and my pelvic floor and ab muscles moving into new positions. Nearly two years after childbirth, it’s still a constant struggle to keep my knees, ankles, feet, and pelvis all safely warmed up and in safely aligned positions.
But the secret of ballet is that correct technique is what allows you to find a place of calm strength where you can confidently center yourself, feel the music, and let the joy of dancing move you.
Ballet technique is incredibly complicated. If studying ballet is new to you, or if you've never trained at a professional studio, this might come as a surprise. If you have been training for a while, you're probably painfully aware of how hard it is to simultaneously do the million and one things that make the most basic of steps look both correct and easy.
On his website A Ballet Education (aballeteducation.com), former professional dancer and ballet teacher David JoongWon King has written a series of blog posts with detailed notes and drawings explaining how to perform ballet steps correctly. He covers basics like second position and tendu devant, as well as more complex steps like pirouettes and attitude derrière.
For beginning students, these "Notes" on ballet technique will feel overwhelming and abstract. I encourage you to take a quick look anyway, for these reasons:
When we look at all A Ballet Education’s drawings of perfectly proportioned people performing ballet steps with perfect technique, it’s easy to lose sight of the joy of dancing. But hidden within this complexity are basic principles of alignment that can keep you dancing safely and confidently through all kinds of challenges.
Sometimes to rekindle that joy, we need to pause, re-center ourselves physically, become one with the music, and just dance.
By Kate Feinberg Robins
Mikhail Baryshnikov is widely considered to be the greatest male ballet dancer of all time. The strength and power of his dancing embody all of the reasons that ballet training can be such a powerful tool for athletes, artists, and all kinds of others.
If ever you thought that ballet was only for little girls, Baryshnikov’s performance in the 1985 movie White Nights will change your mind. If you want to see the whole movie, you can rent or buy it on YouTube. If you just want to see the most amazing dance scenes, you can watch them for free. Remember that it’s rated PG-13 and be prepared for some mature content. Here are my recommendations:
If you know a little girl who finds inspiration in pink tutus, good ballet training will teach her to channel that excitement into power and strength. If pink tutus aren’t your thing, check out Baryshnikov. You won’t be disappointed.
By Kate Feinberg Robins
My rediscovery of ballet after retiring from a pre-professional performance career at age 18 has been gradual, to say the least.
During my last couple years of high school, I was dancing lead roles with the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet and preparing to audition for professional companies, or to continue my training at professional schools if I wasn’t yet good enough to be hired. At 5’ 1”, good enough to be hired meant good enough to be a soloist. No one would hire a dancer my height for the corps.
I auditioned for American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company, and unsurprisingly, didn’t make it. I made the second cut at Julliard, but didn’t quite get in. I finished high school prepared to enter Butler University’s ballet program on a merit scholarship. There I would stay, perfecting my skills until I could finally get paid to do what I loved—or so I thought.
But during that summer between high school and college, I discovered that I no longer loved it enough to give up everything else. I wanted to reach beyond the walls of the dance studios and theatres, to do all those things I had always had to say no to. I wanted to study philosophy and travel the world.
It would be another ten years before I could enjoy a ballet class again. I was afraid to set foot in a studio and see how terrible my dancing had surely become. I was embarrassed to be seen at less than my prime. I feared that a ballet class would only bring frustration over what I could no longer do.
In the years after I stopped performing, I was occasionally asked to teach ballet—first to young gymnasts in Indiana, and later to professional flamenco dancers and amateur folk dancers in Chile. Eventually, I began seeking out opportunities to work with students who didn’t see ballet as a serious career option, but enjoyed and appreciated it alongside their main interests and pursuits.
I taught middle and high school students who cared more about orchestra, drama, academics, and athletics than ballet. I taught children who were enjoying their childhoods. I taught adults who were finishing their PhDs, building their careers, and raising their children. Through these students, I rediscovered my own love for ballet and discovered that it could be part of my life—and so many other people’s lives—without giving up everything else.
Ballet study as a casual pursuit has traditionally not been taken seriously by professionals. No one likes to see their profession cheapened by amateurs claiming to know it all. Yet, like with all fields, I think there is a happy medium. Students with a passing interest in a subject can learn from professionals with the awareness that their growing knowledge and skills will only ever scratch the surface.
Ballet study has a great deal to offer to adults and children of all ages with all kinds of goals and interests. The website balletforadults.com, while aimed primarily at adults, offers practical tips for any casual student who is serious about doing their best in ballet class, even if their best will never be good enough for a professional career.
What I like most about this site is that it clearly explains things that tend to be taken for granted in ballet classrooms. When young people train intensively, they are socialized into the norms of ballet study. For casual students who take the occasional class or start learning later in life, this socialization doesn’t happen. They enter the studio unaware of where they should stand, what they should wear, or how they should address the teacher. Balletforadults.com breaks down these norms, kind of like a guide book for tourists who don’t expect to pass for natives, but do hope to get by and enjoy themselves.
This website is also a great example of the kind of high quality work that can be accomplished when professionals from a variety of fields put their energy into promoting ballet. The blog’s creators are graphic designers, photographers, writers, and teachers. Their skills in all of these areas shine through in a beautifully presented and accessible blog.
My main critique of the site is that despite its posts encouraging all kinds of people to study ballet, the photographs portray almost exclusively slender young women. If you don’t see yourself on this site, don’t be deterred. Just take it as a useful source of information, so that you can go into your next ballet class a little better informed.