Everything you need to know before your first ballet class

The New Year is approaching and it always brings new opportunities, new challenges and new experiences. Many people will be thinking about their New Year resolutions, and exercising or joining a new class is usually pretty high up that list. January is the most popular time of year for beginner ballet classes, because so many people commit to finally trying something they have been meaning to do for a long time! If you are one of those people and ready to embark on your ballet journey – congratulations! This will prove to be an exciting new chapter, you will reconnect with your body, learn to push yourself, grow in confidence and strength and fall in love with movement. Ballet is an extremely beautiful and elegant dance form, but it is also extremely difficult and requires immense dedication and patience. This is why it can feel so daunting to walk into a studio for the first time. If you are about to brave it, the below tips may help you to get a better understanding of what your first class will be like.

Beginners ballet is usually mixed ability

Many different people attend beginner’s ballet classes, including those who are completely new and are taking their very first dance lesson, those who have been attending beginner’s ballet classes for some time (from weeks to months to years) and those who are returning to ballet after a long break or an injury. Everybody engages with ballet in different ways, some people drop-in to classes intermittently, others attend far more regularly. In certain studios, advanced and intermediate students often stay after their lessons and take beginners lessons as a cool down and use the opportunity to go back to basic technique training. Other people have been attending the same class for years and therefore know the teacher’s style very well. This means you need to be prepared for the fact that people attending the class will have a range of experiences, and many of them may not look like complete beginners at all!

This can be intimidating and surprising, but do not be put off. If this is worrying, you can try to attend an ‘Absolute Beginners’ course or speak to the teacher of your class beforehand to determine what the level is like. Remember that having people in the class of a higher standard is a really good thing, there are more people to follow (as you can’t always have eyes on the teacher) and you can learn a lot from observing and mirroring those around you.

How the class is structured

All standard ballet classes will be divided into two parts, barre work and centre work. At the barre, students have one hand on a barre and use this to balance themselves while they work through a series of exercises. If it is your first class, try not to stand at one end of the barre, this is because barre exercises are done on both sides, so once you turn around, there may not be anyone in front of you for you to copy, and it is hard to memorise full exercises in your first lesson. Place yourself in the middle of the barre between two people who seem to know what they are doing. Centre work involves coming away from the barre and doing exercises without holding onto anything. What exercises you do in the centre depends on how your teacher structures the class. Again, it is valuable to stand behind some more experienced people, so you can copy them. Most studios also have a mirror, you can use this as a means of looking straight ahead whilst still having people to follow. During centre work, teachers usually split the class into the following exercises:

Port De bra: This officially means ‘movement of the arms’ but it is usually a general warm up using the whole body, focusing on finding your balance

Centre practice: This often involves learning how to transfer your weight, key focal and linking steps and potentially pirouettes

Adage: A slower exercise, focusing on strength and control, it often involves lifting your legs off the ground. It has a graceful and fluid quality which requires core strength and balance

Petit Allegro - these are small jumps focusing on elevation and faster footwork

Grand Allegro - bigger jumps, typically incorporates harder moves and travels across the studio (most beginners classes do not include Grand Allegro)

The majority of beginner’s classes focus more on the barre and have less time in the centre (this is because the standard intention of beginner’s classes is often to develop basic technique and coordination). Your teacher may do some of these centre exercises, a combination of these or something else. Each ballet class is unique, but in general, you can usually expect the class to get a bit harder as it goes on

You will be totally confused at one point


At some point in your first class you will likely feel lost and unable to follow the steps. You may feel completely out of your depth and unsure of how to participate. This is very common for a first ballet class – do not let it put you off! Ballet requires a level of coordination we do not employ in our daily lives. The process of learning takes some time, but this doesn’t mean you won’t get it. If you are struggling, try to focus on one part of the body (just start with the feet and focus on travelling in the right direction). As the weeks progress and you get better at following, you can then add in the arms and head alignments. Be prepared to struggle a little even if you are generally well coordinated and do other sports or physical activities. Ballet uses different muscles, so you have to try it and get it wrong a few times before you can improve, but this is what makes it interesting!

Get ready to be sweaty!

People are always surprised at how much of a workout ballet can be. It is quite high intensity and even those with good stamina and general fitness struggle. A lot of ballet exercises require you to engage your core and this can make the class strenuous and tiring. Be prepared to get hot and sweaty! Wear loose, breathable clothing and take a bottle of water or juice with you. Another good thing to note, is that you should only ever sip water during class. Don’t drink huge quantities because this can make jumping harder and you can end up feeling sick

Be prepared for the attitude – and I don’t just mean the pose!

Ballet has a reputation for being bitchy – and I don’t really agree with that. In the most part, when you get to know people, they are friendly, warm and helpful! This being said, certain classes can have a semi-hostile atmosphere – people are in the class to train and they can take it very seriously. I have been to classes where people do not really engage with each other and don’t strike up much conversation. This is usually just them working hard, but it can make you feel a little uncomfortable in your first class. I am quite talkative and friendly, so it took me a while to get used to this. My advice is to initially try out classes which are not too big, because this provides more opportunity to get to know people and make friends. It is also a great idea to try your first ballet class with a friend, so you have one another person to talk to if you wish. In the beginning, finding a class that feels nurturing, inclusive and supportive is a good idea, it is this atmosphere that makes you want to go back week after week. It may take a few different trial classes to find what is right for you, so don’t necessarily settle on the first class you try.

And last but not least ….

You will feel amazing afterwards


There is no better feeling than doing what you were scared to do. The embarrassment, nerves and mess ups are all worth it for this moment of achievement ….

Now you are aware of what to expect, it is time to get out there and try a class! Remember to have fun, enjoy it, laugh a little when things go wrong and always be in a position where you can copy someone if you get lost! If you think our classes might be the right place to start, you check them out here or use our contact page to get in touch!

Happy dancing!