Do you feel like you spend a lot of time dancing but make relatively little progress? Does it feel like irrespective of the effort you aren’t getting any better? As with everything in life, improving in ballet is about working smart, not just working hard. Practice for the sake of practice is ineffective, we must employ a great deal of consciousness in order to progress. Read on for our top tips on how to get better faster!
I swear by getting to every class 15 minutes early. Why? Because a warm up before class is excellent preparation – physically and mentally. Firstly, warming your muscles and body up with a few simple joint rotations, sit ups and kicks helps you to get far more out of the barre. A warmer body will give you a slightly greater range of motion and you will be more ready to push yourself. Secondly, a warm up before the barre is a quiet way to centre yourself, after a while you may find it becomes a little ritualistic and you feel weird without it. It is a few minutes to reconnect with your breath and get in tune with your body. This active effort of centring usually leads to better focus and a better class
Go back to the basics
Progress is quick in the beginning as there is so much we can learn. After a while of improving, we can feel we have plateaued, we feel stuck and simply can’t get to the next level. It could be that no matter how long you’ve danced, you still can’t pirouette, or your turn out is still stuck at 30 degrees! When we repeatedly hit a road block, it can indicate that our fundamentals aren’t quite right. Going back to the basics means checking the foundations of your training. Is your pelvis neutral? Are you engaging the right muscles? Do you start and land your moves in the right positions? Correcting our basic alignment can often dramatically improve our balance, coordination and the consistency of our movement
It is very tempting to ‘cheat’ in class – trust me, I get it. When I see my turnout in the mirror, I am certainly tempted to push my feet outwards and draw a perfect 180 line. All this does is strain my ankles and knees and limit my ability to work out the correct muscles. In general, forcing our bodies into positions we don’t yet have the strength or flexibility for is physically damaging and delays improvement. Whilst we may get away with it at the barre, it certainly won’t work in the centre. There is a definite trade-off between making a move look momentarily nicer and doing the move correctly. We may feel less good about the latter, but it provides an opportunity for genuine improvement. When we cheat, we remove that opportunity. Cheating means we train ourselves into creating the illusion of something, rather than actually doing it. It is hard to turn in and to lower the extensions, but sometimes it is necessary. We have to do things right before we can do them well
When people give you corrections – write them down!
This might sound obvious and basic, but it is true. Apparently, we retain approximately 20% of what we hear, hence, writing things down is an important exercise. Though we may absorb information in the moment, if you find yourself hearing the same corrections again and again, take the initiative to remind yourself and self-correct during class. The more progress we make on our own, the more our teachers can push us to the next level.
Do your work outside of the studio
Nobody ever got better by practising in the studio alone. This is a fact. Advancing in ballet depends a lot on conditioning. Strengthening your feet, improving your flexibility, core exercises and stamina are hard to develop in class alone. It is this conditioning that keeps you in peak physical condition and helps you to get the most out of your class. Enhancing your stamina helps you to push yourself in class, better core strength enables better extensions, and Pilates and yoga can improve general balance and coordination. In particular, if there is one move you just don’t get, you have to repeat it, again and again and again - in your own time! To improve, we need to rely on our muscle memory, there is simply not enough time in class to develop it. The majority of classes work your memory and your ability to learn and perform steps relatively quickly. A different set of skills is required to deeply understand the movement, even mentally visualising and recalling steps helps.
Choose a focal point!
There is so much going on in ballet – your feet, legs, core, arm alignment, head alignment and so on and so on! It can be so overwhelming, particularly when we try to master everything at once. To really improve, we need to be strategic. This can happen organically at the beginning of taking up ballet, e.g. you focus on your feet alone, because you don’t have the capacity to do anything else. However, once we get more coordinated and can follow classes better, we stop specialising, we try to do everything. I have a long list of things I am working on – all the time. And I know I can’t do it all at once. I often don’t hold my arms correctly and don’t engage my back, I also often sickle my feet. It is hard to improve everything at once. At the barre, I consciously focus on my feet, ensuring I use the floor and move through demi-pointe. Then in the centre, I shift my conscious awareness to my arms, and ensure they are fully extended.
It might sound like a lot of effort, but the conscious decision to focus on one thing can also make dance more enjoyable, it feels more manageable and we are better able to recognise when we have improved. Choose one thing to focus on at a time, and shift this focus throughout the class.
Learn the terminology
Becoming more familiar with the terminology can enhance your ability to pick up moves in class and put more complex sequences together. When the names of moves becomes more familiar, our mind is better able to comprehend a sequence of exercises. We can then shift our attention from memorising to executing, and this helps us to improve faster.
Lastly and most importantly, give up your sense of embarrassment
The biggest thing that deters us from improving is a fear of embarrassment, of getting things wrong and looking awkward. To improve, you need to challenge yourself. Once we get more comfortable, we can stop seeking this challenge out. We can get complacent and do what we know we can, afraid of looking silly if we try something new. Consciously push yourself in class. Try more turns, dance more expressively, stand at the front of class. For more ideas on how to do this – check out our blog post London Ballet’s Class Challenge’ - containing 10 ideas on how to push yourself further in class! Let us know how you get on.
Do you have any other tips on how to improve faster? Share them in the comments below!