As former ballet dancers ourselves, we had to start this blog off with our favorite topic: technique! Strong (and consistent) technical training is the foundation of any great dancer.
The ability to tap into your artistry, virtuosity, and exploration comes when you’ve got solid technique under your belt.
Because that’s when you can really push your limits without hyper-focusing on engaging your deep core muscles or turning out your supporting leg. When technique becomes natural—and remember, it’s a continuous process (so keep taking class!)—that’s when the magic really happens.
Take class consistently. Dance isn’t the same as other hobbies you can just ‘pick back up’ after a time off. Dance is a marriage of the mind and body —and both have to be in sync and in shape. Even during performance and rehearsal season, you’ll see professional dancers taking ballet class 5-6 days a week. Of course it’s great to take a vacation once in a while. But committing to taking class consistently helps reduce the risk of injury, keeps you honing your craft, and reminds you that dance is a practice (not just a performance).
Take one class each week where you’re ‘the best’ and one where you’re ‘the worst.’ Now, take those terms with a grain of salt—What we mean is that you should spend one class per week feeling like you’re nailing it and one where you’re…humbled and have to work extra hard just to keep up. Don’t compete with your peers in class, but do vibe off their energy, challenging one another to jump higher in grand allegro or to go for that triple instead of a double pirouette. And remember, when it’s not your turn on the ‘floor,’ watch. Not only is it disrespectful to dance or chat with your friends on the side of the studio, but you can learn so much from watching your fellow dancers in class.
Focus on the little things. It can feel overwhelming to simply think, I have to become a ‘better’ dancer. Each class, rehearsal, or performance, determine one or two small corrections you can focus on. For example, Today I’m going to hold my passé for one more millisecond before I land my pirouettes. Or I am going to challenge myself to go first when the class splits up to perform in small groups. Once these changes become second nature, focus on another small change. You’ll be surprised how quickly they build up and how much of a difference even the tiniest changes can make.
Try something new (and try it again). Versatility is incredibly important for dancers today — no matter if you’re pursuing ballet, Broadway, concert dance, or a commercial career. Having experience in different styles of dance can be the special skill that lands you a job. It can also help inform your primary genre of dance. If you are bunhead, consider taking a modern dance class to explore floorwork, bare feet, and grounding movement. If jazz is your go-to, take a class in one of the genres that helped inspire what we now know as ‘jazz’ – East Indian, Afro-Cuban, and American Lindy hop. There are so many styles of dance to try and taking any of them will only make you a smarter and stronger dancer.
In addition to a new style of dance, consider taking a class in another performing art. You’d be surprised how acting, acrobatics, voice, improvisation, music, and even martial arts can supplement your dancing. Additionally, these special skills will make you all the more marketable as a performing artist.
Ask for feedback. Sure, your dance teachers give you corrections during class and notes after rehearsals, but opening the door to ask for more holistic feedback can help guide what you need to work on long-term. Reach out to a teacher you trust and ask if they’d be open to spending some time over email, on the phone, or after class to chat about your strengths, opportunities, progress, and goals. If you need some question prompts, ask In what ways have I grown as a dancer over the past year? In what areas do I need to work to improve? Are there any additional classes or summer intensives that you would recommend to me?
Set goals and make a plan. How can you work towards a goal if you haven’t articulated what that goal is? This point harks back to our talk about personal branding a few months ago. Before you embark on your journey, you’re going to need a map. That’s why it’s important to first focus on your core values, aspirations, and identity – what makes you you. That’s your home base. Only then can you map out your course – the path and specific steps to get you from point A to point B. For example, if your dream is to become a principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, your main markers might look like:
- Attend PNB Summer Intensive
- Audition for apprenticeship with PNB
- Join the company’s corps de ballet
- Rise to soloist
- Rise to principal
And in between each marker you would list the tactics to help you get you there. While making a big 5 or 10-year plan can feel overwhelming, remember that nothing is set in stone. Maybe your journey won’t look as linear as you had anticipated…That’s okay. In fact, sometimes the pivots and turns end up leading us to a more exciting opportunity than we could have ever imagined! Remember what we said last week? It’s about the practice—not just the performance. Have an idea of where you want to go, and also be open to what else opens up to you along the way.
Whew—That’s a lot to work on! And that’s just what happens in the studio. Next week we’ll start talking about the ways you can become a better dancer even when you’re not donning your pink tights and pointe shoes. Curious? Subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss all the contenting we’re cooking up!
Photo: Isabella Aldridge by Rachel Neville