Becoming a Ballet Dancer – How I Study Ballet 7 Days A Week

I have been taking ballet class every single day for more than three months. This is an accomplishment the lack of which I often hear people bemoan in their exercise routines: they want to do more, but don’t. I’ve been there, too – wanting more exercise than I actually do. How, then, have I managed this seemingly heroic feat of fitness proficiency?

I also record regular videos of my practice at GiveIt100.com

I also record regular videos of my practice at GiveIt100.com

My answer is simple: I haven’t. It hasn’t felt like a challenge. It is no longer an insurmountable task for me to try to accomplishing a regular fitness schedule. It has not been a challenge. I see this also in my personal training clients – going to the gym and working out daily strikes many people as an impossible feat, but when they are actually exercising regularly it feels easy. What changed?

Pleasure in Movement

The biggest difference I see between people who exercise regularly and those who don’t is the pleasure in movement. This by itself won’t make the exercise habit, but the lack of pleasure will probably break it. If you haven’t found a form of movement or exercise that you enjoy, yet keep looking. I went through a dozen martial arts before find some that I wanted to study. I also have some thoughts on community, that shape the kinds of training I do.

Start small

Using the TinyHabits.com model, I made one small change at a time. Since I was already somewhat familiar with ballet, this meant taking one ballet class. When I found that I liked that, I scheduled one more. I had planned to just take one a week for three months. I quickly moved to 2 a week, 5 a week and now take between 7 and 9 classes each week. It is hard to believe at first, but when we start with (and celebrate) small changes, they quickly grow bigger and then can go exponential.

Begin With Yes

The next biggest thing is that I never ask myself “would I like to go to ballet.” Sometime if I’m injured or ill or out of town for work, I am not able to make a class. But when I’m home I never “Would I like to go” because sometimes the answer to that question is “No, I do not want to take ballet today. I do not want to get out of bed!” Instead, the tacit assumption I hold is “I’m going to ballet.” Or even: “I am going to ballet.” Starting from this standpoint it is much easier to actually get to class.

Ending Well

As I wrote about in the last three movements the endings of things is very important. For more, review the Peak-End Cognitive Bias. What this means for me in ballet, is that by ending ballet with the movements that I most enjoy – big, dynamic leaps across the floor – I set myself up to remember best the parts of the dance that I most enjoy. There is another part of most ballet classes called Petite Alegro, which I often do not enjoy, mostly because I am far outclassed by other dancers in my studio and don’t yet understand much of what I’m being asked to do. If I were to end on that frustrated note every class, I am sure that I would have a much less pleasant memory of each class, and be much less likely to continue.

Steps Towards Perfection

Something else I have done to further my training is practice making smaller circles. By this I mean that I have not perfected the perfect training schedule for myself, any more than I had 4 months ago when I started with one class each week. Right now I am trying to supplement my 7-days-a-week schedule with private lessons, men’s class, and partnering. There are also small questions about where all of this dancing is going to lead – but I’m not going to get into all of those quite yet.

Ask Yourself Questions

Yet another aspect I have incorporated is asking more loving questions. During petit allegro recently I was moving across the floor and nearly tripped and fell. Regardless of whether anyone else noticed, I felt mortified. It would have been very easy to remain in that embarrassed state and let that attitude ruin the rest of class. Instead, I stepped to the side and asked myself a couple of loving questions.

  • How do you feel that you almost slipped and fell?
  • I feel embarrassed?
  • How come you feel embarrassed?

By following this line of questions for few moments, I was able to quickly shortcut my discomfort and resume dancing at as high a level as I had been previously. Without those questions, I would have maintained my discomfort and it would have interfered with the rest of my training.

Break Down the Steps

Another aspect that I have done in practicing ballet is begin to break down all of the steps of the dance. I have taken this list of ballet movements, and instead of memorizing it verbatim, I have applied my own terminally to each aspect without looking at the actual definitions. This has allowed me to see clearly the types of movements that I know well, and the areas where I lack understanding.

Making Progress

I measure my progress in several different ways. I use Karen X’s GiveIt100.com to record video of my dancing. While this can measure progress, thus far it just provides me a medium to notice aspects of technique that I can improve. Over time I will also compare specific aspects of ballet across multiple videos.

In the last two years I’ve trained several dozen different forms of movement. In the last 3 months I have trained one, religiously. I’m not sure where I’ll be with this in a couple more months, or what to do when I want to train more then there are hours in the day! But for now, I’m enjoying the ride and consistently fascinated by what make me tick.

I’d love to hear from you! Which of these tools is the most relevant to you and why? And what have I left off that you’ve found useful? Leave a comment below!