Ballet Class Etiquette

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Is a Ballet class a very strict environment? 
Is there Ballet class etiquette that you must know or risk the wrath of the teacher?

Yes and no.  It greatly depends on the type of class you go to.  Are you joining a ballet school that demands you wear a set uniform and will study for exams? The rules are stricter rules if you intend to progress through the grades system.

Or are you going to Ballet classes for fun and fitness?

There are different standards of behavior expected in different types of classes. 

But there are also similarities; there are a few basic elements presents in all Ballet classes that are done a specific way simply because that's the way dancers do it. 

Here, you'll find the main things you'll need for any Ballet class, regardless of the level.  Observing these bits of tradition and etiquette will simply help you to feel more at home in your class.

General Ballet class etiquette tips

You must turn up on time.  Ballet class starts at the barre and if you're late, not only will you have missed vital exercises but you'll have to squeeze yourself into a space on the barre causing those in front and behind you to have to shift their positions, which isn't fair.  There are some Ballet teachers who, once the class starts, shut the studio door and that's it.  There's no entrance for any latecomers.  You've been warned.

There's really no talking in Ballet classes, whether you are a kid starting out, a teen studying for exams or a grown-up there for fun. It's an hour to concentrate on the teacher and on your own body, and your dancing improves with no distractions like comparing yourself to or gossiping with the person next to you.
It's the same quiet calm as a yoga class, although a good teacher will include a few well placed laughs.  A good Ballet class has a quietly courteous atmosphere.

Be respectful of the floor, particularly if it's wooden.  Don't wear your outdoor shoes into the studio.

Ballet barre etiquette

On the barre, make sure you've got enough room between you and the people in front and behind so that you can do a grande battement in each position and not touch either the person in front or behind you.

As you can see from the pictures below, Lizzie needs a reasonable amount of room around her to be able to perform this step properly, so take a moment when you find your space on the barre and make sure you're not in imminent danger of kicking someone, or of being kicked yourself.

When dancing on the barre, you will perform one set of a step with one leg, holding onto the barre with your opposite hand (you can see this above).  You'll then turn around to face the opposite direction, hold the barre with your other hand so that you can do the step with your other leg.
Deborah has some pointers on this for you.

And one last pointer for when you're at the barre.  Even though there is always a spread of ability in beginners classes, there should be no hierarchy.  Pupils who can quite clearly dance well and who are perhaps in the class because they've had a break from dancing, are not superior to those doing the class for the very first time.  So if, for example, there are portable barres that need to be cleared away after the barre section, everyone should pitch in and help.

Etiquette for dancing in the center

When you move into the central space of the studio, again, make sure you have enough room around you - don't crowd other people or allow them to crowd you.  You should have enough space around you to stretch out your arms and not touch anyone or the walls.

If the class is split (you take turns to do steps), don't talk or sit down in between the steps that you do.  Pay attention when the other class members are doing their steps.

There is no official hello in Ballet but there is a recognized and important farewell. 
The curtsey or reverence is your way of saying thank you to your teacher.  The class doesn't end until you've done this. (Some classes then applaud after the curtsey, some don't. But you always curtsey.) 

Ballet etiquette and Ballet clothes

And finally...

Good etiquette demands that you observe the 'rules' of your environment. 
And in Ballet class that includes ensuring that you come to your class wearing the correct kit.

You must dress appropriately for your class.  But what's 'appropriate' if you've never been to a Ballet class before?

If there's one tip we have to pass on, it is that you simply talk to your teacher before you turn up for your class and give him or her the chance to outline their expectations with regard to shoes and dancewear.

It would be terrible to turn up to your first class and find that you've brought exactly the wrong type of shoes with you. 

And this is usually the fault of the teacher. 

Suzanne says...
"We've posted a version of this elsewhere in our Ballet guide, but it's important for you to know so it's worth repeating.  Forgive us, it's something we feel strongly about so it's a bit of a rant."

All Ballet teachers launching a new class for beginners should make the effort to be very clear about what type of dancewear and specifically shoes they want you to wear, and good teachers always do this.

But, annoyingly, some teachers don't bother, believing that all new pupils can magically read the teacher's mind and know what's expected of them. 

It's incredibly frustrating to hear Ballet teachers moan about pupils who have turned up for a beginners class with a brand new pair of shiny pink satin Ballet slippers with the ribbons all neatly sewn on. 
"Why did they buy those?"  "They're totally unsuitable for my class", "They really should know to buy black leather slippers - they're far more practical" and so on. 

But hang on a moment, did you actually make the time to communicate to your class what shoes to buy?  No?  Then you have no cause for complaint, lazy teacher. 

The pupil, left to their own devices with no guidance at all, has simply shown willing to bring what they consider to be Ballet slippers to the class.  They are to be commended for their effort, not bawled out for 'getting it wrong'.

So if you are at all unclear about what to bring to your class, you have to steer your teacher a bit.  Make it easy for them to give you the information you need.  Ask specifics "Should my shoes have ribbons or elastic sewn on?  What color slippers are best?" and don't be afraid to ask for clarification if the teacher uses a term or says something you don't understand.

Then you'll make sure that you are dressed properly for your class and can concentrate on your dancing and not on your outfit.

There's more on the topic of Ballet clothes and Ballet shoes in the next part of our guide.

› Ballet class etiquette