Ballet class guide

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Ballet for beginners class

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An adult beginners Ballet class can be a very gentle dance lesson, calm and slow, easy to follow with everything explained in a lot of detail.

Or, at the other end of the scale, it can be haphazard, confrontational and downright unpleasant.

This is where you learn how to distinguish one Ballet class from the other and find one that's right for you.

We'll also guide you through what the structure of your class is likely to be and where the best place in the studio is. 

So armed with all this insider info, hopefully you'll feel confident and relaxed when you join your first adult Ballet class.

Ballet Studios

You will have perhaps seen pictures of Ballet studios that are beautiful – flooded with natural light, a polished, immaculate sprung wooden floor, shiny mirrors. And yes, there are studios that look like this and are obsessively maintained.  How do they keep this floor so shiny?

Ballet Studio

However, don't get your hopes up too high. And please don't be disappointed if you turn up for your Ballet class and it's held in a dingy studio with linoleum on the floor, peeling paintwork and a small grimy mirror covered in sweaty handprints.

This is pretty standard and even to be expected.

It's the quality of teaching that will have the greatest impact on your dancing ability, not the environment. A brilliantly taught class held in your local school gym is far better than a badly taught class in a dazzling, shiny studio.

Oh, and you'll need to get used to the faint smell of sweaty feet. That goes with the territory too, no matter how fancy the studio looks…

If the space you are in is a dedicated dance studio, you'll see wall mounted barres (more on these in a moment), and big mirrors. But dance classes are frequently held in gyms, village halls, theatres and sports clubs where they adapt to many different uses. So there are a few things that need to be done to these adaptable spaces to make them suitable for Ballet classes.
In a Ballet class for adults it is fairly common to see newbies who are quite simply terrified. You'll see this too when you first go, although hopefully with the help of this guide you won't actually be one of them! But most people will hang back. Cringing into the walls. You can see the whites of their eyes from across the studio.  So...

Best tip
It's natural to feel self conscious.  But helping to set up the studio or at least offering to help can give you something useful to do rather than hugging the walls.  So pitch in, and the next time you go to the class, you'll know exacly what to do.

Setting Up The Ballet Studio

A Ballet class will always start at the barre – approximately half of your class will be spent at the barre. These are the horizontal, usually wooden bars that are attached to the walls of the studio.

If there are two or more parallel to one another on the wall, choose the one that is somewhere in between your waist and hip height.

Quite often, more barre space is needed than is provided by the permanent fixtures (or, as described above, your class is being held in an area that isn't a dedicated dance studio) so portable barres are brought in.

Usually, the pupils are expected to help move portable barres into the center of the room. Do help out – all this rearranging the furniture takes time and can eat into your precious dancing lesson. It'll also help you feel part of the class, as per our tip above.

So, now you are in a space that has Ballet barres in it, whether attached to the walls or not. But take a moment to think about where you want to stand...

Generally speaking, if the studio has a mirror on one wall, this is regarded as the 'front' of the studio. Because dance studios are sometimes shoe-horned into awkward spaces, some don't have an obvious focal point or front. Generally the mirror indicates which way to face. If there is no mirror to guide you, you'll have to watch which way everybody else seems to be facing in order to work out where your focus should be.

So find a place to stand next to the barre, facing front.

And stand far enough away from the people in front of and behind you to make sure that you have plenty of room around you for your barre exercises.

The rule of thumb is, you should be able to lift up your leg straight in front of you and behind you and not touch a wall or anyone else.

Then, take a moment to think about how to use the barre, as explained in our Ballet Barre section.

Ballet Pupils at the Ballet Barre

It is not uncommon to have the portable barres placed hurriedly and haphazardly around the studio, especially if the room isn't a regular shape. This can result in you losing the thread of which way you should be facing as you try to follow the movements of a teacher as they weave their way around the class.

This frequently results in flying legs crashing into one another which is painful, disorienting and can make you feel stupid. And often it's the teacher who gets this wrong, and instead of organizing the barres and the pupils so that everyone can see them, they end up trying to teach pupils who are having to crane their necks to see.

Just make sure you can clearly see the teacher from where you are. So take a little time to make sure you've got a good spot.

OK, so you've managed to get over the threshold and find a good position on the barre. Well done! Truly, that is the most scary part over with. Now relax and enjoy your Ballet class.


Firstly, your teacher should introduce themselves. It is surprising just how often a teacher forgets to do this.

They may also ask new pupils a little about themselves, particularly 'Do you have any previous dancing experience?' or 'Have you done a Ballet class before?'. That gives the teacher a feel for the standard of the class. But this doesn't always happen and please don't feel left out if your teacher just breezes into the room and starts teaching – this is quite normal.

Ballet Class Structure

Most Ballet classes follow the same structure. The first half of your lesson will be spent at the barre, the second half dancing in the main space of the studio without the barres for support.

So, firstly let's explore the barre in a little more detail. It's here that 'Propping Up The Bar' takes on a whole new meaning...

At the Ballet Barre

You'll probably spend about half of your Ballet class at the barre, although this can vary. You'll do exercises that increase with difficulty, from the very basic pointing of the foot, to the quite demanding Grande Battement. The Ballet barre exercises section has more detail.

All the work you do on the barre will be done on both sides of the body in turn.

For example, if you are standing with the barre on your left hand side, resting your left hand on it, it is your left leg that will support you and you will be doing your exercises with your right leg (your 'working' leg). Once you have completed the exercise, you will turn around so that your right hand rests on the barre and your right leg supports you while you do the exercise with your left leg. When you turn around, you teacher will walk from the front of the class to the back, which you are now facing, so you can see them.

So if you are lined up at the barre and you are head of the queue right in front of the teacher, when the class turns around to do the same movement on the other leg, you'll be right at the back of the class for a while. This is better than just permanently being in the middle with no clear view.

There's lots more you need to know about the barre that's covered in our dedicated sections, including good posture when standing at the barre and basic barre exercises. If you haven't already seen our Ballet barre information and a photo gallery of how to use the barre, start here.

Ballet Class Content

A good Ballet class will start by teaching you Ballet posture and getting you familiar with how to position your body in order to execute the steps correctly. This should be followed by a some quick tips on how to point your feet for Ballet.  And next you'll be introduced to the Five Basic Ballet Positions. They are very easy to master when explained simply.

So, in your first Ballet class you've got a lot to take in. Not only do you have feet and arm positions to think about, but you'll also be given instruction on where your head, shoulders, hips and bottom should be too.

Scowling with concentration at this point is common! Don't worry, everybody goes through this and if you give it your best shot, before long you'll be doing all these things automatically. But you'll soon see why it's so valuable to have a go at these positions before you go to a class, using our photo guides. And, don't forget that to be in the posture of a ballerina within the first few minutes of being in a Ballet class for the first time is to achieve something extraordinary. Be proud of yourself and the way you can look with just the correct arm and feet position and a beautiful tilt of the head.

Now, you are going to start your first exercise. The teacher should clearly demonstrate what they expect you to do – and to start with it probably isn't going to be any more demanding than pointing your foot and relaxing it again.

It is here that you will notice that the exercises and movements are usually referred to by their French names. Panic not! You will get used to this surprisingly quickly, and we cover some of them in our Five Positions and Barre exercises sections to give you a heads up on what you're likely to hear.

For now, if you skipped over those sections, try doing some of the clips from Deborah's class

She is what we think of as the gold standard of teaching - if you're lucky, you'll be able to find a Ballet teacher who is as kind, considerate and gifted as her. See how slowly and carefully and thoroughly she explains everything to the new pupils? Your class should be equally easy to follow, if you find a good one.

So you see, learning Ballet really isn't difficult at all, when it's taught well.

There's much more to tell you...

› Ballet class part 1