Dancer's Diary October '16

So, what's been happening in the world of dance? 
This month, I look at:-

  • The dance video of October is one for you to join in with
  • The dance image of the month is one of my all-time favorites
  • Top Tip for pupils - the single most important question you can ask a dance teacher
  • Top Tip for teachers - the one thing you can do that'll make your pupils adore you
  • My product of the month is... ours, with the best discount ever
  • And finally, snuggle up with my pick of dance themed movies for Fall

Video of the month

October 4th was World Ballet Day, and to celebrate, ballet companies around the world were live-streaming behind the scenes footage of the day-to-day life of their dancers.

If you missed them, you'll find hours of the stuff up on YouTube – just search for World Ballet Day 2106 and you’ll be spoilt for choice – San Francisco Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, The Australian Ballet, Houston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Scottish Ballet to name a few.

The clip I’ve picked below is from The Royal Ballet, demonstrating a short barre exercise.  Fancy joining in?

Boy, that turnout is something to aim for, isn't it?

Favorite dance pic this month

Claire Calvert from The Royal Ballet

Just look at that makeup...

Dancers by Andrej Uspenski

I think this look is absolutely divine - sheer perfection.  It's so theatrical, and yet somehow it's not too over-the-top.

The image was taken by another Royal Ballet dancer - Andrej Uspenski - who captured lots of the dancers back stage and in rehearsal in his book 'Dancers - behind the scenes with The Royal Ballet'.

The images are gorgeous and timeless.

If you can afford to treat yourself, get the hardcover edition; this is something that deserves to be viewed the way it was intended and not just on a digital device.

How not to mess up your first dance class

In this regular feature, I'll be choosing one topic for pupils and one for teachers on how to get the most from your first adult dance classes...

And this month, both tips are all around the subject of communication.

Top tip for pupils

The single most important question to ask your teacher is what, exactly?  

I think it’s fair to say that if you're thinking of signing up for adult beginner dance classes, you will get the most from the experience if you’re honest about what you know and what you don’t.  Let me explain...

I’ve come across a few ex-pupils (and a few teachers, too) who have had a less-than-great experience of dance classes for adults.  And a lot of the time, the fall-out seems to be around expectations.  The pupils expect they know what to do, what to wear, how things are going to be.  And the teacher expects the pupil to simply ‘know’ things without ever having taught them.  Here’s a real scenario from an adult beginner ballet class that I was told about:

PUPIL:  What shoes do I need for your class?
TEACHER:  Ballet slippers are ideal.  You can do the first class in socks if you want, but most of the pupils have ballet slippers.
That was the end of the conversation.

The pupil thinks she knows what ballet slippers are.  The teacher thinks the pupil knows what she means by 'ballet slippers'.  But here's where it all goes wrong...

The pupil goes out and buys a pair of pink satin ballet slippers and yards of ribbon.  She proceeds to sew the ribbons on wrong and do them up wrong.  However, in the pupil’s mind, she’s showing willing, and has turned up to her first lesson in what she believes you wear to ballet class.  Bless her – 'A' for effort.

But the teacher thinks - 'F' for execution.  She hates pink slippers that look so shoddy so quickly and worse, satin, which has all the staying power of ice cream in the oven.  What she meant by ballet slippers was a black leather pair with elastic across the foot.

Just a little more communication would have solved this problem, right?  And yes, if the teacher is adamant that there’s one type of slipper that's ideal – in this case, black leather – she should have told the pupil that.  But, we’re all human, and teachers get a lot of calls at the beginning of term from people asking all sorts of questions, so it’s easy to sometimes forget to be specific.  So, pupils, whenever you’re asking for information when signing up to classes, the most useful question to remember to ask is… “What do you mean by that?”.  

Whether you’ve asked for information on shoes, clothes, fees, class content, whatever.  Don’t make any assumptions about what the teacher is telling you and always ask for specifics.  It can save an awful lot of heartache.  And starting your dance classes full of confidence, knowing that you’re in the right gear and your expectations are accurate, makes the process so much more enjoyable.

Top tip for teachers

How can you make the first five minutes of your class magical?  It isn’t what you think.

This will sound mundane, but actually, secretly, your pupils will love you for it.

When you very first meet your pupils at the very first class of the semester or course, don’t lecture them from a mile away at the front of the studio.  Get them to huddle around, really see you and get into your air space.  Quietly and respectfully explain the studio works... 

Do you allow people to bring in water bottles?  Wear outdoor shoes?  People to join the class if they've arrived late?  People to watch if they want to bring someone with them?  Car parking, changing rooms location, toilets location, keeping windows open or shut, moving portable barres, the format of the class, what you’ll include, “when I say this, this is what I mean”.  Quickly run through all the 'admin' you can think of.  Everything you know and take for granted.  The boring stuff.  Because trust me, it works wonders. 

Is he explaining a step or sharing the best local parking? Could go either way

This little huddle at the beginning of the first class goes an incredibly long way to making your pupils feel cherished, respected and relaxed.  They’ll view you as kind and approachable, and you’ll get so much more from them if they are comfortable in your presence.  It’s a key factor in building a relationship that’ll keep them coming back each week.  And they’ll dance all the more confidently for feeling like they are valued by their thoughtful teacher.

(And I should say at this point, that even if you publish all of this on a leaflet or on your website, bother to say it in person.  It's not just useful information about how to find the toilet, or how to set up the studio; it's their chance to properly meet you up close and get to know you a little.)

So few teachers bother to do this.  And worse – many don’t give orientation detail or even simple rules, but bark at people for getting things ‘wrong’.  Pupils simply don't know your way of doing things if you don't tell them in the first place.

It’s such a simple, charming little thing to do (it only takes a minute or two) and believe me, when done well, makes for the best, most loyal class of adult beginners you’ll ever have. 

Featured product of the month:

It was a bunch of special offers on our own products, our dance class for adult beginners DVDs.

The offer has now expired (it was just for the month of November 2016).  But fear not, we always have great offers for our Dancer's Diary readers, so look out for one soon, in a future edition.

And finally...

Fall dance movies

OK, so this is what I like to do.  My favorite time of the year has always been Fall (or Autumn as I would say – I’m Irish). The scent of spices in the kitchen, and woodsmoke from burning leaves, cold, crisp days, the first hint of frost – it’s all magical.  Plus the fact that my favorite things to wear are definitely big sweaters, boots, (legwarmers!) scarves and hats – that’s so much more my style than summer dresses.  So apologies to those of you in warmer climes – this bit is for those of you who love the nights drawing in and the turning of the leaves.

I set aside an afternoon (one that’s a little grey and gloomy), light cinnamon spiced candles, make a huge pot of tea and ooh, maybe a slice of sticky gingerbread, then settle into my armchair under a fluffy blanket the size of a small country, and cue up my favorite autumn movies.  Among them, there will always be at least one old favorite from the dance world…


Naturally, if we think of something dark connected to the dance world, Black Swan is going to be near the top of the list.  

I must confess though, that I find this movie not just chilling, but downright horrific.  I don't have the stomach for horror movies at any speed.  I even hate it when they show horror movie trailers on tv - that's more than enough to give me nightmares.  And some of the scenes in Black Swan are just churningly gross.  Fingernails, anyone?  Bleuch.  

But if modern ballet with a big dose of gothic-style gore is your thing, then this movie has it all.


No horror in Chicago, but murder-aplenty - the body count is huge.  

If you fancy a night at the theatre and don't want to leave the comfort of your warm armchair, this is for you.

It's a smokey, atmospheric, rip-roaring tale of jealousy and jazz.  

The dance is lithe, high-kickin' and jaw-droppingly sexy.  And Catherine Zeta-Jones has never been better.  

It's a great old yarn and beautifully produced.


The Red Shoes is the absolute classic of the bunch, and there's hardly a dance fan who hasn't seen it - it's a bit of a rites-of-passage movie for dance students.  

Besides the mesmerizing love triangle and the ‘story-within-a-story’, technically, is it still astonishing.

And the expression and sheer athleticism of the ballet scenes will take your breath away – seriously, they’re exhausting to look at. It’s a happy medium between the physicality of dance and the story telling.

This film never fails to capture me completely – it’s transporting.


I've saved the sweetest for last.  

If all the horror, guns and tragedy are just a bit too much, then you can't find anything warmer and lovelier than Ballet Shoes. The nostalgic 1920’s London setting is magical and the tales of Pauline, Petrova and Posy will fill your heart to bursting.

I remember my mum reading me the story when I was a little girl and going to ballet classes for the first time.  I loved it then and I still love it now.  

Although it contains by far the least dancing of the films I’ve chosen here, it’s still a scrumptious tale of theatres and ambition and growing up. Featuring the wonderful Emma Watson, this beautiful adaptation is a charm from start to finish.

Enjoy your snuggle.  And happy autumn everyone.

Coming up...

My next diary entry will be the November one - just in time for Christmas.

So it'll be time to turn my attention to the best gifts for the dance lover in your life (or perhaps, what you'd like from Santa...).

I'll look at dance-themed Christmas decorations and food, and will give you a little insider information on the key dance performances so you can bluff your way through Nutcracker like a pro.  

There will be more top tips for pupils and teachers in my 'How not to mess up your first dance class' series.

And I'll keep my ear out for the dance world gossip and news as usual.

Until then, happy dancing

Just so you know...

On some of my diary pages, there will be featured items that you can buy.  I do a lot of research into items to recommend - I don't just fling any old crap at my readers.  The things I recommend are things I genuinely use, or can see that have been well-received by their target audience via reviews and feedback.  When I post links to products, I generally try to find the product on Amazon for you, so you know you're dealing with a reputable supplier and that their customer service policies will cover you in case anything goes wrong, or you're unhappy for any reason.

If you follow a link that I've posted to products and do go on to buy something, Amazon pays me a tiny percentage of the profit of that sale.  It helps to keep free and keep me researching and writing about dance for adult beginners in a way that I hope you find useful and insightful.  I think that's fair and hope you do too.

Dancer's diary › October 2016