Dancer's Diary December '16

So, what do you need to know about dance this month? 
I've included:-

  • Top Tip No.1 ~ Hair and makeup for dance class
  • Top Tip No.2 ~ What to expect as you progress with your adult dancing
  • My favorite dance pic of the month
  • Learn how to dance in 10 minutes (no, not kidding)
  • And finally, news from Matthew Bourne

How not to mess up your first dance class

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

BUT, this month, I discuss two topics that are of equal interest to pupils AND teachers...

No.1 ~ Hair & Makeup for dance class

I’ve seen many an online chat (read: argument) about exactly what hair and makeup is suitable for dance class.  The bottom line?  There’s no consensus.

There are many (pupils AND teachers) who think that it’s inappropriate to wear any makeup to class and that hair should only be worn one way (a bun) and that’s it. 

But, there are teachers who really don’t care what you wear, just as long as you turn up and dance your best.  And there are pupils who will actually scowl at other pupils who they think aren’t presenting themselves ‘properly’.  Like you need any extra pressure.

So here’s my view – hair, makeup and nails, too.  But it is just mine, and if you’re happy with what you do in your class, then you just carry on…  Because after all, it’s the dancing that matters.


So let’s get the slightly controversial one out of the way first. 

I don’t know why this bugs me, but it just does. 

In most dance classes it’s absolutely fine to wear whatever nail polish you want.  But there’s something about really dark or bright nail polish in classical ballet classes that irritates me. 

It just doesn’t look right. 

The line of your hand, which is supposed to be elegant and draw the eye away beyond your fingertips is brought to an abrupt stop by scarlet, lime green or jet black nails.

You can see how it might really add to your hand movements in something like belly dance or street dance, but for ballet, ugh, I just don’t think it works – it makes the end of your fingers seem too abrupt. 

Am I being picky?  Yes, probably, but you know what I mean, don’t you?

If you really can’t stand naked nails, then perhaps Ballet Slippers from Essie is the way to go...


It a truth universally acknowledged that when you’ve got hardly any makeup on, your teacher will do a really calm, lyrical, gentle class that’s all about interpretation and stillness and listening to your body.  Not a drop of sweat in sight.

But when you’ve got a full face on, she’ll ramp it up to Olympic standard limbering, and you’ll sweat buckets as your perfectly applied maquillage melts into your cleavage.

So this whole topic is a total minefield; you need to work out what’s appropriate for you, your studio, your dance style, your class, and the class content.

Here’s what I do...
I apply just enough BB cream to even out tone, and a few tiny dots of highlighter just to make sure I look wide awake.  I then apply brow gel and waterproof mascara (the type that never budges, no matter what).  A little slick of lip balm, and that’s it for me.

That’s pretty much what I wear normally, with one element missing… I leave the blush alone.  I find that when I’m in class, I get a totally natural pinky glow which is great on its own.  But if it’s fighting to show through blush it all gets a bit too much and I either look steaming angry, or get kindly folk trying to direct me to the local burns unit.

So that’s the way I do it. I think one thing we can all agree on is that makeup is deeply personal – as it should be; it’s your face.

Doing whatever gives you the confidence to dance well is the only point to make here really.  However, here are a few tips…

You’re going to sweat, so make sure that whatever you put on your face is non-comedogenic (the stuff that won’t block your pores). 

Ideally, plan to remove makeup fairly soon after your class (not a problem for most of us who go to dance classes in the evening).

But if you have your full face on, work really hard in your class, and then have a packed day ahead, that sweat is going to be trapped under your foundation, blush, contouring, whatever, and you’ll get far more creasing and flakiness.

So perhaps stick to a BB cream or tinted moisturiser and bare basics.  Then after the class you can blot and refresh your skin with a gentle water spray which will remove the sweat that’s sitting on your skin and prep your face for whatever look you want for the rest of your day.


There’s a reason why ballerinas wear their hair in buns, and this is it: It stops you from smacking yourself in the face.

In nearly every type of dance class, at some point you are going to have to quickly turn your head or turn your whole body, either of which causes your hair to follow on behind and then complete the spin by hitting you in the eye.  And also, as mentioned above, you’re going to sweat in dance class, and you don’t want to end up with your hair plastered around your face and neck, as it’s just annoying and fiddling with it or having to push it off your face every few second seriously detracts from your dancing.

If you have a cute pixie cut, this isn’t going to be a problem for you.  For the rest of us, there are a few tips that’ll help...

Of course, the obvious thing to do is put your hair into a ponytail.  Which can be a surprisingly bad idea…

Even if you have thin, fine hair, but especially for those of you with a reasonable amount of the stuff, you’ve just created a weapon.

Russian tennis pro Svetlana Kuznetsova had to give herself an impromptu courtside haircut during a match on the WTA tour recently when her heavy plait kept hitting her in the eye.  Cue instant restyle.

I don’t recommend such drastic measures, but you do need to plan ahead.

If a ponytail is best for you, make sure it’s low – right at the bottom of your hairline in the nape of your neck. 

That way, it gets less traction when you turn your head and the ponytail tends to stay behind you.

Beautiful, but rubbish for dance class
That's much better...
Lovely, for five minutes
The bun of steel

If you can’t stand your hair on your neck, then turn that high pony into a bun. 

BUT not by sticking in a million pins that’ll scatter the moment you move your head.  If you’re going to try a bun, make sure you can secure yours with the absolute minimum of metalwork.

There are a ton of hair tutorials for every type of up-do (including a zillion versions of the classic bun) that you can follow if you’re not confident. 

Just remember to choose a style that is secure.  If you’re going to put a load of effort into achieving a perfect ‘undone’ bun, it’ll last maybe five minutes of dance and then it’ll just be fully undone.

You don't have to go to the other extreme and cement a bun of steel onto the back of your head. 

But a bit of security will give you the confidence to dance without having to think about what's going on with your hair. 

And it’s just really annoying to have to stop what you’re doing and fiddle with your hair when you’re supposed to be dancing.  So get the fiddling over with before class starts.

For example, if you’ve got really heavy bangs that fall right at your eye-line, bear in mind that when you sweat (and you will) your bangs will drop very slightly with the weight of the perspiration in there (niiiice). 

You could quickly find that your previously styled bangs are now just in your way, so a few clips to give you a low quiff is a great answer. 

And if you’re growing yours out, then plaiting them into a small braid pinned either straight back or to the side will take care of medium length bangs.

As mentioned, for any of these ‘up’ styles, do remember that all the turning and head movement that you do in dance class can easily dislodge a lot of pins and clips. 

So give your hair a bit of extra grip by spraying a fine styling mist (like a spray wax or even just ordinary hairspray) BEFORE you start styling – it’ll help hold everything in place.

And then, whether your hair is up or down, a quick slick of grooming cream or a little light hairspray will keep all those annoying little flyaways in their place.


I think the only other presentation area (that isn’t the dancewear itself) that I haven’t covered is jewelry.

For Indian, Egyptian and Middle Eastern dances, jewelry is positively encouraged – it adds to the authenticity and imagery of the dance.
But it’s not just any old trinkets – it’s quite particular.  So look to your teacher for guidance, inspiration and tips on where you can buy the right kind of adornments for your dance.

In other dances, such as classical and contemporary ballet, and beginner’s partner dance classes, jewelry isn’t a good idea at all.
It can easily catch on your own (or somebody else’s) clothing which can range from annoying to extremely painful depending on what you’ve got stuck, and where.
Many an earring has been ripped from an earlobe in dance classes.  Don’t let it happen to you.

Final thoughts on your dance class look

Pupils ~ obviously, firstly, you must respect the rules of your teacher or studio.  Some have very specific guidelines that they enforce, and some reserve the right to exclude you from a class if you're wearing something that they've clearly forbidden. 

However, not many schools, studios or teachers who cater to adult beginners have particularly strict rules for this type of thing.  Sure, they'll tell you what to wear, but hair and makeup and the like often isn't covered. 

If you're ever unsure, either ask the teacher outright, or take a cue from your fellow pupils.  And please don't be offended if you're ever asked to remove jewelry - there can be a small but genuine risk that you could hurt yourself or someone else.

But as far as hair and makeup go, you'll probably be fine just doing whatever you feel comfortable with.  I don't think I've ever seen or heard of any negative situations concerning how an adult beginner pupil looked in class, and long may that continue.

Teachers ~ do please let your pupils know (as a class) if you have any expectations of their personal appearance other than what to wear.  And if you have a preference for certain hair or makeup, pitch this as just a suggestion.  There are adult beginners who will feel (rightly so) that a teacher who demands a certain look or hair style is overstepping the mark a little.  Yes, it's appropriate for youngsters who are going through the examinations process, but not for grown-ups dancing for fun and relaxation.

All that said, one of the most fun things I saw in an adult beginners class was an extra session that they did at the end of a semester that was all about stage makeup.  The teacher invited a professional hair and makeup specialist in for a lesson to make up everyone as a dance character with the full theatrical face on.  It was awesome, as you can imagine, and maybe an idea for you to play around with.

No.2 ~ What, exactly, is progression in adult dance?

A little while ago, I received an email from a learner dancer named Elsie.  She asked:-
"What barre and center work should an adult advanced beginner dancer know after a year of study?"

It's an interesting question. 

And the answer? 

"Hello Elsie

I'm not really sure what you're asking, but let me try to explain.

There's no such thing as an advanced beginner.  A beginner starts knowing nothing at all.  Once you've mastered all the basics and are confident with the steps, you progress to an intermediate level where you dance much more demanding routines.  If you started as an adult, and dance for fun or as a hobby, it's unlikely that you'll progress to an exam system, nor to dance en pointe, which would count as 'advanced'.

If you started as an adult beginner a year ago, knowing nothing or very little, it's also likely that everyone who started with you is at a different stage now.  Some people go back to adult beginners who actually have had quite thorough ballet training in the past and so pick up everything quickly.  There will be others who have had no training at all in the past - some will pick things up quickly, others won't.  There's no 'hard and fast' rule or level that everyone progresses to at the same time.

And do consider that for adult beginners, just as for children and professional ballet dancers, there are set basic steps for barre and center work that just don't change.  A battement tendu or plié for a beginner is the same step as it is for a professional.  If you go to our Ballet DVD sales page where it explains about what's in our ballet for adult beginners class, click on FAQs and scroll down towards the bottom, you'll see our list of ballet steps we include.  This is a lot of the basics that you'll find in any class - at any level.

So it's not that you only learn certain steps as you progress, it's that you strive to dance them better. 

A plié is still a plié, it's just that you'll gradually get better at turning out from the hips, which will give you a better knee position and a better position of the feet.  You'll progress from doing them in just the first three basic positions to doing them in all the positions of the feet.  You'll put more arm positions into your dancing and the position of your head and the line of your arms will become natural and graceful.  Your general posture and stance will improve, as will your flexibility, suppleness, strength and stamina. 

All of these things will mean that each step you dance is danced better and with more confidence.  So, you aim to hold an arabesque with a beautiful line and no wobbles. That your extension on your grande battements is high and the supporting leg straight.  That your point is strong and turned out from the hip.  That you can spot when doing a pirouette, and so on. 

Adult beginners doing their first grande battements
And professionals doing exactly the same step. Northern Ballet dancers Filippo Di Vilio and Dominique Larose Photo: Martin Bell

So, as I said, progression for adult isn't doing different steps - you should be doing them all or at least most of them already, from your very first class (as ours does in the DVD).  Progression is doing them better.

If you've been going to adult beginner classes for a year and feel that you aren't progressing, it's time to talk to your teacher about where you feel your ability lies.  It could be that the teacher is keeping the class at a basic level as there are others who are struggling to keep up.  It could be that you've got a natural ability, turnout or suppleness that others lack and you feel your body can do more.  Have a talk to the teacher and see how you can progress your dancing beyond what you currently know.  You shouldn't feel that you're being held back or that you've got ability that isn't being explored, and I'm sure you can get help from either your current teacher or another that'll encourage you to be the best dancer you can be."

Elsie came back to me shortly after, full of thanks - "Nobody's ever explained it like that to me!"

Hopefully, it's useful to you too, whether you're a teacher who perhaps needs to explain progression (or manage the expectations of your pupils) and for you pupils so that you know what to expect.

So there you go.  A lot of Ballet progression for adult beginners isn't dancing different steps, but dancing the basic steps better.

Dance pic of the month

Pic:Life Magazine/Getty Images

For my photo of the month, here's a totally brilliant one. 

Life magzine have recently released a retrospective of some of their classic images and this one of Leon James and Willa Mae Ricker circa 1943 doing the Lindy Hop is just magic. 

That's what dancing is all about.

La La Land making you want to dance?

I hear from a lot of people who long to be able to dance with a partner, but never try as they think it's going to be too difficult to learn. 

That's just not true.  All you need is a truly great teacher.

Meet Brian.

Former pro-dancer from Dancing with The Stars, his talent for teaching complete beginners is awesome. 

But his talent for teaching complete beginners in super-fast time is just incredible.

Give him 10 minutes and learn the very first step of the Waltz.  10 minutes.  Don't believe me? 

Over to you Brian...

If that's whet your appetite for more, there's a whole section of devoted to Brian and his teaching. 
So hop on over and learn not just to Waltz but to Foxtrot, Cha Cha and Swing...

And finally...

Pic:Kalpesh Lathigra

A lovely piece of dance news for you this month.

The wonderful Matthew Bourne (now Sir Matthew Bourne, he of the male version of Swan Lake, The Car Man, the Edward Scissorhands ballet and others) has announced his latest project.

It'll be a staged version of classic ballet film The Red Shoes (a favorite). 

It's just opened in London to rave reviews.  Keep an eye out for a Broadway transfer. 

Coming up...

My next diary entry will be the January one.

By that time, we'll all have returned to our regular studio classes, so I'll be back with more of my tips on dance class etiquette 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 and happy 2017.

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 › December 2016