I've been around the dance world most of my life. I love it. And yet, I often see things in it that make me want to scream. With a few tweaks and well-placed tips, both pupils AND teachers can get so much more from their experience of attending or teaching adult beginner’s classes. This diary is my opportunity to pass along all those little things that can make dancing all the more delightful.
I cover everything from shyness to nail polish, from exam nerves to Fred Astaire, from flowers to Fabletics and from toenails to Kendall Jenner.
See? Something for everyone.
So welcome the shy, the experienced, the talented, the nervous, the enchanted, the two-left-feet lot. I hope find something here to help, encourage, inspire and invite you deeper into the world of learning to dance. It's a magical place.
I wish you all, as ever, happy dancing
Best tips for home learning, watching dance performance
Bad dance teachers, Alvin Ailey, the gross-est ever story
Bad dance pupils, Sergei Polunin, Fabletics, a tiny tip for the very shy
More Fabletics, Fred Astaire, charms, the nerves of the night before
Quick dance fitness for summer, a dizzying dance video, and being really nosey
June / July / August
The dance world rests and so should you.
Amy Purdy, dance kit bag, ideal leotard, barres for home, Kendall Jenner
World ballet day, the best question to ask, make your class love you, dance movies
Hair & makeup for class, learn to dance in 10 mins, ballet progression
Dance gifts inspiration, bluff your way through Nutcracker
A packed entry for January. Well, we're all back at classes and the world has woken up again so it's no surprise there's a lot going on.
There are lots of reasons why people decide to learn to dance at home.
If you’re one of them, whether you’re doing an online class or a DVD, I’ve got a few quick tips to make the
experience the best it can be.
Most of these tips apply to almost all dance styles, so it doesn’t matter what type of dance you’re going to do.
SAFETY NOTE: If you're a complete beginner attempting Pole Dancing at home for the first time, please, I beg you, read our safety guide first.
Be realistic about the amount of space you’re going to need. All good learn-at-home dance DVDs should have steps in them that have been adapted to be danced in a small space i.e. the average living room.
But there are some dances that you just can’t dance unless you've got a fair bit of space – particularly some of the partner dances like the Foxtrot or Cha Cha. They move
around a room and there’s no getting away from it.
And even for the ones that don’t need to – like Ballet and Modern – you’re still going to want a reasonable amount of space so that you don’t feel confined or that you can’t dance a step correctly.
So move what you can before you start and you won’t need to stop the class midway through to push your armchair out of the way.
Of course, if you have the 'proper' recommended dance shoes for the style you're about to do, wear those. But if you don't, then don't always assume it's OK to always (or never) wear socks...
Speaking of which, since vinyl is most commonly found in kitchens...
If you have a large enough kitchen, it's the best room in the house to learn to dance in or practice your steps.
In most large-ish kitchens, if you simply push the table as far out of the way as possible, you've got an ideal space in which to dance. It'll have nice smooth flooring (vinyl, tiles or wood) and fewer pesky ornaments to accidentally swipe off shelves as you fling yourself around.
And even if yours is on the small side, the smooth flooring and the counter-tops make an ideal place to do your barre exercises.
If you're not going to do your barre exercises in the kitchen using the counter-tops, then you're going to need some kind of barre. And a simple chair works well- it’s just something you can rest your hand on. The chair back – the bit you put your hand on – should be somewhere between your waist and chest height.
You can get a better idea of how to stand at the barre
and the ideal positioning from our guides...
You can read the whole barre positioning article here.
And the posture for barre article is here.
No, you don't have to wear a leotard if you don't want to, nor tights or dance regalia of any kind. And it can be a relief to dance around in your saggy old leggings and spaghetti-stained t-shirt and not give a damn. But you do still need to think a little bit about what to wear, because...
Just because you’re in dance gear, don’t suddenly crank up the heating – you'll boil before your class ends. Start off with a cool-ish temperature in the room and an extra layer of thin sweater or sweatshirt on top of your t-shirt, so you can shed a layer or two as you go along.
Just because you're working out at home, doesn't mean you aren't working hard. Exactly as you would in class, have a drink of water nearby so you don’t have to rush to get one. And remember, room temperature hydrates you slightly quicker than iced water.
One of the great (and often overlooked) joys of a studio-based dance class is that, for one precious hour, it's just you and your body and the music. There aren't any distractions or interruptions, and you don't look at your phone. Bliss.
Do bear in mind that if you’re in the middle of an energetic class at home and you answer the doorbell or your phone and get distracted…
A) You absolutely must not take up the class from the exact place you stopped at – you have to warm up again
B) If you don’t return to the class, you may find that over the next day or two you suffer from cramp and aching muscles as you stopped suddenly without cooling down.
Try to make sure that when you do your class at home, you won’t be disturbed for the entire duration, including the warm up and cool down.
If you’re doing a class that doesn’t have a good thorough cool down, you can use ours
There's in-depth advice on hair, makeup and jewelry on another diary entry below.
Most of it applies just the same for learning at home, so here’s a very
quick recap of the important bits:-
These little bits of thoughtful preparation help to focus you on the class ahead, so you're in the right mindset to get the most from it.
With a decent space cleared, water nearby and your phone on silent, you’re ready to immerse yourself in your dancing. Enjoy it. And give it your all.
Isn't this totally charming? These would-be ballerinas were photographed doing their warm up at Spurgeons Academy, a school in Nairobi, Kenya that gives free tuition to over 400 orphans and children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Enormous kudos to them for what they do, and for including a dance program in their teaching.
I'm fine - I haven't gone over to the dark side. Let me explain.
We are all here because we love to dance. We want to dance. We want to move our bodies in a fluid, elegant, exciting way. We want tone and definition, strength and suppleness. Yes, I do understand all that; I’ve devoted the last 18 years to encouraging you folk to do it. So what on earth am I talking about here when I say you don’t have to like dance?
I mean dance performance.
It’s perfectly possible (and in fact totally normal, as a lot of people feel this way) to adore dancing yourself, but not particularly enjoy watching professional dance performances.
And here’s the best way to demonstrate this point; think about it the other way around for a second. Go to any major dance production – particularly Ballet – and look at the regular supporters and audience members. The balletomanes who go to every performance, see every production and talk about the dancers using their first names in a rather snooty way. What do a lot of these people have in common? They clearly don’t attend dance classes themselves. In fact, they patently haven’t worked up a single bead of sweat from physical exertion in the last decade. You know what I mean, right? It’s a thing.
Therefore, the equal and opposite must also be true – that it’s fine to love to dance without going to watch it performed.
There are plenty of people who dance all they can – go to classes, love the movement, practice at home when cooking the kitchen, when they’re in the shower, when they’re alone with the music cranked up, but who don’t regularly go to dance performances as they simply don’t enjoy that as much. And I’m here to say that’s absolutely fine.
You never have to accept that liking one means you have to like the other. Doing a dance and watching dance are two massively different things. The fact that you enjoy one doesn’t mean for a second you have to enjoy or even try the other.
Although I’ve seen a lot of dance (a lot), there are huge swathes of dance productions and styles that I simply don’t enjoy watching. And sometimes it’s a very fine line.
The New York City Ballet’s production of Nutcracker is a joy to behold – it’s a dazzling, glittering, high energy fairy tale.
By contrast, The Royal Ballet’s production of the same piece is creaky and pallid; it’s a doddering, wrinkly, aging aunt of a show. It has, to use the oft-quoted description of bad ballet, ‘the stench of death about it’. I shudder when I think that a festive trip to see it is often the way youngsters are introduced to Ballet. No small wonder that they’d rather stay home. I would too.
The modern stuff is just as hit and miss. I am transfixed, mesmerized
by the brutally brilliant Critical Mass by Russell Maliphant (it quite
literally takes my breath away), yet can’t even tolerate a single minute
of William Forsythe’s StepText – I loathe it so much it actually makes
OK, I probably need to get a grip where StepText concerned, but I think the point is valid.
Liking dance performance – any dance performance – is absolutely no requisite to loving to dance yourself. And if the major companies sometimes get it wrong (and they do), it can mean you have to sit through quite a few productions before you find one you actually like. This can take a boat-load of time and cash.
So if you don’t want to invest that, it’s perfectly fine. Don’t for a moment feel you aren’t a valuable part of the dance world because you decide that watching the stuff isn’t for you. You have just as much to give, and to get out of the dance world as anyone, even if you never see a single performance.
Just be yourself and love dance your own way. The dance world is lucky to have you.
OK, so, it’s the beginning of a new semester of dance classes, and you’ve finally decided to sign up.
You call the studio or teacher, with one main question on your mind: “What do I wear?”
To which, the teacher will probably say something like “Whatever you feel comfortable in”.
The teacher is trying to be warm and welcoming and encouraging. These are all good things. But their answer leaves you more confused than ever. Your pajamas are comfortable right? But those won’t do, surely? So what does ‘comfortable’ mean?
Now, hopefully the teacher will tell you if there’s anything you definitely need to bring – whether it’s making sure you have some socks for ballet class if you don’t yet have ballet slippers, or making sure that you wear shorts or a leotard for pole dance class so you can grip onto the pole properly. But apart from a few real specifics, the ‘comfortable’ instruction is really common, and doesn’t actually help you.
But here’s something that will. You’re actually asking the wrong question.
At the heart of your query is a desire to fit in. You don’t want to turn up and be the only person dressed a certain way. Wearing what most of the other pupils wear is going to give you the confidence that fitting in does.
So your question shouldn’t be “What should I wear?” but “What do the other pupils usually wear?”.
That way, you’ll get really insightful specifics, and you’ll be able to pitch your outfit just right.
So, you’re not on your death-bed, but you don’t feel great. Do you go to dance class or not?
Pains and strains should be fully rested before you attempt any dance class, especially if they are in your back or any joint, such as ankle, knee or hip. That’s just common sense.
If you’ve suffered an injury such as bruising, it’s fine to dance in class as long as you’re aware that you need to be a little careful of your movements. Spend longer on the warm up and MUCH longer on your cool down. Stretch, stretch and then stretch again.
Oh, and tell your teacher before the class starts. It’s polite to let her know that your movement is restricted. You don’t want her to think you’re doing it all wrong.
Coughs and colds, it depends. If you are infectious or think you may have a virus, then absolutely not. The amount of sweating and close contact in dance studios turns them into a petri dish of germs at the best of times without you adding several million more bugs to the mix. So no, if you’re coughing, sneezing or any other explosion of bodily fluid is likely, please, for your sake and everyone else’s, stay away.
Even if you walk into class perfectly healthy, don’t overlook the fact that you may be assaulted by a whole battalion of germs from your class-mates.
Anti-bac wipes are a really good kit-bag item – clean your hands before and immediately after your class. You’re going to be touching surfaces that a lot of sweaty (and perhaps unhealthy) people have touched, so don’t wipe your hands across your face during class.
All that said, if you’re simply feeling a little under the weather, perhaps just a little run down, dance classes can kill or cure. Most times it’s cure (thankfully). I find that it’s like a jolt to the system that helps to re-boot me, re-set everything. That blast of adrenalin, the blood pumping again, can sweep away the last bits of feeling down.
Last time I was feeling a bit worn out it worked wonders for me. I’d had a bad cold for ages. It had eventually gone but left me feeling wrung out and totally lacking in energy. But my new term of classes was due to start. Did I miss the first one and give myself longer to recover? No. I did toy with the idea of staying away. But in the end I gathered my kit bag and dragged myself to class. And by the end of that one hour, I felt like a different person. Yes, it was a tough class and I really felt it the next day, but it swept away all the cobwebs and gave me a real shot of vitality. It was like a breath of fresh air and I’d recommend it to anyone who just needs a pick-me-up.
But in all other instances, where genuine illness or injury is present, I would say stay tucked up in the warm comfort of home until you’re well. Then dance your heart out once you’re fit and healthy and back in class.
How can you tell if you’re in a bad dance class?
It’s simple. Do you ever feel uncomfortable? Yes? Then get away.
Physically and emotionally, you should always feel comfortable in your class.
Now, what one person finds comfortable, another person won’t. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to say ‘this teaching is good, this teaching is bad’. Let me explain.
Personally, I don’t think negative reinforcement is ever good. A teacher who shouts at you in front of the whole class for doing something wrong fills me with horror. But it has to be said that some pupils actually respond well to this type of teaching, and in fact can thrive in a hyper-strict environment, claiming that it pushes them and challenges them and forces them to do better.
Do you need a firm hand? Do you only respond or learn from someone strict and shout-y? If so, there are dance teachers out there who will ‘put you through your paces’ and be strict, firm, loud and possibly into negative reinforcement. If you honestly work best in this kind of environment, then go for it – it suits some pupils and I do understand that.
I was speaking about this very subject recently and was approached by a woman who was very happy in her adult beginner’s classes. She told me about her teacher “She’s very hard on us, she doesn’t put up with any nonsense”.
Now, this approach clearly worked for this woman – she enjoyed the strictness. But in my world, ‘doesn’t put up with any nonsense’ can be code for ‘a bit of a bitch’, and straight-talking should never be an excuse for bad manners.
Have you ever come across a person who says…
Often this is shorthand for I’m rude, full of my own self-importance, always right, and think empathy is for idiots.
Look, I can be straight, no-nonsense, direct and truthful. But never ever at the expense of being approachable, fair and above all, kind. I’m sure you’re the same. And therefore deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.
This is what I know from my many, many years of studying dance classes for adult beginners and seeing what has success and what doesn’t: The vast majority of adult beginners are going to classes for fun, for relaxation, for physical exercise that’s elegant and graceful, and to be treated as grown-ups. Not to be yelled at or humiliated – in fact it’s the very fear of this that keeps most people from signing up in the first place.
There is no rule that says if you want to learn to dance, you have to put up with being screamed at or embarrassed.
I believe that you should be encouraged, invited and inspired to dance, not commanded or threatened or ashamed into it.
So, to sum up:
If you find that you are ever uncomfortable in a class, then that’s a bad class for you, a bad teacher for you and you should simply leave. Don’t ever put up with discomfort in the name of dance, it just isn’t necessary.
If straight-talking and a very strict teacher suits you, find one. Just don’t let that attitude tip over into bad manners – you’re the customer, after all. And it isn’t the only way to teach dance.
If you want and need a gentler approach to feel comfortable, don’t tolerate anything less – there are warm, fun, calm teachers out there who will suit you perfectly.
Find what makes you comfortable and don’t accept anything else.
Let's set aside the hot mess that was the 2017 Oscar's ceremony, and focus on the (eventual) winner, Moonlight.
Alvin Ailey, in their own beautiful, classy way, have danced their response to the film's themes. Gorgeous.
If you are of a nervous disposition, have a weak stomach or are just sensitive to other peoples’ pain, do not read this.
And if you are going to read it, please don’t eat while you do. I won’t be held responsible for any damage caused by you vomiting over your keyboard / phone / whatever.
Ready? OK, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
First, we’re going to talk about pointe shoes. Ever seen the first 10 minutes or so of the movie ‘Black Swan’? In it, there’s an early scene where the main dancer takes a brand new pair of pointe shoes and basically rips them apart in order to make them comfortable for her style of dancing and for her precious feet.
Well, it’s mainly true. Professional dancers don’t just slip on a brand new pair of pointes and dance perfectly in them. They customize them so that the shoes hug the toes better (the idea being that the shoe has to feel part of the foot, a natural extension of the foot, and not an appendage). Most dancers do quite a bit to their shoes to get them just right.
And you’ve probably heard the stories of how young dancers new to pointe work steam the inside of the box area (that’s the area immediately around the toe) over a boiling kettle to make it more malleable and then wear the shoes (sometimes sleeping with them on) while the box area cools and forms around the dancers’ toes, thus making them a custom fit.
OK, so far, so normal.
Next, we’re going to talk about toenails. You’ll know (or at least can guess) that professional dancers need to keep their toenails very short and well cared for as their toes and feet are put through so much.
But have you ever thought about what, exactly, toenails are for? It’s the job of a toenail to protect the end of your toes, and also to give them shape (as your fingernails do for your fingers). Without toenails, the end of your toes would be very vulnerable to damage from the rigors of supporting all your weight and from you dropping things on them from time to time. And without them holding the end of your toes in shape, your toes would just end up squidgy and mis-formed. So toenails do a couple of important jobs; protection and shape.
Here’s where it gets really weird.
Some years ago (about 40 or so), a national ballet company took things way, way too far in their demands that their dancers’ pointe shoes fit well. I won’t mention the ballet company by name – I’m sure they are much kinder to their dancers these days.
In their quest for dancing perfection, they came up with a novel (and as it turned out, horrific) idea. What if they did away with toenails altogether? Hey, yeah, that’s a great idea. Do that.
And so they did.
They instructed all the females in the ballet company to remove their toenails – that doing so would make the end of their toes much softer and therefore better to smush into pointe shoes, which would (allegedly) give the pointed foot a better line.
Now, of course, this is patently nonsense. We need our toenails for the reasons I’ve discussed above.
But think about the fear and commitment that those dancers must have been feeling. Fear, as the dance world at this level can be cut-throat competitive and no-one wants to lose their hard-won place. And competitive as every dancer wants the solo, the principle, the finest role. So they did it.
They helped each other. Oh, did I not mention that this wasn’t to be a medical procedure carried out by a professional doctor under anesthetic? That would have been bad enough, but it wasn’t. It was just an order to do it themselves. So, like I said, they did. With pliers and pocket knives.
OK, look, up to this point I’ve been writing this in a half jokey way, giving you the ‘vomit’ warnings and all. But I’ve just typed that ‘with pliers’ bit, and I’ve actually now got tears in my eyes. Not just out of empathetic pain, but more out of big-sisterly concern for these vulnerable young women who felt they had to mutilate themselves to such an extent just to follow their dreams. My heart absolutely goes out to them. And then I’m overwhelmed with a desire to go and scream in the faces of the people who come up with this degrading and hideously painful dictat. Complete, utter twits.
Now, the reason I know this story is true is because a trusted friend of DanceClass.com has seen the evidence herself, when an ex-member of this ballet company showed her. “I’ve never seen such a mangled mess in my life. The toes have spread into a soggy mass of flesh. None have any definition and where the toenails should be is a mess of scar tissue, calluses and deformed regrowth. They are the most repulsive thing I’ve ever seen.” Poor, poor woman. Imagine walking around with that legacy on the end of your feet.
So, as a totally gross ‘OMG you’ll never guess what professional ballet dancers put their feet through’ story, I think this is as dramatic as you’ll get. But it’s not just a story. People really did this, and suffered that much for their art.
Thankfully, national ballet companies have moved on a lot in recent years, and the health, safety and well-being of their dancers are of paramount importance, as they should be.
But spare a thought for what the professional dancers of years gone by did. They paved the way for the young dancers of today, in some of the most hideous and heart-breaking ways. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their extraordinary dedication. Because I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done that. Could you?
It's a little fuzzy, but it's still an amazing image of dancers from the Portela Samba School performing at the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
A sea of costumes, dancers and sheer joy.
I received an impassioned plea from a reader this month:
"Help! I've just moved to a new area, and can't find any belly dance classes near me. This is how I workout and I love it, and now I've had to stop because of the move I feel like I'm piling on weight. How can I find a suitable class, and quickly?"
And my answer? The world of dance teaching can be a small one – a lot of dance teachers know (or at least know of) each other.
So your quickest and best route to finding a local one who suits you is to ask any of them. Arthur Murray has a branch in most towns – why not go in and have a quick chat to them? Even though it’s not partner dance you’re after, I’m betting that at least one of their teachers will know of a belly dance teacher nearby.
The thing is, not all dance teachers advertise or actively run classes. But if there’s interest, they can fairly easily run a small class for a few interested souls. A fellow dance teacher is more likely to know how and where to find such people.
Check our Dance Directory listing for your state, find someone, ANYONE close to you and then just ask.
January is done. Broken your New Year resolutions? Lost any weight yet? Feeling much fitter? No?
If you think you’ve missed the boat when it comes to health and fitness for this year, is it really too late to join a dance class and get going?
Yes, you’re done. Just give up, order a pizza and wait ‘til next year.
Think a little differently about the kinds of places that offer dance lessons.
First place to look is no further. Do a dance class at home, right now. It doesn’t matter where you do your class, as long as you do it – your body doesn’t know the difference. Getting the blood pumping and your heart rate up is the same no matter what kind of room you’re in. Within a few minutes of changing into something comfy and perhaps moving a bit of the furniture out of the way, you can be in class, no excuses. Do it now.
How about looking at classes in your nearest college or university? Many colleges offer classes for their pupils that are open to the general public too. And because of the college calendar some of those classes don’t start until February, or they are run on a drop-in basis throughout term-time. Personally, I do my hardest weekly class at a barre workout lesson at my local university. And the new term of classes didn’t start until February.
So don’t just look at studios and gyms for classes – education and community centers, arts workshops and theaters, clubs and bars, and school sports centers have all been venues for really great dance classes. Think about it from the teacher’s point of view. He/she will look for somewhere that’s just got a big clear space and is fairly cheap to rent by the hour so think like a teacher and track down those classes.
And lastly, an absolutely fantastic place to find not only dance classes that you aren't aware of, but also a like-minded soul who might make a great class buddy to go along with... Facebook groups. Unless you live on the moon, there's is probably a bunch of Facebook groups in your local area that know of classes and courses that could be perfect for you. It doesn't take too much detective work to find and join them and they are an absolute goldmine of information and connections.
Get searching now and find the class for you. Wherever it might be. Including in your own living room.
And put that pizza down. It isn’t January any more.
Spring has sprung (in my part of the world anyway) so I thought it perfectly acceptable to kick off the new season with a video of Sergei Polunin. Just because.
Once you catch your breath, I've got a few little snippets of fact, fun and observation...
Documentary 'The Dancer' charts the extraordinary rise to fame of ballet's bad boy Sergei Polunin.
It's well worth a look.
Because, let's face it, there is something totally mesmerizing about this guy...
Last month, you'll probably remember I wrote a piece on bad dance teachers and how to identify and avoid them. In the interests of fairness, it's only right and proper that we now shine a light on the other side of the coin; rubbish dance pupils.
A comment on a Buzzfeed article recently caught my eye...
Chrissy Nefe wrote: "I was in a dance class once with a guy who insisted on pointing out everything that was wrong with everyone else's dancing... and couldn't perform any of the same moves himself. Seriously, he decided to tell me how my turns were wrong, when he was nearly taking other people out every time he did it. He also swatted me in the face once while we were learning a combination and barely apologized and didn't bother to give me more space. So glad he left."
I've seen all kinds of bad manners in dance class. But this time asked for your experiences:
Lindsay: "Yes, I’ve come across exactly the same in partner dance classes when a guy was completely disparaging about everything everyone else did and yet was so mechanical and had no feeling for dancing at all. He was way too busy promenading his 'talent' that he didn’t think to try to improve and understand the essence of dance – which is to feel it, not to slavishly execute it like a robot. Horrible person. And sadly, he's still in the class."
Pamela: "I also came across a guy who was neither a dancer nor a bona fide critic, but sat through a lively performance of Burn The Floor criticizing absolutely everything. He held fort during the interval, loudly pointing out where (he thought) the choreographer, director and dancers were getting it all wrong. And look, this guy had the physique of a life-long competition-level couch potato, if you know what I mean."
Laura: "I'm a teacher, and was running a modern ballet for fun class for adults. And it really was fun – a lot of laughter and nice free movement. I noticed that one of the new class members was dancing the moves quite stiffly and was doing the classic version of each step, arms in position, head tipped just so.
She was an older woman, and had very thick dramatic makeup on and an updo that surely took three hours to style. She didn’t speak to any of the other pupils, but frowned at them all the way through. Her classic form wasn’t good though – bottom sticking out a mile, stiff shoulders and elbows, pointed fingers!
At the end of the class when all the other pupils applauded, she performed this terrible, exaggerated curtsey, which doesn’t really have a place in modern ballet. But each to their own – modern dance should be interpretive and if she wanted to interpret it in a very formal way, that's ok. But she then swanned up to me and gave me a complete run-down of the etiquette and tradition of ballet and how to respect it. She suggested that I use a stick to straighten people’s supporting legs with (think she got that one from Degas?), and how I should question every pupil about their diet and refuse to teach anybody to ever "eats chocolate or drinks cola". Haha! As if I would.
I think she just had a really specific picture in her head of what ballet classes should look like, but was clueless about the reality. She was so silly and pompous, I just smiled at her. She didn’t come back."
Dance is a performance art and as such will always attract those who think they know best, arrogance, bad manners and the daft people described above. If you're going to go to dance classes, you'll come across some of them eventually.
And yes, there are a lot of rules, steps to be performed exactly, movements to remember precisely. Wherever you get rules and strict ways of doing things, you always get those who think they understand better than the next person.
But dance is also personal. If a fellow pupil criticizes your dancing, I think that says a lot more about them than it does about you.
So here it is - my key tip, my one answer (for pupils and teachers) to give to the pedants and misers:
"Dance is personal. People who are great at it understand that."
Justin Slee has produced a fantastic set of behind-the-scenes pics of the Northern Ballet rehearsing their lusty production of Casanova. You can see the full collection here.
A discussion with a couple of dance teacher friends recently revealed a very mixed reaction to the Fabletics brand headed by Kate Hudson. It's a huge company (on both sides of the Atlantic) but bad experiences, dodgy reviews and now the threat of legal action by a consortium of furious customers has tarnished things a little. Reflecting on my dance teacher chat, here's my take on it...
When you type Fabletics into Google, one of the auto-suggestions is 'fabletics scam'.
Now, I don't believe it's a scam, but for every happy customer, there's an unhappy one. Much of this stems from the fact that the company relies on 'inertia selling' - that is, the customer has to remember to opt out of a sale every single month. If you take no action, your bank or PayPal account will be debited with nearly $50 each time.
That's not a scam as such, but it can feel like one if you've been charged for things you're adamant you don't want and haven't agreed to. So the message here is read the fine print (you know, actually read it) and be fully aware of exactly what it is you're signing up to. It's a monthly membership scheme and can get very expensive very quickly if you don't manage it well.
Personally I don't like being tied into things like this, and I'm particularly wary of having to remember to take action or else I'll get charged for something I don't want – I like to keep my personal administration clean and simple. That's just me.
As for the clothes themselves, well, I have to say that a lot of the leggings look WAAAAY too low-cut for me (as per the pic of Kate above). A plié in those things could go very wrong indeed. I like my leggings to sit at my waist. But the Fabletics site does show leggings that are higher waisted, so OK. Dancing isn't specifically mentioned on the site, but there's an entire section devoted to outfits for yoga, which features high-waisted leggings, so they'd be fine to dance in.
There's no doubt that some of the outfits are beloved by the customers. But there are styles that haven't been successful and there have been plenty of people who feel that some of the fabric is poor quality. Leggings made from little more than t-shirt material are totally pointless. So read the reviews of individual pieces before committing to buy. You're looking for good strong elastic and seams, and fabric of reasonable thickness that will hold its shape.
Overall, when the fit and fabric are good, I think they seem fine to dance in. As long as the tops hold everything firmly in place, and the bottoms are comfortable (which means having a waistband that doesn't move once it's on), then fine.
If you like always having something new to wear to class and are meticulous about your personal admin, this scheme could suit you fine.
I just prefer my dancewear a little more worn in, and once I find kit that fits and is so comfortable I can do all the moves of my class without ever having to pull it about or re-position it, then I wear it to death, patching and repairing as I go. Seriously, I've got leotards and woollen leggings that must be close to 30 years old. I've danced in them, washed them a squillion times, resewn straps, darned holes and when I'm done with them, they can go on the Antiques Roadshow, OK?!
A company of Irish dancers had a gas on St Patrick's day in London by freaking out commuters and tourists alike.
Leaping around on the underground made for enchanting pics too. Sláinte!
A tiny tip for the very shy:
If you're heading to your first (or a new) ballet class and desperately want to melt into the crowd rather than stand out, DO NOT head straight for at a place at the back of the line at the barre. If you think no-one can see you back there, lo and behold, once you've finished doing the step facing one way, the whole line will turn around to face the other way (holding the barre with their other hand). Which means you are now standing right at the very front of the line. So, shrinking violets, if you value a little anonymity for your first few lessons, chose a place in the middle of the barre.
It's exam season. Anyone who is (of knows someone who is) preparing for any kind of end of term exam or performance or showcase or whatever, will have a few butterflies and a few nervous knots to deal with. So I share my own.
And on the other side of the coin, to take your minds off the end-of-term preparation, I've included lots of sweet videos and little snippets for you
I just want to start with a quick update on Fabletics (following my thoughts I shared in the last diary entry - which if you haven't seen it, is here).
I mention it again because I had quite a few emails about it afterwards. And you know what? It was all over the place...
Some absolutely love it, some, not so much. Here's a selection...
"The outfits are cute"
"I went in to it with low expectations because of all the problems, but I really love the yoga pants – they’re the best fit and so cute"
(I had about a dozen people email me who clearly love the company. Strangely, you all used exactly the same word. EVERY SINGLE PERSON who praised the company put 'cute' in their email.)
"Once you know what to opt out of and when to, it’s easy"
"It's OK as long as you watch the date and stay up to date with the billing"
"The bit I hated was the quiz at the start - I want to see the stuff myself."
"It’s a con"
"They never never never have my size"
"They’re just hoping you forget and then they’ve got your money and you don’t realize for weeks".
So there you go - it's one to go into eyes wide open, and with a firm grip on your own personal admin.
Let's cleanse our palate with a sweet little quote. This one, I love.
It's from 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button' and is really an ode to all the people he’s met and loved in his peculiar life.
For anyone preparing for a dance exam or performance, this is my story of how I felt the night before my biggest (at that time) exam of my life, and why I remember it so clearly.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling. Even now, 35 years later, I can bring it back, hear the sounds, see the images, feel my thoughts and hopes and dreams all whooshing around in the darkness.
I was 12 years old, and was about to take a ballet exam that, if I passed, would be the last exam I would do in soft shoes. Although I was already dancing en pointe, I needed to pass one last exam before I would transition completely to the full array of pointe work. So this was a huge deal for me.
I’d trained every day for months, practiced and rehearsed. I’d learnt all the spoken answers to the set text questions which would be asked at random, so you had to learn them all. I’d had my tutu fitted, my new soft slippers had fresh new ribbons, everything was in place. And then we found out that the examiner was the toughest, strictest, meanest examiner in the whole wide world – dreaded by teachers and pupils alike for her ferocious manner. And I was adding extra burden myself – I’d got every other ballet exam I’d ever done with top marks. I wanted to keep up that standard. Just passing wouldn’t be enough – I wanted those honors marks.
And so, the night before the exam rolled around. There were no more classes, no more practice to be done. It was time.
Goodness, I remember this so vividly. I was alone in my bedroom, ready for bed, and of course, wide awake. I had turned off my bedside light and for some reason, went and sat by the window and looked out at the garden in the dark. I think I wanted to make sure that the world was still out there. Because inside, I felt so still. Still and quiet – like my insides were just space and darkness and nothing else, and I was the only person in the universe.
That’s how I can best describe it – I’ve never had a feeling quite like it since. I wasn’t nervous, afraid, or sick with stage fright. I was just completely alone – I thought that no-one anywhere could possibly understand how I felt; a little resolute, determined even, but mainly just alone. No-one could help me. What I had to do, only I could do – it was down to me. I think, that night, I formed what has become a truly useful tool in my amour over the years: Self-reliance.
Because that’s the thing with dance – it’s so utterly, completely personal, no-one can ever feel what it feels like to you and no-one can ever do it for you.
I passed my exam with honors – funny thing is, I don’t really remember the exam itself much, and don’t remember being awarded honors at all. The memory that remains is of the night before, looking out at the dark garden and the world beyond and understanding, at the tender age of 12, that my success would be down to me alone.
So that’s what I think about when the subject of dance exams comes up. I don’t have a ‘moral of the story’ ending for you. If you (or someone you know) are preparing to take an exam, I don’t have any wonder-tips for you, no quick wins. Just do your best (and perhaps make sure your ribbons are tied firmly).
But if you do suddenly feel very alone in your endeavors, I’ll be right there with you in spirit.
You know how I just rather poetically said that I don’t have any top tips for you exam takers? I lied. I do have one, even if it is teeny-tiny.
Here it is. Don’t stink. I don’t mean that your dancing shouldn’t stink (because that’s obvious. Isn’t it..?). I mean don’t actually stink.
Put it this way. Did you know there is a ‘correct’ way to apply deodorant and most people have no clue what it is? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you need my ‘How to apply deodorant’ page.
Ready for some dancing? Thought so. But... you might want to sit down for this one.
This Easter, I watched Easter Parade (as I hadn’t for years), and was reminded all over again how Fred Astaire was just the smoothest, greatest, fun-est dancer ever. Above everyone else, he made dance look easy. How did he do it? How did he make ridiculously athletic and complicated dance steps look like walking on air? He was (and remains) simply incomparable.
Why not try a bit? Go on, I dare you – just even try the staircase bit from the first 90 seconds or so – easy enough, right? No, he just makes it look easy.
If you want to feel like your thighs are on fire, and need to spend a week in traction before dying of total exhaustion, try dancing the whole routine, including the slo-mo bit towards the end. You won’t make it. It’s just ridiculously hard.
If you ever get to see a dancer do this routine live on stage, give them
a standing ovation when they’re done.
And maybe oxygen.
If you haven’t heard of Joel Kioko yet, you soon will. Born and raised in the slums of Nairobi, he started attending a ballet class just a few years ago. But this summer, his amazing ability will see him dance with the Cincinnati Ballet training program. And his ambition? It’s not for himself, but to reach a professional stage where he can return to Kenya and open a ballet school himself. Meet this extraordinary young man…
The last one of the academic year, here's the lineup for this final entry
When is it better to not dance at all, rather than dance?
When you’ve taken a break from classes for a while (like over the summer), and then decide you really should do a bit of exercise. Your brain remembers all the moves from class and tells your body to go for it. You kick your leg, or spin quickly or suddenly reach into a huge stretch and BANG. Ouch. You’ve torn a muscle, shredded a tendon, hit the wall. Why? Because you didn’t warm up.
I know how this goes because I’ve done it myself. I once gave myself the most spectacular bruise you’ve ever seen. Black, dark purple, scarlet crimson, and it was a whopper, wrapped around the entire circumference of my upper thigh. I got so worried about it that I had to go and see my doctor, and even she was impressed by the size of this thing. My ‘accident’? A high leg kick without warming up. I know, I know. And that’s the thing. I really do know. But sometimes, you just put that music on and the mood takes you, you’re home alone and you dance. And dance and dance and get swept away and the whole “I’m dancing, it’s amazing, yay!” kicks in and before you know it, you’ve high kicked and man, that’s sore.
Warm up. Warm up. Warm up.
And don’t think that because you feel warm, as it’s summer and the sun is shining, that you’re warmed up – not the same thing at all. Oh no. Doesn’t work like that. You need to gently stretch those muscles for around 10 minutes before you start flinging yourself about.
So, the trick is to fall in love with the warm up itself. To enjoy just
doing that on its own. If you love it, you won’t skip it.
Ever heard of JETSA exercise?
In fact, a really effective warm up can be all the exercise you need in a day - it’s JETSA (Just Enough To Stay Alive). So if you do nothing else at all, do your dance warm up. That’s it.
Did you know that all four of our main dance warm-up routines are free right here on the site? Just click the image. You can pick the one you like the best and do it any time you like.
Aaaand, the Fabletics tales of woe keep rolling in.
I’m going to leave the last word on this to good friend of DanceClass.com Hana, who had this to say.
"Yes, many of the Fabletics outfits are 'cute' (bordering on sexy), and the leggings (I can only vouch for those) are very good quality.
However, they sell out of sizes and styles very quickly and generally don't restock. It’s also true about the quiz at the start – it’s very annoying that you can't just look through what they have to offer on the website without having to fill in a bunch of info about yourself. And absolutely 100% true that their business model counts on people forgetting to 'skip the month' so that they can bill you US$49.95! Sure, it's a store credit. But it's still money you may not have wanted to spend. A shady way to do business, if you ask me.
Another major hassle is having to ring them to cancel your membership, especially when you spend half an hour on hold waiting for someone to answer your call!
As for my experience… I ordered a pair of leggings which I had to return. The refund came (eventually), but I didn't get my tax refunded. So I had to ring them to get the tax refunded and was so annoyed that I asked to cancel my account at the same time. I was offered extra store credit to not cancel my membership, so like any self-respecting athlete who loves her leggings, I accepted. Did the store credit ever end up in my account? NO. So I messaged Fabletics via Facebook… twice. Did they answer? NO. I had to message them PUBLICLY on Facebook before I got a response. Not the kind of company I wish to support, 'cute' outfits or not!"
So there you have it. Looking through all the many stories you messaged me with, the overall impression I have is that the gear is (usually) very good quality, but the sales tactics are not. I'd proceed with a little caution if you're thinking of signing up. Good luck.
Boy oh boy. I'm not so sure about this. But it's worth a try.
OK, first a few instructions from the film-makers...
You can view the film below in several ways:
Ready to have a go?
The premise of the story is that a seemingly perfect, well-suited and loving couple, are deeply unhappy beneath the surface. Here, they try to recapture the feelings that first drew them to each other.
So... how did you get on?
Me? Not so good. I wanted this to be really great. I'm obviously a huge champion for using video to draw more people into the world of dance. It's exactly the principle that DanceClass.com was founded on and has been its bedrock ever since.
Given this, I think the aim of the project was good, but the execution? Not so much.
First, I found this piece difficult to get into. It ended up feeling like it was really long, when in fact it's less than four minutes. My goodness, it felt like twice that at least.
Next, I found following them around a little disorienting as I had no real feel of where they would go next - I wanted my optimal path through the story to be clearer so I could concentrate on their performance more. But I felt I had to work hard at navigating the video itself.
Also, although this technology now exists, the whole thing did have a very rough, 'we're just trying this to see if it'll work' feel to it. Some shots were fuzzy, and the navigation a little clunky.
Last, I confess I found the choice of music lazy - we've heard it a million times before and it sets a tone all of its own which didn't help the story here one bit.
Overall it seemed like a tech experiment and not a finished piece. A nice try, but not something that I think will satisfy either die-hard dance aficionados nor those seeking a new way into the dance world.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Valery Gergiev, famed musical conductor and now director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Russia, managed to reduce ballet and female ballet dancers in particular to a collection of ridiculously narrow stereotypes.
To me, even though Gergiev appeared to be drawing comparisons between dancers 'then and now', he sounded an ancient tone of female dancers never being 'perfect' enough. Among his more eye-rolling observations were
No mention at all about the superior training techniques now taught that enable everyone to dance in a more athletic way. And no mention either of the fact that if female dancers are getting taller, then surely their male counterparts are too? No, just lots of thinly disguised complaining that there’s always something 'wrong' with a ballerina's body.
His remarks could have been made at any point in the last 100 years. Anybody unfamiliar with the world of ballet, reading this, would have thought the whole industry sounds creaky and out of touch. It’s not. It's just that Gergiev really should stick to waving his little baton around. So to speak.
Oh, just because it’s the end of term.
Hands up anyone who tried to dance like Molly Ringwald at the school disco.
Me. I’ve got both hands up.
It’s coming into that time of year when dance schools and studios often open their doors for watching days – which is just what it sounds like; an opportunity to go along, no obligation, and observe classes and sometimes performances too.
This can give you a great flavor of what a school or studio is like, what the teachers are like, and most importantly, whether that style of teaching and that style of dancing would suit you.
And it’s not just schools and studios that do this – have a look at your nearest college or university. Higher education facilities often have performing arts programs, or even just run classes for their own students which they often open up to the general public.
Even if you already attend lessons, it’s great to peek into other studios and see other teachers at work – you may find a dance style or instructor that really piques your interest or inspires your dancing to go a different way.
So keep your eyes open for any of these watching or open days – they’re free and can be really fascinating.
Rest. Walk. Stretch.
Being September, everyone's geared up for heading back to classes after the summer break. So I have some top tips for you, and a catch up with the dance gossip over the last month...
In this diary entry, I look at:-
For those of you who don't know, Amy Purdy is a double amputee, who lost both her kidneys and her spleen along with her lower legs to bacterial sepsis, and was once given just a 2% survival chance. However, not only is she now a champion snowboarder, but she was runner up on Dancing with The Stars.
She performed a dance at the Paralympics opening ceremony accompanied by a giant robotic arm. Just because she can. Here's the whole thing, from backstage to performance.
I think, next time you hear anybody say "Oh no, I don't dance, I have two left feet" just show them this. Amy doesn't have any feet at all, as she's as graceful a dancer as I've ever seen.
The BBC News website asked for readers to send in their pictures on the subject of dance, and there were some absolutely brilliant shots. My own personal favorite came from Robby Bernstein, who took this image at a street festival in Toronto, Canada: "There was music, dancing in the street and a lot of spontaneous energy" he said. I love it.
This month, it’s what I carry in my dance bag to ensure that I’m covered for every eventuality...
This is important for me - it means that I can concentrate on my class without worrying that I’m missing some vital piece of kit. It's also always packed so I can grab it on the way out the door without having to scramble about trying to find stuff at the last minute.
So, first up, as always, the ubiquitous bottle of water. Mine’s quite a big one, even though that makes my bag heavy. Nothing else I carry weighs much, so it's not so bad.
Ever since I was a little girl in my very first dance classes, I’ve been thirsty as soon as the lesson ends. And even now I’m so much older, I do still drink a lot of plain fluid every day (water or fruit and herb teas). So I’m just a nut for good hydration. And the end of a class, when you’re feeling a bit hot and sweaty, is the ideal time to top up those fluid levels with plain old water. Lots of it. Enough so you don’t feel drawn to coffee or soda.
I also used to carry a little bit of food in my dance bag. Personally, I don’t any more as I drink so much water it takes care of any hunger pangs. But I used to fling in a piece of fruit, which would then languish at the bottom of my bag for much longer than good manners usually allow. I did once find a banana at the bottom of my dance bag that I really should have donated to biological research. And all my kit (including my ballet shoes) stank of black banana for ages.
So don’t be like me. If you put food in your dance bag, try to remember to actually eat it. For a boost of energy straight after your class, I recommend a small bag of unsalted nuts (almonds are great), perhaps a few dates for a major sugar hit or even a small bar of good quality dark chocolate can do the trick.
In addition to the shoes I need for my class, I also carry at least one spare pair of socks. Depending on what type of dance you’re doing, you can wear them to prevent cold ankles while you’re warming up, or can put them on OVER your dance shoes to protect them from wear during warms ups.
There’s also a spare t-shirt in there in case of wardrobe malfunctions – like a strap on my leotard finally letting go (see ‘Wide strap leotard’ above). And I carry a small hand towel – one of the thin but super absorbent ones.
That's the main stuff - water, shoes, spare socks and t-shirt, and a little folded towel. Not much really.
And finally, I have a little kit bag (it’s a make-up bag) that has
If you’re anything like me, you’ll take your time getting to know exactly what you like to take to your classes - what you need and what you don't. I don’t always use all the items above, they are just what I like to have with me - you’ll find out what makes you feel ‘complete’ for yourself. Just don't blame me if you find a smushed-up banana in the bottom of there one day.
One of my favorite dancewear pieces for the adult dancer has to be a wide straps leotard. Why?
Because most leotards have very narrow elastic straps. Firstly, these can dig in and quickly become uncomfortable. Secondly, they can also come loose from where they meet the body of the leotard – I’ve spent many a night reattaching a strap to the back of my leotard that’s been holding on by a thread. Literally.
But the key point that makes wide straps a winner ladies, is when we address what you’re wearing underneath.
Long gone are the days when I didn’t need a bra under my leotard – you might well be the same. A lot of adult leotards (like this one) claim to have a 'bra shelf' sewn into them. But in reality, that just means a lining of stretchy fabric, and you'd have to be egg-cup-sized for that to keep everything forward-facing, if you get what I mean. Trouble is, wearing any kind of bra always shows under a narrow strap.
The wide straps of this leotard allow you to wear almost any type of bra – including some sports bras – without the straps peering out. Now, the sight of a bra strap doesn’t reduce people to a dead faint – it’s not 1940. However, when you’re dancing, you want your lines to look clean and uncluttered – doesn’t matter whether it’s belly dance, tap dance, ballet, modern, or any kind of dance. That goes not just for the lines of your body, but the lines of your clothes, too. So this wide strap means you have less clutter on show around your shoulders, neck and face, and that just makes for a more elegant line. (Yes, my bra shows a bit at the back, but that's far less important to me than the line of my shoulders.) Plus, they’re just really comfortable – they don’t dig in or need to be hauled around every five minutes and that comfort and security means less time worrying about my wardrobe and more time concentrating on my dancing. This one is an all-round win for me.
... if you're thinking about buying this or any leotard, or any dancwear; read all the comments / feedback for each item (Amazon is great for this) to get an idea of how the item is sized.
Dancewear sizes are all over the place. It's possible to be a 'small' with one manufacturer and need an 'extra large' from another. This particular leotard (the one in the picture from Capezio) comes up small for me and I always order at least one size up for a good fit. But once I've got the right size, those wide straps are worth it, and super-comfortable.
My key question from this month comes from Linn, who asks “Where can I buy a barre like the one in your photos?”
Linn, I'll do my best to advise you, and have found one that I think will do the trick.
But for anybody who is unsure about whether they need a barre or not, I have to say that, when you’re just starting off, the answer is no, you don't. The back of a chair is perfectly adequate – just something that you can gently rest your hand on to steady you slightly.
NOTE: the purpose of a ballet barre is to mimic the hand of a dance partner. You wouldn’t cling onto them for dear life, cutting off the blood supply to their hand, would you? So you shouldn’t ever need to have a vice-like grip on the barre; you REST your hand on it. When you’re at home, the back of a chair is all you need.
However, if your dancing is progressing, or if you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated space for dancing in your home, then why not splash out on a portable barre, as Linn is planning to.
This is a good one I found on Amazon - decent reviews, adult height, sturdy and
a reasonable price.
The key things you’re looking for in a portable barre are that it's easy to move about, and yet, once it’s in place, is stable and sturdy – you don’t want to be distracted mid-step by a barre that's wobbling all over the place. Also, make sure you can adjust the height so you get it exactly where it’s supposed to be – you can follow our ballet barre guide for all the tips you need.
Once upon a time, the
internet got its knickers in a twist as Kendall Jenner was
photographed for Spanish Vogue in a ballet studio.
OK, so not much to get
upset about there – we all love ballet-inspired clothes and everyday
wear that reminds us of the grace of the dancer.
However, what got a lot of people all itchy-faced was the fact that she was photographed wearing pointe shoes and attempting to stand en pointe (and failing. Badly).
Take a look…
On reflection, my thoughts are...
I confess this hurts my heart a little. Standing en pointe is not a matter of strapping on the right shoes and hoping they’ll do the work for you.
Doing so also diminishes the extraordinary amount of work and dedication that people who genuinely train properly before they are allowed to dance en pointe do – in most cases it’s years of demanding classes. And anybody who just flings on the shoes before they are properly trained to also risks their health – it puts unimaginable strain on your joints; the bones of the feet, ankles, knees, hips and the disks in the small of your back. You need all this stuff in peak condition – you shouldn't ever do anything that will actively strain these precious bits and pieces.
I know that a lot of the comments were around “She’s modelling, and models are put in all sorts of poses without having to have any knowledge of their surroundings at all, so where’s the harm?”, and I understand this – up to a point (‘scuse the pun). Yes, models pose with super-fast cars perhaps with having absolutely no ability to drive them. I get that.
And I have no problem with the rest of the photo shoot in which Kendall was just standing or sitting in the ballet studio.
But that one picture of her trying to stand en pointe just really saddens me. She doesn’t know what she’s doing (and neither does the photographer or the director of the shoot, or the stylist or anybody in room) and is standing so badly that it just makes the pose look crappy. And it’s a shame, because the dress is so pretty. But those feet make the whole thing look a bit ugly to me. She would have looked so much more elegant if she’d just been standing (in the pointe shoes) with her feet flat on the floor. That’s my view, anyway.
So, what's been happening in the world of dance?
This month, I look at:-
Usually in October, there's a 'World Ballet Day'. To celebrate, ballet companies around the world sometimes live-stream 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 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?
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.
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.
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.
So, what do you need to know about dance this month?
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 DanceClass.com devoted to Brian and his teaching.
So hop on over and learn not just to Waltz but to Foxtrot, Cha Cha and Swing...
I'm mixing things up a little (it is nearly Christmas, after all)
This month, you get:-
As you know, I sell my own DVDs and online classes here on DanceClass.com
I also feature a few gifts and bits and pieces of dancewear that you can purchase from Amazon, which is easy for everyone. When you do purchase something I suggest, I make a few pennies on each sale.
Let's face it, if your inbox is anything like mine at this time of year, it's stuffed to overflowing with offers and links and tugs on your wallet.
So there are no links here, and nothing has been placed on this list because I've been asked or incentivized to do so. These are all just my suggestions so you can do your own research. I won't make a dime from any of this.
I would urge you, wherever you live in the world, to buy from local, independent retailers if you possibly can.
It's a tough climate for anyone who makes or sells anything for a living (it's been this way for a while now).
But particularly, there is very little money sloshing around in the world of dance. No dance teacher I know has ever become rich. And I know of many independent shops selling dance kit, shoes and accessories who support the dance teachers and their classes, and often live within meagre profit margins.
So I'm leaving it up to you. If you adore dance or know someone who does, please buy a dance-themed gift from a local retailer who will genuinely love to have your business.
Thank you, from us all, for your cherished support.
OK, so, you either want to buy a gift for the dance lover in your life, or you need a few suggestions of your own to mention to Santa.
Why not put together a dance themed gift basket of indulgence treats? There are all sorts of things that are named after dancers or have dance-related connections.
Try perfume such as Vaganova from Amrita Apothecary, Ballet by Yardley, Iris Prima by Penhaligon's, or if you want to blow the budget, Strange Invisible make a divine perfume called, simply, Prima Ballerina.
One of the most famous nail polishes in the world (widely known as The Queen's favorite) is Ballet Slippers by Essie (and it's brilliant - it literally suits everyone).
And there are dozens of soaps shaped as tutus and ballet slippers.
Even as just a couple of stocking stuffers, the nail polish and soap are only going to cost you a few dollars, but are sweet and thoughtful gifts for the ballet lover.
How about jewelry? As these adorable charm bracelets show, it's possible to find them made up with the charms already in place, telling the story of a ballet. Or you could just buy a plain bracelet and perhaps a single charm and then add to the collection at each birthday or Christmas for years to come.
A lovely gift for someone who adores dance and who also loves nature and the outdoors, is a plant, chosen not just for its beauty, but also its name.
These below are just a few - there are others such as Ginger Rogers, Anna Pavlova, those that are named after dance steps such as pirouette and arabesque and things associated with dance, such a ballet shoes, tiaras and tutus.
Posting these pictures makes me think of my lovely Mum, sadly no longer with us, but the person who first inspired me to dance. She absolutely loved that fuchsias look like ballet dancers, and always mentioned it whenever she passed any. To this day I have an overwhelming desire to pop fuchsia buds to get them to stretch out their long spindly legs and unfurl their skirts.
Planning a festive trip to the ballet? Find it hard to follow the story?
Fear not, the traditional Christmas ballet Nutcracker is super-easy to follow, even without the program notes.
But if you really need to brush up on your fairy-tale knowledge, here is a very brief overview of the story. (I'm missing loads of bits out, so I don't give too much away. This is just so you get the gist of it...)
At a glittering party on Christmas Eve, one of the guests – a local toymaker – gives a gift to each of the children, including the two children of the house, Clara and her brother Fritz.
Clara is given a Nutcracker and adores it, but the clumsy boys at the party break the beautiful gift. The toymaker mends it a little, and the Nutcracker is carefully left under the tree on its own little bed. But once the party ends, Clara is again drawn to her gift, and falls asleep under the giant Christmas tree, holding her treasured Nutcracker.
At the stroke of midnight, Clara awakes to a different world. The toys come alive, her Nutcracker does too, and an army of mean mice descend. A battle is fought, victory to the toys! The mice army retreats and Clara is left with her Nutcracker, transformed in a dashing prince.
They sail away on a sleigh to an enchanted land where everything is sweets and candy, all of which come alive and dance in turn, each with their own distinctive style.
In the grand finale, all the sweets come together to bid her and the prince farewell. The prince reassures her that the party is not ending, that she will always be able to see it.
See awakes on Christmas morning, the Nutcracker still in her arms. Was it a dream, or is the Nutcracker magical..?
Best bluffer's tip:
Refer to the ballet as 'Nutcracker' rather than 'The Nutcracker'. It's just what most dancers call it.
If all that talk of candy has got you in the mood for something sweet, how about this?
That is a life-sized ballerina made out of cake. CAKE.
Created by baker Emma Morris the dancer (and her swan) were featured at the recent Cake International competition.
The masterpiece is 5'4" tall, needed a special van to transport her in, and part of her leg broke off during the journey and had to be reattached using fondant icing.
Who ever said the life of a dancer is easy?
I received this from happy customer Daniela, who bought our Hip Hop for beginners class for her 11 year old goddaugher's birthday present.
"I feel I really have to share this video with you! Featuring my godchild Lilli, far away in Oman, when she realised she got the dance classes for her birthday"
Adorable. The gift of dance always goes down a treat.
Ooh, and happy birthday Lilli, from all of us here at DanceClass.com x
I'm a total kid about Christmas - I just adore it.
So it just remains for me to wish you all a magical festive time.
I hope Santa brings you everything you hope for.
And have fun looking forward to the dancing adventures we'll all have next year.