Theatre Thoughts: Ballet Lessons

It's quite a while since I last danced properly*, a long time since I felt confident enough to call myself 'a dancer', longer still since the last time I attended a ballet class, and more time has passed than I care to admit since I graduated from college.

However, even though I'm much older, stiffer and curvier now than I was when I was training, and I certainly don't feel as though I *look* like a dancer, I still get asked on a regular basis: "You're a dancer, aren't you?" Some of this is, certainly, down to working in a dance shop where it is assumed (correctly in the case of the store I work in) that all of the staff are dancers. However I get it in other aspects of my life as well; working in an office, sat on a reception desk, etc. In innocuous, incongruous environments, someone may say to me "Oh, you have excellent posture; you must be a dancer."

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This, I believe, is the lasting legacy of my time dance training, and why I believe that every child should attend a dance class;**

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If there's one thing that dance (ballet in particular) does better than almost any other activity that a child can engage in, it is to teach you good posture. I remember an exercise from, I think, pre-primary class, which started with sitting down with fingertips resting on the floor beside you; my teacher told us to imagine that the ribbons in our hair were pulling up to the ceiling, while keeping our fingers lightly touching the floor. Try it and tell me that you can't feel your shoulders pulling down, your stomach being pulled in, your back straightening and your neck lengthening. And that wasn't even the exercise, this was just the position we started in!
The things we learn as children stick with us throughout our lives, and good posture is one the many things that ballet taught me.

Another aspect of dance training that has lingered is punctuality. While I was at college, if we weren't ready to start the class at the right time, we weren't allowed to take part. Simple as that. The shame of being made to sit out of the class was awful. Even in casual classes, before I trained full-time, various teachers would impose restrictions: if you were late, you had to warm-up yourself and join in when the class moved to the next exercise, or after the barre section. Obviously this didn't apply to children's classes where it's much more likely that late-running is the fault of the parent, or traffic, but as soon as we were old enough to negotiate our own way somewhere, it has been the opinion of most of my teachers that we were old enough to negotiate our way there on time. After all, auditions or performances aren't going to be held because of traffic, or a train fault, so, unfortunately, we have to learn.
As a result I am obsessed with being punctual. I would rather be an hour early than five minutes late, and if I think a certain train or bus will leave me with 'just' enough time to arrive at my destination, I will opt for the earlier choice.

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It's always said "Treat Others As You Would Wish To Be Treated", and I would imagine that nearly everyone on earth would agree that they would wish to be treated with respect. This is something we learn early on in ballet classes, with a révérence at the end of the lesson. I would argue that, alongside this, our presentation in class was drilled into us as being a sign of respect for your teacher: they are there to help you, and if they can't see your body under baggy clothes, loose hair, or multiple layers, you are not allowing them to do their job. Therefore, wearing the correct clothing and appearing neat and tidy is a sign of respectfulness and willingness to learn.
Being taught respect for yourself and others is one of life's great lessons. It can come from anywhere, but for me this came from ballet class.
* for the purposes of this blog, my booty-shaking at a recent wedding doesn't count
** or martial arts, or sports, or art class, or music lessons. Whatever takes your child's fancy!


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