The right type of ballet training is critical. As with any physical activity that you are serious about, it’s really important that you research the correct type of training that complements your body and way of learning. The first step, however, is to understand whether classical ballet is the right option.
Is classical ballet the right option for you?
With ballet training, you need to have a passion for it from a young age. Without passion, dedication and a willingness to work hard, you will struggle to deal with the discipline and regime that comes with training to be a professional classical dancer. In order to succeed in what is a very competitive field, you will need to dedicate a lot of time to your training. This means evenings, weekends and holidays devoted to dance. As a young person, this will often mean choosing between dance and hobbies or time with family and friends.
The other critical determining factor to consider is your body makeup. There are certain attributes which can hugely impact your success as a classical dancer – these include foot shape and range of movement, plus whole-body facility. This can be trained into your body to a certain extent, however, your journey into the industry will be all the more difficult. (I am a prime example, of this). Young people who have these attributes in spades have a firm head-start.
You also need to bear in mind that to become a professional classical dancer, you need to dedicate yourself to mainly ballet training (as opposed to other dance styles) from an early age. That means good quality ballet training of around 12 hours a week from the age of 11, plus additional stretching and body conditioning.
As you become a more mature dancer, you will become more in tune with your body and what works for you. You’ll know, yourself, when you need to rest, push yourself, carry out some particular stretches because you’re finding something needs strengthening in your technique, or to rehearse a piece so that you get the most out of the rehearsal. As a younger dancer, however, it’s easy to get confused with the range of options or understand the right route for you.
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What method of classical dance training is right for you?
I’d advise getting to know the different methods and styles of dance as you train. You can do this in a number of ways whilst training at your main school:
- Attend summer schools and company outreach programmes. Sometimes when you are training at a specific school, you are discouraged from training outside of that style. At the Bolshoi, we were given the opportunity to attend masterclasses with visiting companies and choreographers. I attended a range of different summer schools. I believe this was of great benefit in helping me to develop my technique and prepare me for life as a professional. You learn something from each teacher and can apply it to your own technique and style.
- Go and see a range of ballet productions. Watch pure classical, as well as neoclassical and more contemporary companies to get a feel for their repertoire to see whether this is the kind of work you’d like to dance. I was really fortunate to get student tickets to go and see the Bolshoi and Stanislavsky on a fairly regular basis whilst in Moscow, plus visiting companies. I got to compare and contrast David Hallberg with Sergei Polunin and Svetlana Zhakarova with Alicia Amatrain. It’s great to absorb the creativity and passion of the dancers and apply that to your own style.
- Research ballet schools and get a feel for their method and style of training. Understand which schools are formally connected to a ballet company and can provide a progression route for students into work. It may seem like common sense, but it’s really important to identify which companies are most suited to your way of dancing. Be aware that the style you trained in will influence this. You will need to be able to match yourself to the job that best suits you.
- Private coaching is expensive. In addition to regular classes, however, it will help you master aspects of your technique in ways that group classes cannot. When I was in the UK, I trained with the Bristol Russian Ballet School. In Moscow, I ensured that I had additional private classes with my main teachers, particularly when I was training for competitions. You can develop additional insights and nuances that add to your performance.
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So which ballet schools will work for you?
Making the right choice can seem like a daunting prospect at first, particularly as the different ballet training routes vary. As a dancer, it’s important to understand the subtle differences between ballet methods, so you can match the right type of training to your strengths and what you enjoy.
You will also see that most schools adopt specific methods and offer progression routes into specific ballet companies which will help to shape your thinking. Do your research well before you select.
There are a handful of ballet methods – Vaganova (Russian), Ceccetti (Italian), Bournonville (Danish), Balanchine (American) and French. English style is a mix of Italian, French, Danish, and Russian styles. There are leading schools across the world that use these styles as the core of their teaching.
I came to realise that Russian training suited me best. My body responded well to the Vaganova method from the start, with its focus on turnout and precision in the execution of specific movements. There is much repetition involved which did great things for my muscle memory and stamina.
I feel the Russian style of ballet taught me great technique, but also allowed me to dance from the soul. Acting classes were part of the curriculum and helped us, as students, understand how to interpret and present a story; which is so important for any performance.
Finding the best route takes time, practice and research, but it’s very much worth it. When you hit on the right formula, your ballet training will set a strong foundation upon which you can build your career as a professional dancer.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. For more ballet tips and to learn more about my dancing career, please take a look at the rest of the articles on my blog. You can also follow me on Instagram and like my Facebook page.
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