Training to become a professional classical dancer has given me much opportunity over the years to consider the importance of ballet. Although classical dance is one of the oldest art forms, it is developing and progressing all the time, acting as a constant source of inspiration for more modern dance styles. It allows dancers to express themselves in new and exciting ways.
Classical dance as the basis for innovation
Classical dance is the basis for many new and exciting new dance works. Many classically trained dancers and choreographers use what they’ve learnt through ballet to discover different ways of moving and, consequently, are able to develop the art form to create innovative new productions.
The contemporary work that forms a significant part of the repertoire for many of the large ballet companies throughout the world has its routes in classical ballet technique Wayne McGregor acknowledges how ballet technique allows for the exploration of movement by cross-referencing classical Royal Ballet or Paris Opera dancers through his boundary-testing choreography. At Astrakhan, I love to perform Piaf, a piece choreographed by our Artistic Director, that is classical with a contemporary twist.
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Likewise, many brilliant story ballets draw deeply on classical dance. The great Kenneth Macmillan is a perfect example and this can be seen in many of his resonating masterpieces, including Mayerling and Manon. From Neumeier, there are beautiful tales, including Lady of the Camellias and The Little Mermaid. Meanwhile, the genius that is Grigorovich has provided us with The Legend of Love and Spartacus amongst many others. These are just a handful of examples illustrating the way in which classical dance encourages the portrayal of epic and exciting tales.
Classical dance as an art form
I believe classical dance inspires in every sense of the word. Choreographers are inspired to use ballet technique in order to push the art form forwards, whereas dancers are inspired to broaden their skills learnt in the studio to something more. Audiences, meanwhile, become enthralled by the ideas that are generated as a result of the strict art form that is ballet.
Classical dance is a beautiful form of communication. It is a physical language that presents the beauty of the human form in movement, whether it is telling a story or offering a more abstract, contemporary production. Audiences relate on a very personal level to the movements they see on stage. Classical dance that connects with the audience reaches them through the artistry presented by the dancers conveying strength, emotion and passion.
The interpretation of the movement will be different for every audience member. In a world where we strive for knowledge, clarity and a quick diagnosis of situations, dance is an expression of creativity that helps us develop and appreciate different perspectives.
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Wider benefits of ballet for dancers
Ballet is so much more than a performance on stage. The discipline required to train seriously in classical dance is huge. Even on an amateur level, students will benefit from the rules and repetition of ballet training and apply this in other aspects of their lives.
Ballet training requires resilience and hard work. In training, I learnt to set myself goals and overcome the most testing of obstacles in order to achieve them. I’ve carried this mentality with me ever since. My goals all helped me take the next step towards a professional career – training at one of the best schools in the world, entering international competitions, then starting my performing career and now developing my choreographic skills.
A ballet student learns to listen to their body; dancers are very intuitive when it comes to understanding how their body is coping and how it responds. Health wise, the pluses of this are obvious; being in tune with your body enables you to maintain the right level of fitness and appropriate diet, improve strength and also recover properly after injuries.
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Ballet that serves other creative work
Classical dance productions require a lot of creative work from a diverse range of people and departments. This includes dancers, choreographers, directors and répétiteurs, but there are also the costume and scenery departments, musicians and lighting technicians which no great performance could happen without.
Ballet is, therefore, a very essential part of the creative industry. It has an extremely wide influence across the art world and impacts many people’s lives through arts entertainment. When considered in this way, the importance of classical dance in society is really quite apparent.
Benefits of ballet for non-professional dancers
Basic ballet training as a fitness method for non-dancers is also taking off with ballet barre studios popping up all over. Ballet training develops core strength and builds long, lean muscles for a more toned physique. It also improves flexibility in the upper and lower body.
As well as physical benefits, there are also social benefits of participating in ballet training. More recently, there has also been a focus on the benefits of ballet training for the mind, as a result of a number of pieces of research. A deeper mind-body connection sees reduced stress levels and the repetition and discipline of movement is thought to enhance memory and mental strategies. There have even been reports that it offers protection against dementia and supports more control over debilitating illnesses (English National Ballet have offered classes for people with Parkinson’s, for example.)
Classical dance is also an extremely effective tool to give form to emotions. I believe it’s a great way to encourage people to express themselves through a healthy, positive outlet. This applies to the classical dance that is taught at community dance schools, engaging many young people, and where I took my first steps as a ballet dancer. It also applies to the many dance festivals and ballet competitions, the dance taught in our schools and the adult ballet classes that are also benefiting from a renaissance.