The Big 7 in Ballet Etiquette

Over my years of teaching, I have developed several rules that I expect my students to  follow in class. The specifics of the rules differ a little bit from class to class depending on expectations of behavior for the age group and personalities involved. We strive for excellence in our manner and our dancing. The best way to achieve that is to respect the structure of the class, respect each other, respect the space, and respect the teacher.

  1. Be quiet.
  2. Stay in your spot.
  3. Pay attention: Listen with your ears and look with your eyes.
  4. Keep your hands to yourself (no touching walls, barres, mats, teacher's area, other classmates etc. without direct instruction from the teacher to do so).
  5. Be kind and courteous.
  6. Have fun!
  7. Dance for God!!

I explain these seven rules in detail each class, but it is helpful when the parent can support these rules and have knowledge of them. If there is ever any behavioral issues, I will address the parent after three warnings to the child.

Ballet Class Etiquette

There are quite a few specifics of ballet that make it a unique form of dance, art, and activity. Etiquette is one of them. There is a specific structure to each class for a reason. There is a specific technique to each movement for a reason. It is all to help each student work within their bodies and reach their fullest potential with focus, determination, and discipline. Below are a several cues in each part of class that if reviewed and followed, the class will run smoothly. and progression will develop more swiftly.

Ballet Etiquette At the Barre

The barre is your friend. In ballet performances, the pas de deux is the most iconic form of ballet in which the male dancer supports the female dancer. The barre is preparation for this type of dancing as well as a tool to aid the dancer in their training.

The ballet barre supports the dancer as she learns to develop and maintain the muscles required for balance, stability, strength, flexibility, poise, alignment, and memory (your brain is a muscle too!).

The exercises done at the barre are for various purposes. To the beginner dancer, the purpose is to learn and review the fundamental technique and create muscle memory for the ballet movements. For the advanced dancer, the purpose is to warmup and cue your body in its muscle memory. As the movements progress, the dancer can let the body automatically conduct basic technique as she thinks about additional things such as artistry and executing her movements more precisely.

The exercises at the barre are where every dancer begins, as well as where every professional starts their day. Even professional ballerinas rely on the barre to prepare their bodies to function correctly in rehearsal and on stage.

Soft Touch

Your hand is light like you are petting a kitten. The barre is a support, not a lifeline. If you find yourself squeezing the barre, relax your fingers, "pet the kitten," and focus the energy, being used in your tension, to your movements.

The barre is a helper, not a crutch. Only your hand should ever touch the barre. Do not lean your elbows into the barre during a combination, and do not lean against the barre between combinations. When your teacher is giving you a combination, you should be able to support your body neutrally in space.

For the younger ages, it is easy to mistake the ballet barre for a gymnastics barre. It is the perfect height for those little arms to reach up and hang on to. This is a huge no-no. Barres are expensive and are not meant for weight to pull them down in the middle. If the barre is installed into a wall, it may pull out the brackets holding it in place. If the barre is free standing, hanging on it may tip it over. This is dangerous.

Spacing

During exercises, everyone stands at the barre and faces the same way. It is important to leave room for the person in front of you and for the person behind you. This awareness of space is important to develop for center practice and across the floor exercises to not collide with anyone which could lead to injury. To know you are adequately spaced apart, there should be enough room for the length of your leg to kick forward and back with an inch or two to spare. In a small studio space, limited barre space, or crowded class, the space between people can become a couple inches past the length of your arm.

Receiving Corrections

If your teacher comes to you mid-combination and begins to correct you, interrupting your movement, then pay attention to the correction and try to apply it while keeping with the pace of the exercise. If your pace is completely thrown off, practice the correction to show your teacher you understood. When your teacher moves on, then try to catch up with where the combination has progressed.

If your teacher is correcting a student between combinations, pay attention. Every personal correction is also a general correction.

Strong Finish

Start and finish a combination the same way. Do not relax until your teacher has said so or turned off the music. Pay attention to the details your teacher gives you. Each teacher is different and may desire certain preferences and etiquette. However, a teacher never dislikes good manners. It is better to hold the final position until your teacher says finish or begins teaching the next combination, than to relax too early. If your teacher is focused on correcting another student as the combination ends and does not specify the finish, then continue to hold a balance until the music ends (there is never too much time to work on a balance) and then come to the finish position and hold until your teacher gives you instruction. Your teacher is more likely to notice everyone being still than everyone shuffling around relaxed. If your teacher has already expressed that they allow stretching in between combinations, then come to a full finish and proceed into stretching.

Ballet Etiquette In the Center

The etiquette in center is similar to barre in that you must be aware of your spacing and start and finish strong.

However, receiving corrections differs in that the teacher may not be as hands on. You must learn to listen and apply verbal corrections quickly. WHhile learning a combination, pay attention to the specifics a teacher gives you and any cues the instructor says to pay attention to in the movements. If the teacher is starting the music, stand ready. Do not fidget or mark through movements when you are about to begin even if you are unsure. Raise your hand and ask questions after the teacher has explained the steps, but before while the teacher expects you to dance.

After the combination, while the teacher is listening to the next track of music, looking at notes, etc., you can drill the previous combinations' corrections. Remember previous corrections so your teacher can build each week. There is no time to start fresh every class. Practice stretches at home. There is  little to no improvement when you only stretch once a week. Practice steps that give you trouble or trip you up. Teachers love seeing students master difficult steps and not give up.

Do not talk. Period.

Do not turn your back while the teacher is talking even if it is to stretch or drink water. Respecting your teacher means focusing on what they are saying and that focus is shown through the eyes.

Ballet Etiquette for Movements Across the Floor

If the teacher does not specify how many students in each group will travel across the floor, raise your hand and ask politely. The first group should separate themselves from the line and stand ready in the corner. There should be the number specified how to wait in line, what to do when falling out of something or forgetting halfway through the combo, marking the left, go twice on one side, look to teacher for cues on whether to keep going or wait for correction (better to go than for teacher to urge you on)

Etiquette During Free Dance

At AbunDANCE, we do something special, called creative worship, where we use all the steps and tools we learned in class and glorify God with our movement. It is individual worship done corporately so it is important that everyone is aware of those dancing around them, moves slowly, and focuses on God not self or others. It is important to be wise in movement, not chaotic which means no running, noise, talking, or touching/interacting with others.

Etiquette for After Class

Correction

If your teacher asks you to stay to talk after class to talk about your behavior or conduct during class, it is okay. You are not being punished. Your teacher just wants you and the rest of class to have reach their potential in the time and structure given. This is most efficiently done when everyone follows the same standard of attitude and action. If your teacher sees issues that are getting in the way of this growth, then she will address them courteously, but firmly. Listen respectively. If you don't understand the issue, ask for clarification. Come to the next class prepared to apply the correction and grow as a dancer.

Proper Time for Other Questions

If there are any questions regarding administration, then email the questions or plan a time with the teacher to talk about them. When the teacher is teaching, it is hard to split focus and roles between teacher and administrator. She can give proper focus to each student when teaching, and can answer most effectively when administering, each at their own time.

Leave Class Right

You may feel like you had a bad class and are frustrated, but do not let that affect how you leave. You are loved and encouraged. Try your best but do not beat yourself down. The reason for class is to learn and you won't get everything right away. That's okay because that's the point. Try kinder. You know what needs work, give yourself time and grace to get it right. Be gracious to yourself and also to others. Do not compare. Everyone is in their own developmental journey as a dancer with their own unique experiences and struggles. Make the most of every class and enjoy this gift of movement.

Keep in Mind...

Etiquette functions as the guidelines for how to efficiently receive the most benefit out of the limited time and structure of each class. It is important for everyone to give their all in their dancing, but also in their composure. This creates unity among dancers and we all know that unity is important in group dances.

How you behave affects those around you even if you are not aware of it. I have been in many classes with a bad grape that sours the whole room, but I have also ben that bad grape and spoiled the class for everyone. Ballet class is not the place to deal with any emotional issues (even though that's the place you may feel you have the most issues). Prepare yourself ahead of time with positive and encouraging thinking. Reflect on the class afterwards on the highlights and any development (no matter how small) and briefly make a note of what still needs developed so work on next class. Do not leave class thinking how "good" you were. Being a "good enough" dancer is not your identity. Your identity is expressed through your dancing. Not your identity molded by your dancing. Feel free to have life outside of dance. It will benefit your dance experience knowing that your whole world is not caught up in pliĆ©s. Also, find people outside of the dance world that you can talk to get an objective and positive outlook at the situation.

Remember, being corrected does not make you a bad person, it makes you someone who is learning and growing. That is a joyful thing. It is easy to get frustrated at everything wrong. But there is so much more right within us than we tend to focus on. Fill your mind with thoughts and viewpoints that bring life to your body and spirit. Rely on God and His Word when frustration strikes. He will be your strength. Use these rules as guidelines, but remember that we strive to bear the image of Christ and be molded into that. Do not let anything in class hinder you from that call to worship. Do what you love because God gave you that love for dance and loves to watch as you glorify Him through it.