What’s so important about ballet?
As a dance teacher and a studio director, one question I hear on a regular basis is, “Why do I need to take ballet?” Many if not most studios require ballet at some point in a dancers education. So what’s all the fuss about ballet? Here are some great reasons why you shouldn’t skip the barre.
Ballet is the foundation for all of the other dance genres. This is why it is essential for all dancers to be familiar with a ballet class and all of its components. The movements in lyrical, jazz, modern, contemporary, and even hip hop and tap classes are all rooted in traditional ballet. I explain it like this. If you are going to write a paragraph, you will first need to know how to make a sentence. To write a sentence you need to know many words. To make words, you need to know the alphabet. Ballet is the alphabet of dance.
Ballet teaches the terminology you’ll use for many other genres. Plie means to bend. Jete means to throw. Chaine, arabesque and passe are all French words that any dancer will know. Since ballet terminology is entirely in French, dancers use a language that may be foreign to the uninitiated. If you walk into a jazz, contemporary or lyrical class, you will hear much of the same terminology being applied to these genres.
Ballet teaches body alignment. Much of what we try to accomplish in dance is made possible through correct body positioning. Have you ever seen a dancer with the ability to hold her leg up by her ear? She learned that in ballet class. Ballet emphasizes a rotation of the femur in the hip socket which, along with a very specific placement of the pelvis (also taught in ballet class), allows the leg freedom to rise above hip level. This skill takes years of practice at the ballet barre to master. But once you’ve got it, you can use it to wow the audience with a theater or hip hop piece.
The ability to leap with a suspension that defies gravity, to execute multiple turns with ease, or balance on one leg for measures at a time all come from… you guessed it… ballet class. Most importantly, ballet teaches dancers to hold their core. And a dancer who uses her core appears grounded, weightless, controlled and sustained all at the same time. These qualities separate ballet dancers from the crowd and give them a literal leg up at auditions. They seem infinitely more in control of their bodies than those who have not been trained.
Ballet teaches discipline. Ballet requires the memorization and reiteration of patterns at the barre. This exercises the brain and helps make the memorization of longer strings of choreography easier. Each and every ballet class, at every level, in every studio and every country of the world starts with plies at the barre. Repetition, muscle memory and mind-body connection are key elements. Every dancer must connect her brain and her body, her emotions and her movement. This takes focus, patience and self-control. Mastering these things will absolutely make your tap dancing, hip hop moves or your modern phrase that much better.
Ballet teaches focus and neuromuscular coordination. From the very first barre exercise, dancers are asked to coordinate their legs, arms and heads while holding their alignment correctly and appearing composed. Many times in ballet class, we joke that it is much easier to rub your belly while patting your head. Ballet requires the development of neuromuscular coordination which is a key principal in every other type of dance.
Ballet introduces students to classical music. The benefits of listening to classical music are well-documented, especially for the young. A happy side effect of ballet class is the introduction to many great composers. Musicality is developed naturally through choreography set to the classics.
Ballet is one of the oldest dance genres. It connects us to our craft and dancers throughout history. Because ballet has been evolving for hundreds of years, it is the most comprehensive method of developing human potential through movement. Dancers achieve great things in ballet class and are then free to translate those achievements to any genre they choose. A house without a solid foundation will surely collapse. A dancer with a solid foundation in ballet will soar to new heights in whatever genre she decides to pursue.