The Benefits of Ballet
Learn why ballet is so critical to a dancer's repertoire.
You may have heard your dance teacher or studio director say it a million times: “You have to take your ballet.” Most studio directors strongly encourage all students to sign-up for ballet class; some studios even have a ballet requirement. But why is it so important?
Ballet has a number of benefits. It improves your line, posture, flexibility, alignment and strength. It is the foundation and sets you up for other forms like jazz and contemporary. Even hip hop dancers can benefit from ballet. Ballet can certainly make you an all-around better dancer, and if you give it a chance, it can be fun, too!
“The foundation you build in ballet will pay off in every type of dance,” explains Tyler Stickel, a member of Groove Dance Competition’s ballet faculty who trained at the Dayton Ballet and has performed in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and for choreographer Mandy Moore, among others. “The first exercise you do in ballet is a plié. What type of dance does not use a plié? None. Ballet simply crosses over in every style of dance. That’s why it’s so important.”
Ballet gives dancers a solid foundation of technique, and with that strong base, they can dance other styles.
“Technique is what helps a student become a professional,” says Karina Terán, also a member of Groove’s ballet faculty who freelances with multiple companies. “As a professional, you never stop learning and improving, so you have to maintain your training by taking ballet class as often as you can.”
A foundation is something that has to be maintained. If you took out the ground floor of a building, the entire structure would crumble. Likewise, it is important to keep up with your ballet training throughout your years as a student and as a professional.
“Maintaining your ballet training is very important because as you mature from adolescent, teenager to adult, your body and muscles change,” Stickel says. “During these changes, you need to keep training your muscles to execute ballet correctly. Within three days of not using a muscle, they start to atrophy. In this way, bodybuilding and ballet are very similar. Bodybuilders do not look like they do by only working out one day a week, and you will not maintain your ballet technique by taking one day of ballet.”
Benefits of ballet
As mentioned before, ballet has numerous physical benefits that can better your technique as a dancer.
“Maintaining good ballet training allows you to keep your alignment, core strength, full body control, flexibility, turnout and beautiful footwork,” explains Tiana Noecker, Groove convention ballet teacher and former professional ballet dancer.
Terán adds, “If you work correctly, it develops muscles in your legs, abs, back. Your body gets toned, and you don’t feel it the same way as if you worked in the gym.”
Just ask a non-dancer friend or parent to stand on one leg and do a gorgeous adagio développé with a beautiful, coordinated port de bras. That takes (and builds) a lot of strength!
But ballet offers more than just physical benefits. It also instills discipline, musicality, patience, attention to detail, determination, grace, plus respect for your teacher and yourself.
“You learn what hard work can bring, and it feeds your soul when you truly allow yourself to be immersed in the art form,” Noecker assures.
Can ballet be fun?
Some dancers think ballet is “boring” or “slow,” that it really is comparable to eating your least favorite vegetable. But, like getting used to your least favorite vegetable, enjoying ballet more takes practice, patience and perhaps a different mindset.
Stickel admits to once dreading ballet as a student. “But the reason we think it’s ‘slow’ or ‘boring’ is because ballet is hard!” he says. “No matter how hard you try, you will never be perfect. And that’s frustrating. But once you really take the time to slowly train your muscles to correctly accomplish ballet – to the best of your ability – you will start seeing a difference in your other styles of dance. I tell my students to rearrange their thoughts. Instead of thinking, ‘Ugh…ballet. I don’t want to take class’, I tell them to think, ‘If I don’t like this style of dance, it’s because I need more practice’. And soon you’ll start liking it because you’re better at it.”
Ballet may not at first be flashy and full of “tricks.” Before students can learn those fouetté turns and tour jetés that they’re so eager to do, it’s important that they start slowly and correctly, one tendu at a time.
“You have to look at ballet training as learning how to walk all over again,” Noecker explains. “Baby steps, and then appreciate the steps you take no matter how big or small.”
For a more “fun” approach to ballet, Terán says she makes jokes with her students, such as catchy ways to remember the ballet terminology. She also finds it important to remind her students to work from their heart, through their technique.
“I always tell them that it’s not important how we look when we dance, or how many turns we can do or how high our extensions are,” she adds. “The most important thing is the passion that we have.”
Terán often switches up her class music, and Stickel occasionally uses pop music, especially in morning classes.
Noecker says she encourages students to believe in themselves and love the way they move as an individual. In that way, students’ thoughts become more positive, and then ballet becomes more fun!
“We are all unique, and I like to remind my dancers that they are all great!” adds Noecker.
What a difference ballet makes
When all three of these teachers are asked if they can tell the difference between a dancer who has had ballet training and one who has not, they say, “absolutely.”
“Ballet dancers are fully aware of their footwork, weight placement over the balls of their feet, strong cores, full posture, and all of their movements come from their center strength,” Noecker says. “Ballet dancers, put simply, move differently.”
Stickel can always tell when dancers have had ballet by how they carry their upper body. “Port de bras!” he emphasizes. “If you have wet noodle arms or stiff board arms, it’s due to lack of ballet training. I can also say the exact same thing with legs, too. Dance is a full-body experience. If you don’t dance as one unit, it’s because your ballet training is lacking.”
So if you’re one to think you’d rather ditch ballet, try to consider the art form’s years and years of history, and the benefits it can have for you as a complete dancer. Terán, after all, calls ballet “the mother of dance.”
And Noecker adds, “You not only come out being a better dancer, but you approach your life in a more appreciative way. You see what true passion and drive can bring if you focus on the positivity and beauty within. So take a deep breath, and take it all one step at a time.”
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.