… for the very beginner (like, starting from zero), recreational adult dancer/dance student?
This is a question that’s been going through my mind quite a bit recently. And, since when I signed up for modern dance class I did a lot of internet searching and didn’t find too much info on the subject (to be fair, my internet search skills are sadly underdeveloped. Every cool thing I’ve ever found is because I stumbled across it!), I decided to add on my 2 cents.
My first introduction to modern dance was through one of the performances at my school, back when I was a complete ballet newbie. At the time, I didn’t know much about modern – or ballet, for that matter – and while I realized ballet’s difficulty through all the struggles that I was facing, modern to me looked just plain hard! How do they go from flying in the air to throwing themselves on the ground?! I wondered. All that floorwork, rolls, the occassional flip! Just watching it made my back ache…
Anyway, since I had my hands – and feet – full with ballet, I focused exclusively on ballet for the first 2 1/2 years or so. But then, a little over a month ago, I began my first session of modern dance. While the first few weeks of lessons were mostly focused on stretching, finding our body’s center and alignment, and some conditioning (I’ve written a bit about my modern classes here in the blog), in the last couple of weeks I’ve seen modern class get increasingly intense. And we’re barely about a third into the session…
So, what exactly do I mean by “more intense”? Well, we started doing footwork, similar to what I’ve done in ballet. Stretching the foot through a forced arch position (demi-point, pushing the arch up while keeping the toes on the floor), pushing it off the floor into a full point a few inches off the ground, at different tempos – first slowly to help us maintain our balance, then quickly. Releves in parallel, first and second, with balancing.
Then class really picked up. Tendus in all directions, beginning with multiple times in each direction and progressing to one in each direction en croix, at different tempos. Degages, also following the same pattern. Plies in both first and second position, as well as parallel (6th), with coordinating arms. This move that resembles a forward bend, but with a completely flat back (Modern Teacher calls them “flatbacks”). Grand plies in first and second. The arch stretch in which you plie then bring up your arches so that you’re on releve while plie-ing. The reverse of it, going up in releve and then plie-ing from there. Even longer balances in releve. Grand battements. Sautes. And did I mention that all of this is done without a barre?!
In other words, we’re doing the same kinds of steps that are done in a beginner ballet class, but without the support (both physical and psychological, LOL) of a barre! The “center” portion of class that so many beginners dread is basically the whole class (except for the conditioning portion of class – if you’re planning on starting modern for the first time I strongly suggest you make friends with push ups and sit ups if you haven’t already).
Then there’s going across the floor. We do walks at all tempos, chasses, and jumps, sometimes coordinating the movements with our upper body. While it’s not ballet, in my opinion it’s no easy task for a very beginner dancer. We’ve also started working on a combination, which ties together many of the steps and concepts we have been working on over the past month. Since the movements don’t all have names (at least as far as I know), it’s hard for me to describe it. I will say that at some point we go from being bent over in a plie to launching ourselves forward onto our arms – I guess that’s what all the push ups were for. I’ll also say that if it wasn’t for all the strengthening that I’ve done because of ballet I would be having a very hard time in this class.
It was also in modern dance class that I discovered that it’s better (for me) to go across the floor in one of the first groups, by the way. If you go in the last group you have to go across the floor while everyone that already went is there on the opposite side staring at you. Awkward…
So, would I consider, as a beginner-beginner, modern class to be more difficult than ballet? YES!!! Looking around the room, it’s almost obvious who has had previous dance training and who hasn’t. Since my classmates for the most part are pretty young (18 to early 20’s, I’d guess) and in shape, they are doing an excellent job keeping up. I’m keeping up as well, but I know it’s only because of all the ballet and pilates I’ve been doing. During those very early days of dance training, I desperately needed the barre to help me balance in plies, tendus, releves, etc. The second we stepped out to center it was a non-stop struggle to hold my balance and do anything! However, you do get to be barefoot, and I remember in those early days how I though I felt more stable barefoot than in my ballet slippers. So that’s a small consolation.
In no way am I trying to discourage anyone from doing modern dance, or even starting off their adult dance hobby doing modern dance (not that my opinion is that important or anything). But in my experience it’s a better idea to start off with ballet – the foundation of dance – and go from there. And, above all, stay safe and have fun 🙂