Actually Dancing, and “Naturals”

F Teacher is always telling us to really dance – to feel the music – when we do our combinations, telling us that we need to begin to develop the artistry since the beginning of our study of dance. And she’s absolutely right, and I’m sure anyone who follows her instructions will become a better dancer much quickly . However, while I know she’s right, that’s not the way it’s come along for me.

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t even think about the artistry back when I first started, as I was too concerned with building up the strength needed to do any of the exercises to think about doing them in a beautiful way. Especially in center, even as I had gradually improved in my technique at the barre, I was too worried about losing my balance without it. I felt quite silly trying to make my movements look beautiful when I feared that any second I would have to bring my working foot down very ungracefully  in order to avoid falling over. Kind of hard to feel like I’m taking myself seriously if I’m crashing down randomly. I think even after I’d gotten strong enough to hold myself up I still had the memory of all the times I hadn’t been able to, and it was holding me back.

Thankfully though, at some point in the not-too-distant past I got over my fear of losing my balance and now I feel like I can actually feel the music without all my fears getting in the way. More and more it’s feeling like dancing instead of some strange exercise in multiple limb coordination. It’s actually looking recognizably as ballet (at least until we get to petite allegro)! Since dancing has always been either a mystery of something that I’m horrible at (or just plain refuse to do due to fear of looking -and feeling – extremely ridiculous) I’m really exciting to finally be actually dancing. It is a good time to be in my ballet timeline.

Anyway, point is, I’m not a “natural” at ballet.

You might think ‘Who is? After all, this is an extremely challenging art form.’ And it is, but at the same time there are some people, clearly beginners by their technique, who just have it – they can dance. Like this girl I took class with the other day. From the way she strugged with barre, it appears that she’s new to ballet. But once we came out to center there was something about the way she moved, so graceful and beautiful and lovely to watch despite all the technique errors. To someone who is unfamilar with ballet technique it would look like she’s doing ballet. Definitely more ballet-like than my stiff or hesitant movements of my early ballet days.

(There’s also a different kind of “naturals”, those with an anatomical facility that makes them better suited for ballet, like impressive turnout or beautiful archy feet. Like this new girl in my class with amazing natural turnout – her little toes almost touch the floor when she turns out in a seated position. While I don’t know if that helps with making it look like dancing from the beginning, I’m sure once the technique is there it does help with making a more visually interesting image.)

On to some assorted class notes from the classes I’ve taken so far this week:

In Beginner class, we worked on pas de bourres at the barre as part of our releve combination. I remember how much I struggled with these back when I first started, and I would do them at home over and over, just back and forth, pas de bourre, pas de bourre, hoping to get it into muscle memory. Hearing the more beginner students get corrected repeatedly was reminding me of back then and stressing me out!

At New Studio we did this fun combination at the barre: tendu devant, plie in 4th, releve in fourth, tendu a la second, plie and releve in second, tendu derriere, plie in 4th, releve, passe releve to the front, passe releve to the back, reverse. I found myself really enjoying this combination, though it may have been partly because the music just went with it so well.

We did a developpe combnation at center: 2 demi plies, 1 grand plie all in first, tendu a la seconde and close in fifth, developpe devant, developpe a la seconde, pas de bourre, other side. With the exception of using the correct arms during the pas de bourre, I actually did it pretty well. Lately I’ve been thinking that I do have my balance, but I need to make sure I stay pulled up if I want to stay perfectly balanced when doing developpes or promenades or I guess anything else that involves balancing on one leg while not beng completely still. So I remembered to stay pulled up during the developpes especially, managed to hold my balances every time.

Another combination we did was 2 tendus and temps lie devant and derriere in croisse, developpe devant, change to en face, 2 tendus a la seconde and temps lie, close to begin other side. I feel proud of myself that I figured out by now that F Teacher likes us to do arabesque arms when we tendue derriere, while R Teacher likes us to do croisse derriere arms (which is the downstage arm up and we look like we’re looking under it – horrible description, I know).

Across the floor we did waltz step, with no turning for the more beginner students. The tempo was nice and slow, so it was not like all my effort was on keeping up like when we waltzed at New Studio class.

We also started working on pique turns across the floor. I enjoy pique turns, and find them much easier than pirouettes (especially pirouettes en dehors – at some point I realized that pirouettes en dedans make sense to me because they are essentially pique turns that stay in place. But then, for what it’s worth, even my step-over piques  are better than my stationary en dehors pirouettes.). Since we had worked on pirouettes (or just passe releve, for the more beginner students) for about 20 minutes straight – no exaggeration, I may have peeked at the clock here and there – my legs we starting to get a tired even before the piques. R Teacher corrected my on keeping my working leg (the one that’s in retire) turned out during the turns. I’ve gotten this correction before in my stationary pirouettes, so it’s something that I really need to work on. Other than continuing to strengthen my rotator muscles I don’t really know exactly what though.

We did grand jete leaps across the floor, as well as chasses into saute arabesque, as this jump that was like a grand battement on releve but letting the supporting leg jump up off the floor then landing on what was the working leg before and going into a saute passe. It felt like skipping, but ballet-ish, and was so much fun.


8 thoughts on “Actually Dancing, and “Naturals”

  1. nadiainherownworld

    You know, I’ve kind of been wondering whether adult beginners are “naturals” in the same way that children are naturals, or whether it has more to do with whatever movement training/experience they’ve had throughout their life (i.e. if they’ve played a sport, if and how they exercise, whether their parents made a big deal about posture, if they work at a desk job, if they dance at parties—I would guess that all of these things and more can influence someone’s “natural” way of moving.

    Not that I would know how to tease out these effects from innate ability—and it probably doesn’t really matter in practice anyway. Just sort of interesting to think about 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      I definitely agree that whatever other activities someone’s had in their past would impact their dancing ability as an adult beginner.I can see how my lack of athletic ability or body conditioning prior to starting ballet played a role in my early lack of progress while other beginners advanced more rapidly. But while some people have the strength advantage,it’s been rare for me to come across someone who could actually dance as a beginner, like showing expression in their movements. Perhaps a theater backgroud…?
      Anyway, by me not being an adult beginner “natural” I suppose I mean that given my history (or lack of) with most physical activity, I was unlikely to succeed at ballet.

      1. nadiainherownworld

        I see what you mean. I guess I was thinking more about movement qualities–like some sports seem more “graceful” than others. But I do totally know some theater kids who can totally “perform” dance combinations without tons of technical experience…

        Anyway, I guess it’s not all that important how you get there–if you’re learning technique and getting to a point where you can dance expressively, that’s pretty great 🙂

    1. kit Post author

      It’s weird, but I feel all the time I spent working on the strength and technique to finally be able to have some dance-y moments was worth it. But it was really discouraging for the longest time.

  2. Dance Pundit

    I went back to a ballet for the first time in three years, and decided I should start with a master class. I always thought of myself as a natural dancer but this time I was essentially a beginner again. I struggled through the class and was only thinking about keeping up. Natural dancers may have a grace/artistry advantage in the beginning, however they often still struggle with the training/technique.

    1. kit Post author

      Hmmm, so I guess it’s like a trade-off…
      I’m about as far as one can possible get from a natural dancer, so I never had any idea that natural dancers struggle too!


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