Making Ballet Fun

"Ballet is so... serious."

"Ballet is so boring."

"Ballet moves too slow and the music is old."

"Ballet is too stiff for me."

These are all complaints that we've heard students say about ballet. Opinions of ballet have shifted as time has passed. It was during the post-modern period of dance, which began around 1960, that shifted the thoughts on ballet to more of a "conditioning" aspect of dance as a whole. Ballet was thought of as a way for dancers to stay in shape and become stronger dancers. Even today, it is thought by many that ballet is equated to taking vitamins.

How can we re-frame ballet in today's dance world? How can we rid ballet of the "why so serious?" feel that pushes many dancers away from it? We must teach them the positive aspects of ballet! We must show them how to find beauty, passion, drama and intrigue in ballet! We must show them how "cool" ballet is!

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Photo: Ashley Murphy, Dance Theatre of Harlem

1. Ballet is cool!

Did you know there was a time in ballet history called the "Cult of the Ballerina?" It was during the Romantic Ballet era (early to mid 19th century). It was a time when ballerinas began to rise to stardom. People adored ballerinas and thought of them as beautiful, ethereal spirits. People desired to be with or around or become a ballerina! They were capable of doing the unimaginable on stage, and people fell in love with that. Today, ballerinas are still capable of doing physically stunning movement. Ballerinas live in a world that only dancers know, and there is something mysteriously wonderful about that.

2. Ballet makes you stronger!

You know that feeling when you've accomplished something you knew was difficult? Maybe you climbed a mountain? Ran in a marathon? Or finished a huge project? That feeling you get when you've accomplished the difficult, conquered the seemingly unconquerable is a great feeling. And do you know why it feels so great? Because you've changed! The person you are after the accomplishment is different from the person who started the journey. You've grown stronger, more adaptable, more creative, more resilient. Ballet is a great way to set a goal (small or large) and work your way to accomplishment.

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3. Ballet is beautiful!

If you ask ballerinas, they can tell you the first time they realized ballet was beautiful (instead of focusing on it only being work). They can also recall the moment they realized they could feel beautiful doing ballet. Once you understand that the simple movement of a hand, or the shifting of the angle of a shoulder or head (epaulement), you begin to understand the power you possess. Imagine the audience holding their breath as you step toe-ball-heel onto the stage and pose. They are waiting on you; waiting to capture every beautiful movement full of breath, passion and energy. In this moment, you possess all beauty, strength, emotion and time.

4. Ballet is fun!

We all know ballet is work. It is hard. It is emotional. It can be stressful. But ballet isn't just about technique and work. Ballet can also be fun, and students need to understand where and how to find the fun in ballet. Imagine how much more they'd love to do frappés if they could see how fun and flirty they are. Teach them how wholesome and grandiose rond de jambes should feel, and tell them how mysterious and full of anticipation a rise to pointe or awaiting the full extension of an arabesque is. If the passion of ballet and the meaning of every move is passed along, then the beauty and the history is also passed along. The meaning of being a part of something far greater than right here and now is passed along.

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5. Ballet is special!

It's like being a member of a secret society. We have our own secret language, our own wonderful costumes, our own understanding of the world around us, our own procedures and methods, and our own approach to storytelling, conditioning, and life. To be a member in this society you have to be strong, believe in beauty, treasure history and technique, respect those who came before you, be passionate about movement, embrace patience and healthy competition; be supportive of those around you, listen carefully, learn quickly, pay attention, embrace the community and live with a desire to always improve.

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Go ahead. Embrace the ballerina life. Embrace ballet and all of its glory and history! It is so much more than "serious, stiff, boring, slow."

Tell us: If you had to sell ballet to a potential dancer, what would you say about it?

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