Last night I watched a movie about the life of one of the greatest male dancers in the world of the late 20th Century, Li Cunxin. The movie was Mao’s Last Dancer. I encourage all dancers to view this biographical movie, or read his book. I was so impressed on how this peasant became a world famous ballet dancer. The movie not only expressed his magnificent talent as a dancer, but the severity of the Communist government from which he came.
Something that was brought to mind while watching this film, was the strictness of his ballet classroom when he was a child. The discipline in the young dancers created an atmosphere of determination and excellence of their ability. A determination we seldom see here in America’s local neighborhood dance schools.
In my younger years of training, I had attended many different dance schools with many different levels of class etiquette. As a beginner dancer of three years old, my mom took me to the local neighborhood dance studio, not with the intention to become a great dancer, or even a teacher, but because I liked to twirl around the living room floor. She took me to class with the intention to have fun, have a physical activity and make friends. All of those intentions were fantastic. I accomplished all of that.
Upon entering middle school, my mom realized how dedicated to dance I was and she enrolled me in a strict ballet school, in addition to attending the local dance school where I began. Here, at the ballet school, the class etiquette was much different. Where I was accustomed to only having to wear a ponytail for class, I now needed a bun equipped with a hair net. Where I only needed to wear a black leotard of any style, now I was only permitted to wear a black tank . Where, I usually entered the dance room talking and walking as I do outside the dance school, I needed to enter the dance room in a straight line and like a dancer, pulled up and walking demi-pointe. Before I was able to be social with my friends during class, and of course be a distraction to the teacher, I now needed to remain silent and act with respect.
Needless to say, I advanced so much more quickly than the studio I had attended all those years. Not because the dance training was not up where it should have been, but to say the least, this studio was top in the area as far as training went. But if a more respectful class room etiquette was required from the dancers, the advancement of dance training would have been a higher standard. What I am trying to communicate is, why does the class etiquette of the local dance studio have to be different than the top ballet schools of our country?
Upon graduation from high school, I began attending dance schools in Manhattan. The class etiquette varied not only from studio to studio but from dance style to dance style. The classes I took in tap, jazz and acro were informal. Where as the ballet classes I took, no matter where in Manhattan, were extremely disciplined. The dancers held respect for each other, for their class time and their teacher. I grew to appreciate the reverence of a professional ballet class. The degree of which the dancers apply themselves has much to do with their attitude of wanting to learn and improve their talent and craft.
This attitude of respect in class involves a set of rules that each dancer should apply and keep tucked deep in their heart, along with their love of dance. A sign of respect towards the other dancers and the teacher, are necessary in order to progress through all the combinations that make up a full class. There is simply not time for a teacher to be requesting the dancers to refrain from conversation and calling them back to attention every few minutes.
Whenever possible dancers should arrive early to class and stretch independently, and to prepare themselves for the business of ballet class. This early arrival will give the dancer time to switch their focus from their daily concerns and prepare their body and mind for the rigors of class. Keeping the thoughts and details of their day outside the dance room.
Some other considerations that are typical of proper dance class etiquette are expected but listed here.
Do not chew gum, eat, or drink during class. Sometimes dancers may be permitted to get a drink between barre and center.
Do not to leave the room unless absolutely necessary and ask the teacher to do so.
Leave cell phones off and in the dressing room or don’t bring one to class. Most dance studios will allow you to use the phone in an emergency.
Do not yawn in class, this is disrespectful to the teacher.
Do not get impatient with yourself, this can be misinterpreted by the teacher who thinks you don’t care for their class or combination.
Do not always stand in front. Take turns.
Do not always go first across the floor unless the teacher asks you to.
Do your best and have a positive attitude
Leaning against the wall during class, and sitting down unless directed to do so is not acceptable. Dancers need to be, at a moments notice, ready to dance. This shows respect for your teacher and the rest of the dancers in class.
As I have mentioned before, if you are a dancer dress like a dancer. Being properly dressed shows the teacher and yourself that you are serious about your art form. You will feel more confident and dance better when properly dressed for class.
Always have a dancer’s heart at class time, you need to get the most out of your class and having good ballet classroom etiquette will help you get there.