Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 1

When is too late to start ballet? What should I look for in a ballet school? Can I become a professional dancer if I start training as a teen? What on earth do I wear?

If you’re a teen that is interested in beginning ballet classes for the first time, these are just a few of the exciting questions you probably have. Ballet is a wonderful activity at any age for strengthening the body, increasing flexibility, emotional expression and spending time with friends. Starting as a teen will give you a different experience than if you start young, but it can certainly be as fun and enjoyable. So let’s get to those questions …

I recommend a physical exam with your doctor before beginning any new physical activity, but it is never too late to begin ballet lessons if you are medically able. Your goals in dance are important to consider though. Do you just want to get some activity into your week while spending time with friends? Do you dream of eventually wearing pointe shoes? Do you aspire to a professional career? Do you just want to try something new?

If your goals are recreational, you have chosen a wonderful activity. Ballet is terrific exercise, is very creative and is great for spending time with friends and making new ones. It’s unlike any other sport because it is also a performing artform. You should plan to take classes once or twice a week to progress at a safe pace recreationally.

If you would also like to one day wear the coveted satin pointe shoes, you may be able to reach this goal. However, this will require a bit more dedication than the above. There are many different factors that go into a student’s preparedness for pointe work, including skeletal structure which cannot be altered. Soft tissue malleability is also an issue. Young children have some ability to change soft tissue range of motion, but that decreases dramatically in the teen years. You will need at least two years of twice weekly lessons before you should be considered for pointe training. Whether you are an acceptable candidate for pointe at that time should be determined by a qualified teacher. But rest assured that ballet is incredibly enjoyable and satisfying activity regardless of whether you are on pointe or not!

Now for the toughest question: Can you become a professional ballerina if you start ballet lessons in your teens? If you are very, very lucky and work very, very hard, yes you can. Just ask Darcy Bussell, Melissa Hayden, Carmen Corella or Misty Copeland. But it would be wrong of me not to tell you that those are extremely rare and fortunate circumstances with dancers that were born with a naturally favorable body and facility for ballet and pointe. If you’ve read my article on becoming a professional dancer, you know just how competitive it is, and that is for students who have been training for nearly all their lives! (Of course, it is different for male ballet dancers, who may be able to start in their mid-teens with no problem.)

Training in ballet as a teen can open doors to other styles of dance that are based on ballet technique. Studying ballet can prepare you for success in modern, jazz, contemporary and other disciplines. Because they don’t require pointe training, these styles can be more accessible to teen beginners for potential of professional dance. Also, even recreational ballet training might lead to new college opportunities.

Once you’ve given some thought to your goals, its time to research local dance schools. The easiest way to come up with a complete list of dance schools in your area is to look on www.yp.com. There are a lot of websites that claim to have dance school listings, but most are dependent on the schools initiating that listing, which many schools don’t. If you are interested in pairing your ballet lessons with classes in other dance forms, focus on studios that offer those other forms of dance in addition to ballet.

Because dance can be harmful if taught improperly, it is important to review the training of each teacher you consider. They should have trained with a school that is well-respected in the dance community at large, not just locally, or they should have had a respectable professional career. Thanks to Google, this shouldn’t be difficult to find out once you have the teacher’s bio. Visit the school to get a feel for its suitability. Do the students conform to a clean and professional-looking dress code? Do the classes seem organized and logically-run? Ask if the studio has sprung floors, which minimize injury. Studios should be large and well-lit with high ceilings and with mirror panels covering at least one wall.

If you have dreams of dancing professionally, your ideal option is to enroll in the recreational division of a professional ballet school (one that is affiliated with professional ballet company) and to try audition into the professional training division once you have reached an acceptable level. You may need to audition even to enter the recreational division. Speak to the teacher or the school directors about your options for entry and progression. You will need to take a minimum of one class a day most days of the week to train at this level. Once you have a learned the basics and strengthened your body, this schedule could need to increase significantly.

Hopefully the schools you look at will offer a teen beginner ballet class. If they do not and you are not comfortable in a class with much younger students, look for an adult beginner class. Do not be discouraged if you cannot find either at a good school in your town. Instead, speak to the teacher or director about how far along you would need to be before you can move into a class with students closer to your age. Create a plan with the teacher or director for reaching your goal so you will not feel like you are stuck in a lower age group indefinitely.

Starting ballet classes can be so exciting. Congratulations on choosing such a beautiful and fun activity. In my next post, I’ll help you prepare for your first ballet classes … with a little shopping!

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Dancewear en l’air: The V-Neck Ballet Sweater

Professional ballerinas, fashion models and movie stars are just a few who reach for K.D. Dance sweater AC03DB when they want to throw something on that will flatter no matter what.

The “03” as it’s called is beloved for its soft touch and figure-balancing wide v-neck, which can be worn off the shoulder or on. Either way, it’s perfect for showing off tank or camisole straps and your elegant neckline. The length is flattering as well, falling just to the hip. This acrylic top is available in eighteen of K.D. Dance’s lush colors and would be great paired with your favorite leo or with your favorite jeans.

Dancewear en l’air: The Plush Velour Long-Sleeve Leotard

Ok, so winter isn’t exactly here yet, but it will be soon! What better way to stay warm when the chilly days come than with a luxiouriously velvety velour long-sleeved leo, like Grishko’s DA44VL?

I just love the look of velvet on a leotard. This one is done beautifully with an empire seam dividing the stretch bodice and the velour bust and sleeves. The pinched front creates the slightest hint of a sweetheart neckline. And this leotard is available in all the right colors for bringing out the richness of its fabrics – midnight blue, bordeaux and black.

Tutu Talk (Plus – Where to Get the Tutu Goods!)

If you are getting to an advanced stage in your training, chances are you have already worn or will soon wear a tutu. I’m not talking about those mass-made recital costumes that arrive crumpled up in plastic bags – I’m talking about a fully or partially handmade tutu carefully constructed with hoops, high-quality tulle and a corset-style basque and bodice. (Insert high-pitched squeal of girly joy!)

If you’ve been dancing for a while, you probably already know the basic tutu cuts. The romantic style is easy to spot because of its ankle or below-the-knee length in voluminous layers of soft net and tulle. The classical tutu usually refers to the pancake or platter style with its flattened shape that is hooped to stay straight out from the hip.

There are three common subcategories of the classical tutu. The original is the pancake described above. The Balanchine or Karinska tutu, also called a powderpuff, is obvious from its loosely tacked softer tulle or net that is shorter in length than the pancake and not hooped.  The bell tutu is similar to the pancake, but bells slightly downward with no hoop and has more layers than a pancake style.

Practice or rehearsal versions are available in all the styles above, but are most common for pancake tutus. If you are purchasing a rehearsal tutu of any kind, it is best to spend more if you can to get a professional version because that will give you the versatility to alter it into a performance piece. Most professional tutu-makers make practice versions based on the same construction as their performance versions. Ordering from one of them is the easiest way to ensure you have a tutu you can use for practice and potentially for performance. This will require some careful measuring with the help of a friend and some patience for the creation of your tutu. Each maker can tell you the specifics of their ordering process and often has a page on their website devoted to this information.

Practice tutus are most versatile in white but much easier to keep clean-looking in black. Cleaning any tutu can be a difficult process. Chemical dry cleaning destroys their delicate frills, hoops can rust in water, and the delicate decorations and beading can be harmed by any cleaning method. Foregoing an overall cleaning in favor of spot cleaning and deordorizer (think Febreze) can be a good solution, though sweat and grime may eventually break down the fabric. Ideally, design the tutu as best you can so that embellishments can be removed for cleaning. This makes it much more versatile anyway.

If you need to go a less expensive route, there are some decent options out there. You’ve may have noticed that most discount dance suppliers have tutu sections, and those can be great resources. Try not to buy really cheap and ill-made tutus; that’s just throwing away money. Even if you can’t afford a pro-made tutu, you should still look for something with good quality tulle and a corset basque. Some decent practice tutus are made by Bloch, Star Styled, Body Wrappers, Main Street Dancewear, Sansha, Algy Performs, Wear Moi and Mondor. A few also sell bodice-style leotards that can be matched to the tutu for a very simple performance piece. Most of these styles are available through discount dancewear retailers.

Once you have your prized tutu, you should keep it in primo condition by storing it a proper tutu bag to protect it from crushing. Tutus should never be folded, but if you must, picking it up from the crotch and gently folding it upside down can minimize damage. If you pack it right-side-up, your tutu will flatten and the look will be ruined. Hanging tutus should be upside-down as well. Pancake tutus can be stored flat on a shelf provided they are not stacked one top of the other so that air can circulate.

Now that you are armed with the scoop on tutus and how and what to buy, here is a list of some of today’s best professional tutu makers for U.S. shoppers:

Class Act Tutu

Primadonna Tutus

Winthrop Corey Designs

Tutu Etoile

Grishko

Cameo Dancewear

Tutu.com

Classic Dance Costumes

Tutus Divine

Prima Fashions

Tutus.com

Rosetti Costumes

Theatre Ballet

Tutus by Edna

Aurora Dancewear

The Costume Lady

Dancewear en l’air: The Pretty Lace Skirt

Skirts make ballet more fun, don’t you think? That’s exactly what I think when I see a 32 Fouettes skirt. They are nothing if not fun, girly, and perfect for dancing around.

Skirts by 32 Fouettes are unique because of the stretchy lace band around the waistline, which they say eliminates the annoyance of a wrap skirt’s self-tie. What’s most interesting about this skirt to me though is the variety of colors and patterns available. They also offer customizable lengths, flouncing and fabric combinations. These skirts would be lovely for variations and I’d be curious to see how they stand up to a partnering class.

Foot Envy and Falsies for the Feet – Um, Ew!

Have you ever looked with awe and envy at the highly arched banana feet of famous dancers like Paloma Herrera and Svetlana Zakharova? Have you been tempted to sport one of those gelatinous contraptions called “arch enhancers” to increase the look of your own foot? The CBT is here to tell you: Don’t waste your money.

Why? Let’s break this down, shall we –

  1. Numero uno – You are beautiful the way you are. You can disagree if you like, but facts are facts. The next time you feel like comparing your arches (or extension or turns …) to another dancer – especially to a professional – STOP. Remember that a) you are still a developing student b) you have many wonderful qualities that you have worked hard to achieve and that others might not have. Despite what glossy ballet photographs might make you think, no single dancer “has it all”.
  2. Do professional dancers use arch enhancers? Sadly, yes. And you’ve probably even oohed and aahed over one of them before. But all that this achieves is perpetuation of the idea among students that you all must have an exagerrated arch in order to succeed in ballet – which is not true; a low arched dancer can certainly become a professional if she maximizes her ankle range and her intrinsic articulation. (What are those? I’ll address them in an another post.) Also, high arches are more prone to injury, partly because low arches are better shock absorbers.
  3. There is so much more to a beautiful classical line than a highly-arched foot. I’d much rather see a strong average foot than a weak banana-style. Quality of movement makes a huge difference in ballet as well, and can easily make a low-arched dancer vastly more appealing than a high-arched dancer.
  4. Arch enhances do not enhance your arch; they only change the look of your instep. The arch and instep are two different aspects of the foot, and these contraptions deal exclusively with the latter. There isn’t a single add-on out there that can do a darn thing about your arch – but proper battements can!
  5. Arch enhancers usually look cartoonish. Sorry, but teachers like me can usually spot them pretty easily due to the awkward, hump-backed look that they can give to the foot. (Do you see it in the pic above?) And they can look extraordinarily strange when the foot is flat or in soft shoes! Watch this video for an example. The closest any company has come to a natural look is an Australian company called Dance Arches, but even their product is pretty easy to spot. The only time you might get away with it is during performances when your viewers are far away. But Lord knows what you’ll do when you have to dance with no tights or no shoes!
  6. Arch enhancers can cause discomfort and be annoying. They can crumple up on the arch, cause unwanted bulk in the shoe and irritate the skin. Um, that’s not exactly great for dancers – people who need their feet to be as healthy and articulated as possible!

The bottom line is that the only way to really enhance your arch is by good quality training. High arches are a dime a dozen, but gorgeously strong, articulated and controlled feet? That’s a truly beautiful rarity!

Kiddos, what bugs me most about this as a teacher is that all this fuss over arches keeps you all from addressing issues that you do have control over – and which can be far more important than your feet. Try rechannelling your energy into advancing your musicality, your port de bras, or mastery of your balance point. Those are the things that will really have a huge positive impact on your dancing and that you won’t have to take off at the end of the day!

Dancewear en l’air: The Evening-Style Halter

Flaunt Bodywear’s teardrop leotard KB-31201 is so elegant it looks ready for … a night at the ballet! This halter-style leo is cut to minimize discomfort at the neck strap and features a formal-looking mesh layer above the bust, around the back and coming to a point on the chest.

This beautiful cut would look lovely in black with classic pink tights and pointe shoes, and the red version would be great for a jazz or contemporary class.