I’m trained in Vaganova ballet technique, but I’m moving to a studio that teaches the Balanchine style. I’m nervous that I’m going to have a hard time transitioning. Do you have any advice?
I totally get it! When I started at the School of American Ballet, which teaches Balanchine technique, I had no Balanchine training whatsoever. But it turned out I was able to catch on very quickly. I was totally immersed in Balanchine from my very first day at SAB—the classes were all Balanchine, all the time—which is the best way to learn any new “language.” My advice is to just dive in! Watch your teachers carefully. Make notes about things like arm and hand positions, how you’re supposed to prepare for turns and where you should spot. The more attention you pay to detail, the quicker you’ll get a grasp on the technique.
It might also be a good idea to buy a book about Balanchine training before you make the switch. That’ll introduce you to the basics of the style, so it won’t seem totally foreign when you start classes. I’d recommend Suki Schorer on Balanchine Technique, written by one of the foremost Balanchine experts.
I’m having trouble memorizing combinations. I can never seem to get all the steps into my head! Do you have any tips?
A lot of dancers struggle to memorize combinations and choreography quickly—you’re definitely not alone! The first step is to figure out whether you’re a visual learner, an auditory learner or a kinesthetic learner. In other words: Do you learn things best by seeing them, hearing them or doing them? There are quizzes online you can take to determine how you learn best, and I also have a video on my blog that might help. Once you’ve figured out your learning style, shift your focus to the aspects of the instructor’s teaching that help you most. In my case, because I’m a visual learner, that means concentrating on watching the teacher. I actually tune out the words she uses to describe the steps.
Most instructors and choreographers are good at teaching in a way that addresses all the different learning styles. But if your teacher isn’t accommodating your needs—if she talks through choreography without demonstrating it, but you need to see it to absorb it, for example—don’t be afraid to meet with her after class and ask for more.
I can’t stop looking at myself in the mirror when I dance! I want to make sure my technique is correct, but I’m distorting my lines with my “mirror face.” What can I do
to break the habit?
The first step toward solving this particular problem is becoming aware of it. So you’re already ahead of the game!
My advice would be to pretend you’re onstage. Try picking a famous dance role, and taking class as that character. (You don’t have to tell anybody you’re doing it if you’re embarrassed—just do it for you!) Let’s say you’re imagining you’re Juliet from Romeo and Juliet. Thinking about the specific way Juliet would use her head and arms—very light and buoyant, because she’s young and energetic—will make it almost impossible for you to spend class staring at yourself in the mirror.
It might sound like a silly exercise, but it can help you figure out how to use your whole body, including your eyes and face, to dance. And when you’re onstage, there’s no mirror anyway, so it’s a great training tool!
Bonus video! Did you know the way you store your pointe shoes between wears can actually affect how long they last? Click here to watch Katie show you the best way to pack your pointes.
Send your dance questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Katie might answer them in an upcoming issue!