Most dancers and dance teachers will tell you: “You have to take ballet class; it makes everything better”. And for many professional dancers of western concert dance genres, taking a daily ballet class is part of their professional routine; their professional life. I spend a lot of time in dance studios, both teaching and taking class; and I watch a lot of dancers at all different levels; and “taking ballet class” is where a lot of dancers are falling short. They are taking class and not studying ballet. Ballet dancers have the beautiful control and technique that they have because they STUDY ballet. The study of ballet is steeped in ritual. There is the centuries-old tradition of walking into the studio every morning and placing your left hand on the barre. I teach at a studio that has enormous history and I try to encourage my students to feel that history. I explain to them that learning to embrace and love the process of learning ballet is the key to improvement. As I have said before, we must strive every day to make each tendu longer, each plié more supple and elastic, each rond de jamb more majestic, each arabesque more expansive. We must make our adagio more expressive, our epaulment more nuanced, our petite allegro more crystalline and bright, our grand allegro more explosive and joyous. It is only when the dancer approaches ballet class with the intensity of a ballet dancer, and STUDIES with the ferocity of a ballet dancer, that “taking ballet class” will begin to make everything better.
Now in my case, things came together somewhat differently. I started my dance training with the Jazz Master Luigi. I came to ballet late, and it never occurred to me that I would end up a ballet teacher. My first ballet class was an open beginner class at the Joffrey Ballet School, the school that I now consider my professional home. I had one year of Jazz training with Luigi and I ventured down to The Joffrey Ballet School for my first basic ballet class ever. After the class, the teacher remarked on my fluidity and quality of movement. Everything I did in that first ballet class was influenced by Luigi’s teachings. And everything I teach in MY ballet classroom is influenced by Luigi’s teachings: How the body works, how to use epaulment, how the torso is carried, how the rib cage is held, how the arms connect to the back, how to create a beautiful port de bras, or a long line that goes on forever, how to feel the music, how to phrase, how to “dance from the inside”, how to “feel first, then do”, and how to “Never Stop Moving”…all from the brilliance of his teaching. Taking class with Luigi was a joyous event! The energy in that classroom was infectious. He was funny, he was exciting , he was full of joy, he loved his students, and teaching them was his life. I didn’t feel like I was dancing…it was like I was exploding across the floor, filling the room with my energy. I never felt that way in anyone else’s class. It was magic. And now, every day, I strive to pass that magic on to my ballet students.
The STUDY of ballet makes western concert dancers better. And for me, the STUDY of jazz-real Jazz based in real technique and taught by a true master made my ballet career possible.