Ballet Is Not Like Learning To Ride A Bicycle

March, 2021

Do you dream at times of the day when you will have mastered certain ballet steps? Or, do you think that the first time that you can hold your balance or turn a double pirouette will be a moment of elation and assurance; of leaving the failed attempts behind?

I do not think this is how ballet training works, at least not in my experience. 

Although, I often say 'Once you get the hang of it, this will be easy, even fun.' What I mean is, your moves will become more coordinated, and you will feel more in control.  

Some movements come naturally to the gifted student, others will always need a lot more determination and effort to be accomplished.

ENB's male dancers in William Forsythe's Playlist (Track 1, 2)!

When I was a young student, I longed for the day of doing the split jumps and lifting my legs high effortlessly, as so many other girls in my class could. Only, the day never came. I improved, yes, but the hard work was ongoing. 

Other challenges I did overcome, penché for example. But it was a gradual process, which means there was no eureka moment. 

I hear you say 'I only wish to be able to turn a single (double) pirouette well.' I foretell, when your pirouette is slowly becoming a reality, you may not even give it the credit it deserves. Instead, you are going to look for what you can do next and how you can do it better. Because once you manage to coordinate your limbs and timing, it is no longer about simply doing but about how to do it. It is not about the quantity but the quality of your work. 

Learning ballet technique is not like learning to ride a bicycle. You can never rest on your laurels, nor will you find much of a this-will-do attitude amongst dancers.

Copy & paste this link to watch these ENB male dancers play with their technique and enjoy their virtuosity post-performance: 


Know that they trained rigorously since they were children and continue to do so daily. They accept to fail over and over again to push their limits, to test their capabilities, and to ultimately excel.

There Is Always Someone Better

I remember seeing Tamara Rojo in a documentary saying 'There is always someone better.' I love this sentence! Because someone is always better at something that is not your forté. It is rare, if possible at all, that a dancer's technique and artistry are evenly shared amongst all criteria of ballet. Nobody excels equally in everything. That is why we like to watch the same ballets danced by different dancers, for each of them brings their unique qualities to the performance.


What Does This Mean For Us?

Does this mean everlasting frustration? Of course not, it does not need to. I am hoping to convey that you will improve but it will, and should, never feel like a finality, there is always more for you to achieve. 

You can continue to explore, to be fascinated by how differently you can approach steps. Even when we get older and physically more challenged, we can continue to grow. Like the wonderful Maria Schreiber, a student of mine wrote:
'The pas de bourree I did when I was nine or when I took class in my twenties was a mushy back, side, front transitional set of steps that had no rhythm and no personality.

No thought went into doing it; it filled out the musical counts and got me from here to there.

Now, I think about it - pressing into the floor, turning out, “sharp, sharp, melt".

Even if I don’t do it well, the awareness is there laying the foundation for me to one day do it better.'

The Rule Of Thirds

I really like the advice Alexi Pappas, an Olympic runner, filmmaker, and writer received from her coach. One day, when she was struggling, he told her about the Rule of Thirds: 'When you're chasing a dream of doing anything hard you're meant to feel good a third of the time, OK a third of the time, and crappy a third of the time, and if the ratio is roughly in that range then you're doing fine.' 

You can watch her in this Rich Roll podcast copy & paste this link into your browser:

As most of us train without the pressure of going to compete in the Olympics, or having to perform in front of big audiences, we do not have to inflict pain and intense hardship on ourselves. Instead, we can focus on the healthier and more uplifting aspects that ballet training has to offer. Set yourself a goal if that is what motivates you. But appreciate your class today rather than thinking one day... when... I will be happy.