Ballet Class Etiquette:
How To Conduct Yourself
Ballet is about elegance and grace and so not only the exercises adhere to strict rules but our behaviours should reflect this as well. For people new to ballet class it can be a daunting experience and even long-term regulars were never taught the unspoken rules that every full-time ballet student grows up with.
Although the rules are more relaxed in open and drop-in classes than they are at ballet school, because it is understood that adults have busy lives, we should nevertheless try to follow them as best as we can. The following recommendations are based on my personal experience and observation and may vary from teacher to teacher.
There is usually no particular uniform required in an open class, but you should dress neatly and wear attire where you and the teacher can see your alignment. This means nothing too baggy but neither should you choose anything too revealing. Bear in mind that ballet training involves lifting legs, bending forward and backward, and jumping.
After the barre work, take off any clothes that could fall off when doing more vigorous movements, e.g. leg warmers that are too loose and fly off your leg in a grand pas de chat
Being humans, we do sweat. Do use deodorant or wipes, ideally with a neutral scent or unscented. If you are categorically against using, deodorizers take a shower before class.
Should you sweat profoundly it is a good idea to bring a small towel to dry yourself, the barre and perhaps even the floor.
Do not sprawl yourself out at the barre and spread your sweat all over it. I have seen this happen!
beginner ballet class at Danceworks
Avoid! For several reasons: scent is a very personal taste and it increases its intensity when we sweat (one man's meat is another man's poison. Imagine 20 students each wearing their favourite fragrance.
Another reason is that on rare occasions people react allergically to certain substances, which can become a problem in the confinement of the ballet studio. I remember when our pianist suffered asthma attacks from the perfume of one lady. The problem continued even when she stopped applying her perfume before class as residue stayed in her clothes.
In ballet school, all jewellery is forbidden because of the danger of getting tangled up or hitting someone by accident with a ring on one's finger. Therefore, avoid anything that is big, sharp or dangling, especially in crowded classes.
2. Being on Time
Ballet students are expected to warm up 20-30 minutes before class and they are not allowed to join if they arrive after the teacher. If a student was late, for a very good reason, he or she entered the studio only when there was no music is playing, i.e. not during but only in between exercises.
For obvious reasons, such strictness does not apply to open classes. However, if you are late:
enter the studio as quietly as possible and best after you got an ok- nod from the teacher
be very alert so you can respond to the teacher's cues quickly and without drawing too much of his or her attention to you and away from the class
if students in class practice close to the door, wait until the exercise has finished to not obstruct them or cause injury, e.g. they may bend forward as you open the door
be attentive and quick in finding a place at the barre, don't start a conversation with the teacher or try to explain why you are late
do not choose a place in front of the mirror and obstruct another student's view, if you cannot find a place check with the teacher whether he or she can place you
if it is crowded wait until after the exercise to take your place
if you pay the teacher directly do so after the barre section or at the end of the class
students' pliés close to the door
3. Leaving Early or Not Completing The Class
If you must leave early, tell the teacher before class. Then leave very quietly without seeking attention. Should the teacher make eye contact with you whilst you are leaving you can nod a thank you. But his or her attention will be mainly focused on the other students.
If you cannot follow every exercise because of a physical issue or because the level of the class is beyond your current ability, let the teacher know. Ask whether you can sit down and watch the end of the class. I always encourage people to stay and watch, as this is a great way to learn. Just make sure you are in nobody's way.
5th position of the arms
4. Asking Questions
I personally love to respond to questions in class as it demonstrates that people are mentally engaged. Other teachers may prefer not to. If questions are encouraged, do ask them at the appropriate time in class e.g. when the teacher says "Any Questions?" or during the setting up of the choreography. Raise your hand and wait to be invited.
If you are too shy to ask in front of others, send your issue per email or asked whether the teacher has 10 minutes for you before or after a class.
Avoid asking your question when the teacher is busy with another incoming class. It is not only stressful for the teacher but also impossible to provide you with a satisfying answer unless it is a matter of Yes or No.
5. Taking Notes and Recording
If you feel you could benefit from taking notes, e.g. writing down the names of the exercises or corrections, you must ask the teacher for permission. The same applies if you would like to film a particular exercise you have trouble with. The teacher may decline your request or be open to it in a private lesson but not in an open class.
6. Space and Awareness
Placement at the barre
We are creatures of habit and most of us have their preferred place at the barre and in the centre, which is fine but do not be attached to it or defend it. If you are a newcomer a 'regular' may come and ask you to move. Although nobody has the rights to a particular spot, it is better to show goodwill and to go somewhere else.
People may not even say anything but demonstrate with their body language that you are 'occupying' their spot by taking up more space than necessary or by positioning themselves far too close to. Do not enter this 'territory competition' but for the sake of keeping a harmonious atmosphere find another spot whenever possible.
Placement in the centre
Follow the advice above. Additionally, position yourself in the front row only if you know what you are doing, i.e. you know the combination, you can execute them without falling into other students.
As before, if you are new to a class respect the regular students that have their 'established spots'. However, if the teacher invites you to come to the front- do so. This is your assigned place for the rest of the class.
In classes of mixed abilities, it is common practice to allow the professional dancers to stand in the front even if they attend for the first time. This simply demonstrates an appreciation of their life-long training and the art form in general.
Most of the time the centre work is done in two groups and you do well-remaining in one group or the other and avoid switching between the two. If your group is not active, stand at the side to either watch and learn from the practising group or to repeat the exercise but only if there is enough space and you are not hindering other students in any way.
One of my teachers in school insisted that we continue to practice on the side, whilst another teacher told us not to and to observe our classmates instead.
Placement during the travelling steps (diagonal)
Generally, the travelling steps combinations begin in the back corner of the room. Only stand there if you are going to dance in the upcoming group, otherwise queue at the back or the opposite side of the studio.
The teacher will ask you to dance either in pairs, in groups of 3, 4 or even more. If you are unsure about the steps place yourself in the back with preferably more advanced students in the front so you have somebody to follow. Do not pair up with someone who knows as little as yourself.
Even if it is difficult to be aware of the surroundings when you struggle to remember the combination, directions and which leg goes first, try your very best to not get in the way of other students. Stay alert!
If you are lost, never stop the travelling routine midway. Continue to move in the general direction or find a safe exit route.
At the end of the combination always clear the place swiftly and towards to front and side. Never go backwards where the next group is approaching. The momentum of the travelling steps is akin to traffic on the highway during rush hour.
Should you hit somebody, apologies quietly to your victim after both of you finished the exercise. If you are the one that has been hit forgive that person, it usually was an accident and not intentional.
centre work, beginner ballet class
7. Eating and drinking
In my old-fashioned school time, we were told not to drink water as this would swell up our muscles. Today we know that the opposite is true. Having small sips of water during class can help you to stay hydrated, especially if you do more than one class in a row. Be prepared and bring your bottle with you at the beginning of the class rather than leaving midway to buy one.
Imagine the disruption if everybody did this. Should you spill your water, make sure you organise some paper towels to clean up. A wet dance floor is extremely slippery and dangerous.
Some people need a little snack to maintain their energy and sugar levels. This is fine with me but might not be with some teachers. If you have to snack, be discrete and do not leave any litter behind.
Listen and pay attention to what the teacher is saying or at least pretend you do. Turning your back whilst he or she explains or demonstrates something is just rude and so is having a private conversation with a fellow student.
I personally do not mind if you have a little exchange or a joke at the side but keep it brief and discrete. And just that you know, I expect the chatterers to know the exercise better than the good listeners!
I appreciate it a lot when people attend class despite being tired and exhausted. Yawning can also be a sign of tension release amongst other things. Yet, like in any better restaurant, it is more polite to cover the mouth.
chatting ballet students,
I am the first on the right, Berlin 1983
Sitting down and stretching
Do not sit down in between exercises unless you are actively stretching because your muscles will disengage. They 'think' the activity is over and you run a higher risk of getting injured. When you do stretch make sure you are in nobody's way and it is not disruptive to the class.
Classes can rotate in quick succession. To allow everybody to benefit the most from their class clear the studio swiftly, even if it is the same teacher teaching the next class. You can only stay and continue to practice or stretch if the studio is empty and this is in accordance with the studio policy (insurance matters). If you would like to watch a follow-on class you must discuss this with the teacher.
Generally, be kind and try not to judge others. Everybody has their reason why they attend ballet classes. Ballet was originally created by and for Kings, Queens and the Noble Man and Women. So lets try our best to abide by their etiquette.
9. Conflicting Techniques
Because of different schools of ballet (e.g. Vaganova, Cecchetti, Bournonville, Balanchine, etc.) and every teacher's individual experience, there are various ballet teaching styles and techniques. To the untrained eye, all training methods may look the same but there are in fact fundamental differences that can make it confusing for students that attend classes of different methods.
At the same time, if you are open-minded and willing to learn, which should be expected when you attend a class, it can widen your knowledge and understanding.
You should always try to follow what the teachers ask you to do, especially if they keep repeating their 'suggestions' to you. If you do not agree with what they say, the best way of action is to ask for their reasons. As mentioned earlier, I am perfectly happy to discuss ballet issues in class. Not only does it create an opportunity for everyone to learn more, but it also helps me to gain greater insight of how my teaching methods work for people of different body types and how to develop it further.
Some teachers may take it very personally if you do 'your own thing' (I prefer to think that the student is not advanced enough yet to understand what I want). They may tell you off or even ban you from their classes (as a well-known London teacher has done on several occasions). But most likely, the teacher will ignore you, which could be your loss.
As you can see, there is no easy answer. If you are a beginner, it may be better for your progress to stick to one or at least to similar teachers to avoid too much confusion.
If you are an intermediate or advanced student, adapt to each style and technique as best as possible.
Professional dancers are allowed more freedom as it is assumed that they have found what works best for them through trial and error, which does not mean an open-mind could continue to enhance their performance.