I am, and always will be, a dancer who thrives on expanding my dance vocabulary and knowledge of my existing technique by exploring and applying all different styles of dance. I believe it is imperative, even if you are planning to focus on dance styles that feel far removed from ballet, to include ballet’s traditional techniques, as the foundations are essential to being a good dancer – especially if you aspire to be a professional.
American Ballet Theatre Soloist Skylar Brandt as a Flower Girl in ‘Don Quixote’. Photo by Gene Schiavone.
Having focused my attentions more on my contemporary work in my professional career, I am usually faced with some very interesting questions about my background and what I can truly credit “my style” of dance to. And this answer will always remain the same: ballet.
For me, ballet is the single most important key to a strong foundation in dance. Ballet allows a connection between your mind and body to develop from a young age in a vital way; it’s the aural, visual and kinetic stimulus. Ballet teaches you to connect verbal commands and musical cues with exercise demonstrations and perform them in your own body. For all of this to occur, different parts of the brain are constantly in problem-solving mode to perform the movements in time to the music. And with the right amount of training, this will soon become almost second nature.
I will always appreciate, and can now only truly understand, the significance of having a strong classical ballet foundation that my ballet teacher instilled in me. All the techniques, values and disciplines I learned from ballet translate in my pursuit of all other dance styles. I credit my focus, musicality, alignment and structure required for a variety of dance to my beginnings in ballet, as well as my ability to develop artistry, musicality and grace.
When you commence ballet class at the barre, it gives an immediate sense of structure and etiquette, which provides the base for everything you do. The sense of professionalism and discipline that comes from each class is irreplaceable. Ballet technique is very specific, requires repetition and a lot of practice to improve. In most cases, the qualities of discipline and dedication translate themselves to other areas of life, like work and school. Even the smallest skills attained through ballet training have helped me focus on outside tasks, always connecting my brain to what my body is trying to execute.
One thing I will always be grateful for learning and developing is my posture, this being a direct influence from the poise needed for ballet. Let’s face it: everything in ballet requires good posture. In time, the posture utilised in the studio translates to every part of your life (and you’ll certainly get a lot of compliments on it, too). Another key point of developing your ballet technique is improving your balance and flexibility. These are two large parts of this technique that, consequently, diminish the likelihood of injury in ballet, sports and other dance forms.
Ballet gives you the basic arm and leg movements you need in jazz, modern, tap and ballroom. It helps you find your center of balance, gain strength, agility and the ability to move gracefully. And choreographers will always look for these technical capabilities.
With the way dance is morphing and blurring the lines between each style, it is now more important than ever to attain a strong ballet technique, thereby making it is easier to transition between all of the dance styles. Versatility within our industry is key and will make you highly marketable as a performer. In an economy when times are slow, and in such a competitive industry, it’s better to be in a position to have adaptability and a wider range of abilities to find work.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Soloist Kylee Kitchens in Kiyon Gaines’ ‘Sum Stravinsky’. Photo by Lindsay Thomas.
Today’s working dancers, even those who are not specifically focused on being professional ballerinas, still try to incorporate ballet into their regular training schedules. If you’re at an audition and don’t have the strong foundation that comes from ballet but your competition does, chances are you will simply be overlooked for the job. A very good example of this is if you take a look at the ballet dancers who also study other forms of dance on shows such as So You Think You Can Dance. Generally speaking, these dancers tend to advance further in the competition, thereby opening more career doors for their future.
Ballet’s fundamentals will not only carry with you over all genres of dance but will also carry into everyday life. I cannot stress enough how important a strong foundation and technique in dance is, as it is essential if you want to achieve longevity in your career. So broaden your dance/theatre/stage/performance horizons. Use ballet’s incredibly strong base as your guide to develop structure, clean technique, discipline, flexibility – a whole myriad of skills! Take these disciplines into all genres of dance to help keep you well-rounded as a dancer and performer, and watch as you help your own career flourish.
By Teagan Lowe of Dance Informa.