Beyond the Barre
Webber, Rebecca, Dance Spirit
BOOST YOUR TECHNIQUE AND PERFORMANCE POTENTIAL BY STUDYING MORE DISCIPLINES THAN JUST BALLET.
If you're working toward a professional career in ballet, your schedule is probably packed with technique classes. While a strong ballet foundation is a must for going pro, more and more, ballet dancers are expected to have varied dance backgrounds and even knowledge of acting and music theory. By training off the beaten path, you can expand your skill set and become an even more valuable addition to a company.
Explore the enrichment classes your school has to offer and consider your elective options when attending a summer intensive. Courses that hard-core ballet dancers might be tempted to skip might actually be the classes that give you a leg up on the competition.
TRY IT NOW: MODERN AND JAZZ
In recent years, ballet companies have started to move away from purely classical repertories toward more contemporary pieces. "If you are a professional dancer, you need to know all different ways of moving in order to dance through the season," says Inessa Plekhanova, artistic director of Colorado Ballet II and The Joseph and Loretta Law Academy of Colorado Ballet. Because today's choreographers have a dizzying variety of backgrounds, "dancers need to be able to understand different vocabularies," says Lorie Komlyn, associate dean at the Walnut Hill School in Boston. One way to expand your own vocabulary and to learn to danee with more freedom than is often required in classical ballet is to try jazz and modern classes. Learning these styles can make performing contemporary choreography more natural, a handy skill in a company setting or at a ballet competition that includes a program of contemporary pieces.
TRY IT NOW: WORLD DANCE
Many ballet schools offer classes in flamenco, but how many bunheads have tried Irish dance? Or African? Or hip hop? Students who take these classes pick up skills that can improve their onstage presence in classical ballet and develop an appreciation for other types of dance, says Komlyn.
Most flamenco classes emphasize dancing with attitude, flair and rhythm. Irish dancing requires high-energy stepping and kicking guaranteed to improve endurance in allegro variations. Both African and hip hop focus on aligning motion with the rhythm of the music, whether it is melodie drumming or a Top-40 hit. Training in any or all of these alternative dance forms can help students move more freely and show more of their personalities onstage, says Plekhanova.
TRY IT NOW: CHARACTER
Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty and Coppelia are just a few of the classical ballets that showcase character dances derived from traditional European folk dances. They include Polish mazurkas, Italian tarantellas and stylized Russian and Hungarian foil: dances. The steps, movements and even partnering are often markedly different from classical ballet, so a dancer who is familiar with folk dances is often more marketable to companies.
If you have never taken a character class, expect it to start at the barre, where you might be asked to do traditional ballet steps, applying a different style to each combination. …