This artice is for all those who practice some kind of dance(s) – may it be tango, salsa, swing or anything else – and ask themselves:
What other genre should I try in order to improve in my own field/style?
A wide range of activities can be considered as complementary training: ballet, pilates, modern dance, jazz dance, gyrokinesis, yoga, your favourite stretching sequence or even regular jogging.
But before starting any of these to complement your dance development it is worth setting some goals. What is your aim? Stretching, building strength, developing co-ordination, or rhythmical abilities? Consider these before making your decision.
Let’s take a look at one of the most infuential dances – classical ballet. How can it help those in their development who come from very different fields? Beartix Mihaly, ballet-master and teacher the head of Developpe Ballet Club investigates this question.
Why ballet? – introduction
I am Beatrix Mihály, balletmaster – which raises the righteous question in all of you dear tangueros: why do I write for a tango blog?! Though I danced some tango and I do have a general view on the topic,I am not as competent as to comment on the technicalities of this dance – my colleagues in the field of tango will do this instead of me. Moreover ballet is different in being an academic genre, which isn’t a part of the leisure or “pleasure” dances. Its visible form is know to all from the stage. It is this other, less-known face of ballet I’d like to talk about. I was asked to write about the topic by Endre, whom I welcomed among my students a few years ago and it makes me proud that through ballet I could contribute to his achievements in tango.
Thoughts about dance
Let’s begin with a few thoughts by renowned professionals in the field; thoughts that are not mine but are whose truth have been confirmed every day during the years I’ve spent instructing.
Dancing is one of the most sophisticated artistic acts as it simultaneously stimulates and improves visual reception, tactile sensations, musical hearing, muscle and body control, and co-operative partnership. It requires strong focus and flexible adaptability at the same time. And on top of this, dancing improves personal competencies that prove to be useful in other aspects of our daily lives and improves personality, work, studies and relationships.
Nowadays a dance instructor does not only have to possess the technical knowledge of the given dance – they also have to be up to date regarding the latest developments and techniques that will aid and optimize his/her own personal work in improving pupils abilities without any safety compromises. Of course this does not mean instructors have to know all available techniques and schools at a professional level, but they do need to possess as many different skills and information on the field as possible. Having a wide variety of tools available at hand means the instructor will notice problematic fields and areas of improvements more efficiently, being able to help pupils in a more efficient manner/direct them to the right person for help. All this results in an optimal teaching procedure and an optimal learning experience. And the dancers will benefit from the knowledge of their instructor – they will learn how to control their body in a healthy, reduced-risk way, which, in case of professional dancers can add years to their career.
Benefits of ballet
Many teachers practice techniques and genres other than their own field (Endre likewise), because every different style gives them inspiration – not only in terms of technique but also in terms of didactics. For instance a salsa teacher told me that our ballet lessons proved to be very useful. What he could only describe in lengthy explanations and demonstrations before, he can now easily describe – and he got the necessary tools and explanations from our ballet lessons!
Professional ballet education in Hungary is available at the Hungarian Dance Academy. Nowadays ballet can also be learned as an adult at a hobby level at amateur adult ballet classes. It is now recognized that ballet can be acquired at any age just like other hobby dances or languages. Its sequences are just as beneficial for maintaining and building strength and body training as any other sports. Many people start ballet as a training to complement their primary dance lessons.
Ballet develops such high levels of body-awareness and harmonic movements that will later help in any other dances: raised body awareness, faster learning, aesthetic movements, correct posture, different step-techniques, balance positions, pivots, jumps, turns… In ballet, we control all our movements constantly to make sure the body does what the mind dictates (and not what instincts say!) This requires a lot of practice and a constant, strong focus! Plus, we have to move in harmony with the music – paying attention to it every moment and working with it…. As I often say during my classes – music is our friend, we should work with it, not against it!
What to expect at a ballet lesson?
After a general warm-up we begin practicing barre-exercises. These help to develop technical details, hand-head-leg co-ordination, balance, etc. Barre exercises are later practiced in different combination sequences. Later on this will help us to learn longer sequences, choreographs, in line with the music. We learn to hear and understand the music, we align the stress marks of music with the stressed “out-in-up-down-front-back” movements.
This is followed by center exercises. Center exercises work on the above mentioned technical elements and we start working with the space with strict rules. This gives the team a feeling of security, i.e. that the dancers will not collide on the floor. Center exercises really make you aware of your body core, center and balance abilities, strenuousness and your overall co-ordination as there is no barre to hold on to!
An other part of the lesson covers different jumps called allegro (musical terms are used to describe certain movement types). This aims at further strengthening leg muscles which is essential in increasing speed and strenuousness.
Turns and pivots form a part of the lesson too. We learn to pivot and turn in place and moving; using both or one leg; in the direction of the free leg and the supporting leg. All these are performed using different techniques that further improve balance and safe axis use. Good balance is essential as dancers have to be able to stand en pointe on one leg, most often whilst carrying out other movements… this is extremely demanding and is practiced by a wide range of lead-up activities.
To include non-technical aspects of ballet let me mention the artistic experience or the flow experienced during a sequence or choreograph.
Classical ballet does not allow improvisation, however, this is granted by modern schools.
After all, every dance is built up of the same movement-blocs: steps in certain directions, knee-bends of different depth, lifts, movements of the leg such as lifting, kicking, circling on the ground or in the air, jumps, pivots, embellishments in place or en route, alone or with partner. In its sophisticated details and academic proficiency ballet is on the top of the scale.
Yes it is possible to start as an adult!
It is a widespread issue that teachers of other dances can not convince their beginner students to start ballet or other complementary technique lessons – after all the student is there to learn tango/salsa/etc. But there comes a time along their development path where they can’t progress no matter how much they practice. This is when they realize that their movements are not quite the same as they imagined or don’t resemble to what they see from their teachers. And the ones who want to overcome this barrier will become our students. I have bad news for them: ballet takes time. It gives slow progress. A few months of lessons will not show on their dance. They need perseverance, patience, tolerance of monotony and pain. The muscle-nerve routes have to be built and developed with practice to the point when the movement becomes automatic. This progress cannot be forced and takes time depending on the individual.
But those who keep on practicing regardless of the difficulties often get compliments on their improved movements from a teacher or a milonga-partner. (On their posture, steps, lead of leg, strong axis). Girls can wear their high heel dance shoes for a longer time without any pain thanks to the strengthened muscles of the ankle and feet. This also gives them a better “grip” of the dance floor, so they don’t consume so much energy trying to maintain the balance and can enjoy the dance itself freely.
Our school starts new courses twice a year – one in the fall the other in the spring. However, if there is a need for a separate, private group for tango-dancers, we are happy to help!
And finally, a thought from Mikhail Barysnikov, which is our motto: