March 21, 2012

It Never Gets Easier, You Just Get Better

As we work our dancer's asses off and advance technically, class gets more difficult in proportion. Basically, you never get a break! As soon as you get comfortable, new steps and choreography mess with your head and feet. And once you get that right, you realise that even your basics are not without flaws.. It's a constant roller-coaster ride, and not the first time I've used that metaphor.

But you do get better. How do you know? Look back to when you started at point zero. Did you know about pliés and degagés and pirouettes and pas de chats? Nope, didn't think so. If that's not enough to convince you, take a class that is one level below your current comfort zone. Steps that you deemed too difficult back then are most likely now part of your regular repertoire! Assuming of course that you have been paying attention and working your butt off.. ;) Even if you are the most self-critical dancer you should be able to see some progress. Allow yourself to revel in this fact, at least once in a while. Then get back to work!

Before you do, go check out 4dancers great website. This month the focus is on the adult ballet student, and yours truly is featured as well. You can find my interview here: Adult Ballet Student. Be sure to read the other interviews too, they are all inspirational adult dancers!

But before you do that, I have to share some awesome news with you. I'm going to the Finnish National Ballet's company class tomorrow morning! Barbora Kohoutková is teaching pointe class, and I get to observe, take notes and write all about it! It's going to be my first installment of a new serial "Behind the Scenes", featuring dancers (and pointe shoes) of the 90 years old Finnish National Ballet. Be sure to check out the video below, it's a fun and multilingual birthday greeting from a very international company!


  1. Barbora Kohoutková! She comes from my country!!
    I saw a document about her on tv and she was a really interesting person (and dancer of course, her acting as Tatiana in Onegin was amazing). :)

    1. Yes, and she is a fantastic dancer! Kohoutková was engaged at FNB from 1996-2002, and is also going to dance in the up-coming La Bayadère. I'm very excited to see her both teach and dance! :)

  2. Ballet can be frustrating at times so its good for us dancers to remember our improvements. By the way, its so exciting that you will get to watch company class!

    1. The frustration comes with the package, I don't think it's even possible to learn and dance without! But it makes you appreciate the good stuff even more :)

      Company class was awesome! I will write about as soon as I have the time (and the experience has sunk in).

  3. "It never gets easier, you just get better" this! It's going in my dance journal for emphasis and re-reading as necessary.

    I am my own worst critic as well, and wherever I am at, I just want to push to the next level and need to stop and smell the roses from time to time. Thanks for the great perspective and wise reminder!

    1. Kaija, I might have to print it on a t-shirt! :)

      "Ballet never gets easier, you just get better."

      Why is is so hard for us to smell the roses? Apart from smelly pointe shoes getting in the way..;) Seriously, maybe we should give ourselves a mental pep-talk before each challenging class.

      Something along the lines of: Kaija/Johanna - looking good today, your balance has been much better lately - nice job on finally remembering that tricky pas - and what about that ballon? - remember when you had no clue at all? :)

    2. a professional ballerina recently came to take my beginners adult class and dancing on the barre behind her I kinda realized that it s hard on her, as it is for us. but yeah, you always keep on improving :)

    3. Yeah.. Well, it might be easier for her, as she knows what she is doing - but she still has to do it! Also, beginner's class is great for technical clean-up, for honing those essential basic skills! :)

  4. Hi, Johanna
    I am an adult ballet beginner in my mid twenties and recently discovered your blog, which I think is a great encouragement.
    I am taking one class a week right now and have found myself struggling with structuring my exercises when I practice on my own. I wonder if you or any other people who read this blog have any tips for practicing at home.
    For example how many plies (from first and fifth) do you usually do on each side and how many tendus etc. do you usually do when you are practicing on your own. I get the impression that my drop in class is mostly to demonstrate as much of the different things that can be done in ballet during the 60 minutes that it lasts and that some of the exercises done in the centre are for the benefit of the more advanced learners (since it is a drop in class and not a beginner's class).I also think people who want to do more proper practicing do barre work for several more minutes than we do in class.
    This video is actually a very good example of what we do in class, but I doubt that we are doing the barre exercises for as long as 30-45 minutes which the instructor says in the video. Also, the instructor in the video and her student are only showing a couple of each exercise so it's quite obvious that they do a lot more when they are actually practicing and not just demonstrating.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Jenny!

      Thank you, and I'm really glad you're finding this blog encouraging :)

      Since you're asking for my advice, here goes.. At this point I would recommend restricting ballet exercises to class only, and under the watchful eye of a good teacher. It is far too easy to adopt wrong technique on your own - even when you think you already know what you're doing. In fact, it is much harder to unlearn basic but faulty technique than to learn advanced steps!

      I never practice technique at home, the most I ever do is mark steps of a difficult combination. But then again, I have class on 5-6 days of the week.. However, if you are not able to add another class to your schedule, you can still do something that will benefit your ballet class:

      Work on your core ab muscles! These are really important for basically everything. You could/should also stretch at home to improve you overall flexibilty.

      By the way, a 60 minute lesson is plenty enough for beginners. Although I can see the problem with open level drop-in classes.. You will have people of absolute beginner level mixed with advanced dancers. That's also pretty challenging for the teacher! Try to find a class that starts from point zero.

      The teacher should give lots of corrections, be fairly strict but encouraging too. The class should have a disciplined but friendly vibe.

      A 60 minute basic beginner class can consist of 45 minutes of barre-time, or even more - depending on the teacher and the abilities & motivation of the students.

      When we do pliés, it's usually 2 demi + 1 grand in all positions, left and right. Of course, pliés are also incorporated into other exercices.

      It is good to remember that basic steps such as plié and dedagés are first taught but last learned!

      Give yourself the chance and opportunity to learn ballet the proper way - you will be a much happier and better dancer!

      Wishing you all the best :)

      - Johanna

    2. Thanks a lot!
      This was really helpful.



To That Special Ballet Teacher

To that special ballet teacher, who not only teaches you about technique, but helps build your confidence, nurtures your inner artist, ...