February 23, 2015

My Ballet Habits

"A pirouette is not a pirouette unless you complete it." I was practising my turns on the side, when I got the correction/reprimand from our guest teacher. It was not the first time either. My own teacher is equally strict about it: you do not mark your arms in turns, and you always finish your pirouettes. In other words, cultivate only good habits.

Bad habits, once they have imprinted themselves onto muscle memory, are very hard to get rid off. You might not even know that you're doing something wrong, because it feels right. Which is why changing an old habit takes a lot of time and conscious effort. Essentially, you have to re-wire your brain. I have done this, and I'm still doing it. Some of you might remember my posts about the dreaded "banana foot", which is how my teacher describes a sickled foot. The "banana" used to make recurrent appearances in my tendu degagés and passé retirés (especially in pirouettes). I never knew I had this problem, until Madame pointed it out. For the past four years, we have been working on getting rid of it. Lots of work, countless corrections. And while the sickled foot is not yet completely extinct, it has become a rarity. I just wish I could have avoided it in the first place.

The Banana has not been my only bad habit, or tendency (or glitch in personality). Technical challenges aside, I've been working to improve my mental attitude in class as well. Don't get me wrong, I'm a fairly hardworking and focused student, but I'm also prone to let bad days and momentary setbacks overwhelm me. There was the video recording from class which rattled my self-confidence, the challenging stretch which I could not do (and I was extremely annoyed at this), life in general, fouetté turns in particular, body issues and whatnot. Not every class, but whenever I'm feeling more tired than usual and/or particularily vulnerable. I can get in a mood, and withdraw. It's not a happy place...

But I'm learning. That time I was super annoyed (or "pissed off" as my teacher called it), I managed to turn my mood around, and use the pent-up negative energy for a positive boost. Guess what? It was one of my best classes. The video recording? Cringeworthy, but ultimately worth it. While I was not happy seeing my many mistakes and flaws, I now have much better understanding of the work that needs to be done. It's a lot more than I thought! The body issues? Working on it. Life in general? That's a tough one. Sometimes, problems can affect my mood in class. But class is also an escape from the rest of the world, so there's that. I can give myself permission to think of nothing except ballet, at least for those 90 minutes.

Focus. My undivided attention. Not letting setbacks get to me. Making a conscious effort every time. Pushing myself, believing that I can. Those are the habits that I try to cultivate in class, along with every correction I receive. It is a challenge, but there can be no progress without change. And the way I see it, ballet is about the journey and making discoveries, never about standing still.

P.S. After the pirouette reprimand, I worked twice as hard, really paying attention to my finishes. When class was over, I continued practicing. My teacher saw what I was doing and gave me extra pointers and corrections. I need to work on my arm-plié coordination before the turn, lift my chin, and relax my neck, among other things. I'm happy to say that there has been some progress! Now I just need to make a habit out of it.


  1. For me, it was a new teacher ("El Maestro") who made me realize that I was bad at several important basic things. It was very challenging to correct mistakes and bad habits, but I am infinitely grateful to El Maestro. And it is true: life sometimes interferes with learning.

    1. I feel the same way... If you don't know what's wrong, how do you even begin to fix it? Luckily, Madame did more than point out my flaws - she also gave me the tools to improve. Not to mention her seemingly infinite patience. Your own effort aside, it also takes a teacher who is willing to invest in your progress, and who understands that it won't happen overnight. Better late than never, right? :)

      I'm glad you found your master teacher too!

      - Johanna

  2. Hi my name is Katherine, im a tweenage girl living on the east coast. I just wanted to show my appreciation for making these blogs! Anytime I see one pop up I immediatly start to read it. It has giving me some confidence and motivation in my classes and some everyday joy. I love you and your blogs! Thank you! XOXO ~Katherine <3

  3. Hi Johanna, I'm about to enter my fourth year of learning ballet as an adult and over the past year I've definitely noticed my mental attitude really affecting my dancing. I overanalyse things, start to panic before an exercise if I don't focus my my mind on trying to calm me down. It's only appeared over this last year and all I can put it down to is the fact that improving is more difficult and I want to constantly do better. I get frustrated when improvements aren't instant.
    I guess what I'm saying is that I completely empathise with you, but like people tell me, we aren't learning the easiest art form their ever was, and we are learning as adults. So perhaps rather than get mad at ourselves (easier said than done) we should commend ourselves for putting ourselves in a vulnerable place and learning to do something that others would perhaps run away from.
    Happy dancing xxx

  4. It is always great to read out your experience.. and the amount of hardwork you put in is so inspiring..
    I just wish someday I might also experience all of these, I might get started with ballet..
    A request I have though- can you add a follow by email option in your blog ? It would be easier for me. In case you already have it then I am sorry I missed it...

  5. Hi dear Johannan!!I started to fall in love ballet recently, now I'm 4 months pregnant,I practice "Ballet Baby" at home,of Mary Helen Bowers and I love.I want to find a school where they can practice in truth.Me really like your blog, I find it interesting to see your progress, thanks for sharing.Greetings from Spain.

  6. I love your blog so much! You are a very hardworker and it is something I look up to. If it wouldn't bother you I post things that are all related to ballet and it would be awesome if you could check it out!


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, ...