Foolproof Ways to Learn
Dancers must be quick to learn ballet combinations. It may not be obvious to students that their technical growth is hindered if they do not know the combination thoroughly. Additionally, there is “knowing” a combination and “understanding” a combination. They go hand-in-hand.
If you do not know the combination, you cannot improve your technique. Additionally, you are also at risk for injury when uncertain. A jump could be substituted for a relevé, a last minute change of direction due to following someone else could lead to a turned ankle, or just as simple as not transferring your weight in the correctly because you are guessing. We have all been there!
My goal as a teacher is to present my combinations clearly so that no one has to follow any other dancer. No dancer should be “following” another. If you follow other students, you are at a large disadvantage for the aforementioned reason and the ones below.
There can be several reasons that the average dancer does not remember the combination:
- they are not in the correct class level
- they have difficulty focusing
- they do not have a system of memorization
In this post, I will address the last two points.
Focus to learn ballet combinations
Focus takes concentrated effort and is easier for some people than others. I think of the time that I have tried meditation and failed.That “monkey mind” just keep coming back! If you can meditate, you are probably great at memorizing ballet combinations. However, I have practiced a few methods over the years that work for me in ballet.
When the teacher shows the first combination at the barre, I zero in right away and start to get my mind in the moment. That means that it no longer matters what the rest of day’s schedule is, what my problems might be or wonder why that other person is doing x, y or z! Instantly, there is only the dancer and the teacher– tunnel vision. Mindfulness is reduced to that moment.
“Marking” the combination
The second method is similar but with movement added. This is the method that I used to insist that all students do in my classes. I quoted Confucius as the foundational belief. The mind and the body must work together. Your body must move in order to memorize the movement.I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. ConfuciusClick To Tweet
Always do this in order to learn ballet combinations!
Use either method above, complete focus on the teacher and/or mark the combination with focus as well. Sometimes I mark and review the combination with my hands. This is helpful too!
Once you have the overall idea of the combination, make sure you can create a pattern. There are a couple of methods to find a pattern.
My suggestions for putting the steps in a format are:
- Think of the combination like a page in a book. Create an outline in your head with an average of three subsets/subcategories- A, B, C.
- Think of the combination like an equation. 3 (changements) + 1 (pas de chat) + 1 (assemblé) + 1 (changement) = today’s petit allego
See examples below.
Book page= petit allegro combination
- A= 3 changements, B= pas de chat, C= assemblé, D=1 changement
- Add counts:
- A= 1,2,3, B=4, C= 5-6, D= 7 and 8= stretch knees & plié
- Mark with hands, legs, arms– anything or all!
- Mark the combination with music and say the steps in your head.
- Listen to what the teacher has to say about the steps as you mark it, listen for the musical accents and practice this in your head, consider the quality of the step.
The quality of the step is inherent in the type of exercise that it is but often, dancers can forget. For example, how many times has your teacher stopped the music and reminded your class that frappé requires more attack or accent? Or the adagio must be sustained with linked movement?
Now you should be ready to go!
Your teacher will thank you if you work on this because then they can truly help you! So if a teacher is telling you “what” to do rather than “how” to do it, they lose the ability to give input. It is a rare teacher that can give the perfect combination that improves your technique without any corrections, tips or guidance.
There are many influences and distractions in the ballet studio that can pull away even a teacher’s focus. In a nutshell, every good teacher’s desire is to help you improve your technique and enjoy the art! Do your part 🙂 and you will definitely improve!