Unconventional wisdom. What I learned as dancer then and now.

The situation

I hear all the time that adult ballet students have to miss class due to work, time or life! I know this is frustrating. Some of them are en pointe and when you miss class, your get weaker.  It is always advisable to wait until your second class to dance en pointe again.

At the studio where I teach, students sign an agreement when they go en pointe. It states: “If I miss class, I will not put on pointe shoes in the next class that I take.” This will protect you from injury because pointe is a specialized skill.

unconventional wisdom

Unconventional wisdom

I don’t really believe in unconventional wisdom. I believe that wisdom is derived from successful experience but I am not a conventional ballet teacher.

Back to the problem of missing classes, read on to find out my unconventional advice. I love to take ballet class whenever I can as well. However, this past school year has been difficult due to two injuries. While not incapacitating for everyday life, they merited time off from ballet class. When I returned to class, I started with barre and limited all rises, grand pliés and jumps. Now I am back to dancing a full class. I feel more placed and stronger after following my own advice (LOL!).

So what did I do?

I took my own unconventional wisdom as tried and true advice!  Whenever I was injured as a dancer, I was sent to physical therapy. Fortunately, I have not had any serious injuries so it was not usual to go to a physician.

This is what I learned and it will always ring true.

Ballet did not make me as strong as I needed to be in order to dance.

Let me say that again.

Ballet class alone did not provide me with the means to dance as strongly as it was necessary, to be a professional dancer.

Why is ballet technique progressing so fast?

Is it that this generation of ballet dancers are born stronger and more flexible? Aaaahh…. no.

As a matter of routine, high-level students and dancers do what I used to do only when I was sidelined and injured. At physical therapy, I was assigned exercises to balance and strengthen my body. Always, I came back not only stronger but more knowledgeable. Who would not want that result?


It was mind blowing to me in 1979 that taking more ballet classes was not going to do the trick! I had the good fortune to dance with Oakland Ballet when  Sally Street was our most experienced ballerina. She was a former dancer with New York City Ballet and the mother of Kyra Nichols who was one of the last “Balanchine Ballerinas.”

Kyra came home to California and was rehearsing “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux” at Oakland Ballet’s studio. I was awestruck as I watched this exquisite dancer fly through the air and attack the fouettés with absolute ease.

Free ballet poster. An absolutely stunning Evgenia Obraztsova, Principal Dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet, seen here in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Photo by Enrico Nawrath.
An absolutely stunning Evgenia Obraztsova, Principal Dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet, seen here in Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Photo by Enrico Nawrath.

Sally complained to me that Kyra does not understand that you only need to take one class per day, not three! She went on to say that you should do a barre exercise like rond de jambe with great attention because you do it only once per day.

I never forgot that advice. Certainly, you can gain stamina and strength from more than one class per day but how long can you sustain that? Students who come home from a summer intensive return (hopefully) with improved technique. Obviously, they cannot sustain this training throughout the entire year.

Adult and teen ballet students have this in common.

They don’t have the time to do what they think they need in order to improve. Mainly get to more classes than they are currently taking. There are alternatives.

Finally, what did I learn from my experiences? I am sure you can guess! I kept on doing those PT exercises throughout my entire life as a dancer. As a ballet teacher , I have added dozens of variations of the same muscles as we come to know more about our bodies. We know more about fascia, nerves and muscles than we ever did in 1979. Other disciplines such as running, and gymnastics have  invented ways to improve their athletes’ abilities.

All this = amazing technicians now!

No one was doing eight pirouettes in 1979. The first woman that I ever heard of doing six pirouettes was Paloma Herrera when she first joined ABT in 1991.

Nowadays, many dancers aspire to this and are doing them! Jumps are higher, flexibility training has gone to extremes and a specific body type continues to reign. Rumor has it that companies will soon only take dancers with 180-degree turnout! Tweet that!!

It is rumored that companies will soon only take dancers with 180-degree turnout!Click To Tweet

My answer to all this mystery is that they are training with conditioning methods. Pacific Northwest Ballet was one of the first ballet schools that had conditioning facilities for dancers. This was innovative, to say the least when I first visited in the late 80’s! They call it “PNB Conditioning“. It is based on Joseph Pilates’ work and they teach mat and apparatus work.

I teach several private lessons per week. I always tailor part of my lesson to discover the anatomical limitations of the student. That gives me the ability for the greatest improvement in each dancer and most importantly– the fastest! I teach them specialized exercises that should be done at home or before class. They have full access to my blog, exercise charts and videos just like you do. However, I check in with them every week and ask how a particular workout is going. It holds them accountable as well and enables me to change it up if necessary!unconventional wisdom

The full pdf list of my Floor Barre #1 exercises have been added to the Membership page.




Ballet Floor Barre videos are available here:  Ballet Floor Barre #1.

Ballet Floor Barre #2

This is a well-rounded workout that takes about 16 minutes from start to finish. It is exactly what I do when I cannot take a class at all or take an entire class. I also assign students some of these specialized exercises.

Here’s to ballet continuing to grow technically! But let’s never forget artistry.

unconventional wisdom and floor barre

As I age as a person and dancer, I will always do my floor barres and know that it will keep me fit and flexible. Yours truly in the love of healthy dancing!


p.s. I would love to hear from you as to how you keep in ballet “shape” in between classes. Please comment below!

Unconventional wisdom will help you when you cannot make it to class!

About Sarah Arnold

Ballet blogger, ballet teacher and adult ballerina. Creator of TutusChic and Sans Souci Printables.

2 thoughts on “Unconventional wisdom. What I learned as dancer then and now.

  1. I try and get three TRX sessions in a week and if I miss them, I feel it in my core. I also do ab work and stretching at home. Would love to try Pilates but it’s too expensive. Also, ummmm… I take 11 ballet classes a week… ?

  2. Hi Birgitte~ great to hear from you here! You are very driven and I am sure, incredibly strong. I admire your routine. Whew….amazing. Pilates can be expensive if taken as a private or semi-private. I have found good and no so good group classes. I think it depends upon the reputation of the facility but the good news is that many people incorporate Pilates into other floor barre classes. It has almost become absorbed into so many disciplines. I remember when “100” was unique but now even younger kids that I teach know it.
    Do you take 11 ballet classes all the same level or do you have to mix it up? I know that where you live, there are a lot of good studios 🙂

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