Ballet Central New Jersey
As adults, we are expected to do our full-time jobs and still find time to exercise and stay healthy. This task is made much easier if we come across a physical activity we enjoy and are passionate about. With a multitude of exercise programs currently available, and more emerging every day, it is difficult to decide which fitness classes to try out. I attended a beginner ballet dance class, taught by BalletCNJ School Director Thiago Silva during Free Week at Rutgers in the Fall of 2013. I also tried several other classes ranging from barbell weight training to yoga and Pilates. I was instantly hooked on ballet, as were quite a few of the other students present. It probably helped, too, that the instructor was an incredibly energetic young man who came up with hilarious, and therefore memorable, metaphors for the various steps. I am now in my 3rd year of recreational ballet training, and I want to share some of the things I learned from spending so much of my personal time at the dance studios of Ballet Central New Jersey.
Hard work leads inevitably to improvement
As with any class that requires physical or mental effort, sometimes we have bad days. As I struggled to learn longer and more complex combinations in ballet, and add arm movements to them, bad days became inevitable. But in the end, I stayed with it and improved to the point where I can follow along even in some higher level classes. And let me tell you, the feeling of having a great class outshines any feelings of self-doubt during tougher days. I’ve seen this happen with other students too. If they stick it out through the confusions of learning a new form of exercise and build up some endurance, they feel accomplished and genuinely enjoy themselves! And yes, we all have busy weeks when we cannot come to class. Don’t let that discourage you! The right instructors will always welcome you back and help you pick up where you left off.
There is always room to grow
If you are like me, then you don’t feel satisfied repeating the same routine of exercises every time you hit the gym. While I tried increasing the weights I trained with, or cutting down on my 1-mile time, going through the motions still felt monotonous. Every next step required more exertion, but it was still the same exercise over and over. Ballet is different in that once you are able to adequately perform an exercise, the exercise changes. Combinations and movements differ from class to class, and new steps, jumps or turns are introduced all the time. On several occasions, depending on the students present and what they want, the instructor can completely abandon the normal class format and do a whole hour and a half at the barre en pointe or teach a variation.
The physical benefits
Will you get a dancer’s body from starting ballet as an adult? The truth is, no. However, ballet does burn a lot of calories when done right, and after several months of classes, you can start seeing changes in your body. Building lean muscle makes you look toned but not bulky. In clearer terms, you can look forward to much less jiggle! So while you will not experience a complete change of your body shape, ballet classes will move you in the direction of a dancer’s body.
Eye-opening new experiences!
If you have never done ballet dance before, you quickly learn that there is an entire group of muscles you rarely put to use in other physical activities. The motions of ballet are very different due to the constant need to turn-out. Furthermore, depending on the ballet school and instructors, you *may* have the option of learning pointe work, if you so wish. If you have never slipped into a pair of toe shoes before, it is a novel feeling that adds a completely different layer of challenges to balance and dancing. Finally, something that Ballet Central New Jersey does is sometimes allows adult students to perform in annual shows, if they are willing to put the work into classes and rehearsals. I have tried all of these things, and discovered that learning a physical activity is very different than learning something from a book. For instance, I had no idea that performances would make me so nervous, and that completing a show as a group leads everyone to become closer, regardless of age and experience. The choreography stays with you and the music you danced to gains a whole new meaning in your life. You remember it forever.
So go forth and find a local ballet class! You might never know if you have a dancer inside you unless you try!
- Ina N.
A ballet performance looks light, graceful and effortless, though most of us know it requires extreme athletic ability and strength. But did you know that ballerinas have to do almost daily stretching to maintain their flexibility? Or that the shape of dancers’ feet can make or break their future? Here are 5 interesting facts about what ballet dancers do and endure behind the scenes in order to be able to perform onstage and delight their audiences with their art form.
5) Ballet dancers stretch EVERYTHING
We know dancers need to be able to do the splits. But once they achieve the splits, they tackle the over-splits. And that’s just the legs! Ballet dancers also regularly stretch their shoulders and back. Stretching the neck side to side helps achieve that sloped-shoulder, long-necked look that people associate with a professional dancer. Rotation of the hips and the arches of the feet always need more work, too! Adequate flexibility is a requirement for any aspiring dancer, and it takes daily stretching exercises to achieve and maintain it. Furthermore, ballet is performed turned-out, which entails fully rotating legs from the hip down so that toes point straight out to the sides. This makes just lifting a leg to its maximum height that much more difficult to do! And on that note…
4) Turn-out! Turn-out! Turn-out!
Have you ever walked by a ballet studio? You’ve likely heard the instructor not-so-gently reminding the students to “turn-out!” This is the hallmark of proper ballet technique. While most of us spend our lives being turned in, i.e. toes pointing straight forward, ballet dancers work daily to improve their turn out. Most positions – first, second, fourth, fifth - require the legs to be turned out at 90o to be considered correct. However, dancers don’t just stand still in first position – the turn-out must be maintained while performing complex dance moves onstage, even when dancing en pointe!
3) Super-strong toes
Toes are parts of the body I never even thought could “have strength” until I tried going up en pointe. The little piggies, however, need various strengthening exercises with therabands, repeated pointing and flexing, as well as exercises at the barre in order to be able to point hard enough to allow a dancer to stay up en pointe in the center. While the box and shank of the pointe shoe provide some support, a professional dancer cannot “sit” (relax) in the shoe and rely on its rigidity to support her. While up en pointe, the dancer’s foot is fully and actively pointed, every muscle engaged. It is the only way to dance up there.
2) A pair of pointe shoes can get worn out in one performance or less
Pointe shoes require a lot of skill and man hours to produce. The cheapest pairs come out to $50-60, but for the most part dancers don’t just get to choose the cheapest style. Pointe shoes are fitted to the dancer’s foot shape, and so when a dancer finds the shoe that feels best, she will stick with that brand and style. The average price for Blochs and Grishkos, two of the more common shoe brands, is about $80. A professional dancer at a company can get anywhere from a single day to about a week of dance out of a pair of pointe shoes before having to discard them. There are, however, ballets that can kill a brand new pair in a single performance, or even in one act! Therefore, pointe shoes are a huge expense for a ballerina until she joins a company (as companies generally provide the shoes for their dancers).
1) Ballet dancers are obsessed with feet!
A pointed foot in a pointe shoe is THE symbol of ballet, and it is always a very arched pointed foot. This “banana foot” aesthetic of ballet has a practical purpose behind it – unless a foot has a certain shape, a dancer simply cannot go up en pointe. Even then, it is not easy to stay up there unless the arch is significantly higher than the minimum requirement. However, today’s dancers also need more and more curvature to their feet because of the look it creates. A young dancer can be told she won’t advance out of the corps de ballet in a company because her feet aren’t good enough (it happened to Zoe Saldana, before she turned to acting!). If two dancers are equal in every way, a company will always pick the one with better feet. It is no surprise, then, that the foot aesthetic is something dancers are preoccupied with – they stretch their own feet, and they stretch each other’s feet. Instructors are experts in bending feet painfully to increase flexibility. Everyone looks at everyone else’s feet and compares them to their own. It’s quite the obsession!
I hope this has been an interesting glimpse into the off-stage life of a ballet dancer. Ballet is truly an exquisite technique to learn and practice, and it provides a unique experience of the dance world.
Happy dancing, everyone!
This year marks the School of Ballet Central New Jersey’s 5th anniversary of their Summer Programs! Launching a ballet academy is no easy feat by any standards, but founders/instructors Thiago C. Silva and Alexander Dutko decided to go for it because they saw something missing in the learning experience at other institutions. BalletCNJ is devoted to creating a fun, positive atmosphere where technique and artistry are constantly emphasized. Of course, all the pain and exertion of learning to dance is still there, and both instructors have a heavy focus on challenging students on a daily basis, to put fear aside and try something new. Never a dull moment!
To celebrate this important anniversary, the school will be hosting a Gala Night on August 22. This event will be complete with a performance by the students from BalletCNJ’s Summer Intensive 2015, a cocktail hour and dinner with a silent auction! Princeton Montessori School, a proud sponsor of BalletCNJ, will provide the venue. We invite parents, students, and anyone interested in ballet, and dance in general, to come out and enjoy the evening with us! Tickets can be reserved here: http://www.balletcnj.org/Events.html
“We believe that artistry needs to be taught from the beginning. Instead of doing exercises for the sake of going through the motions, we ask our students to imagine every class is a performance.”
–Thiago C. Silva
Call for donations:
In order to provide the best experience possible to its students, every dance school needs the support of the local community through donations. Such donations go towards creating scholarships for students pursuing their dream of dancing professionally, as well as the rent/purchase of costumes, props and stage space for performances. Finally, advertising space in BalletCNJ informational and performance brochures is always available!
For sponsors: http://www.balletcnj.org/Sponsors.html
We all know that summer programs are an important annual step in every dancer’s life. In the months of January-May, students attend a flurry of auditions (as parents stare down the various tuition bills) in order to get into at least one intensive a year. Then comes the waiting period, as dancers nervously anticipate acceptance messages and scholarship announcements.
First of all, let’s review why summer intensives are such a big deal:
- Exposure to new teachers, professional dancers, choreography
- A novel viewpoint on the dancer’s strengths and areas that require improvement
- Leaps of improvement in technique and stamina
- Performance/Rehearsal opportunity
- Potential for an apprenticeship for next year
1) 1) Where are you right now and what’s the plan for next year?
If you are looking for an apprenticeship for next year, then a company-affiliated intensive is a good way to do a pseudo-audition, if you are in your top shape! It is important to keep in mind, however, that doing a summer intensive is not a definite “in” to the company. In reality, summer programs are associated with the schools associated with the company rather than the company itself. If you are graduating from your current place of instruction, the last thing you want is to get sucked into another school while looking for your first job. The intensive is still a good way to keep in shape, learn about the company and meet some people – you just need to be aware that while they are advertised almost as “job interviews” you are more likely to get offered a traineeship or a spot in the school, where you will continue to pay tuition and still not be guaranteed a place in the company.
If you have just scored a spot in the company, then their summer intensive is a GREAT opportunity to get to know the atmosphere of the place, stay fit and get ready for the upcoming season.
2) 2) Attention versus exposure?
Smaller, independent ballet academies will generally have smaller class sizes. This setting allows instructors to be more attentive to each student and to provide individualized feedback. On the other hand, a summer intensive affiliated with a famous company can expose the dancer to bigger names in the industry, including directors, choreographers and others who may have a say during hiring season. However, less emphasis on improving the students’ techniques is given, and so if a dancer wants an apprenticeship, it is best to be in top performing shape by the time the dance intensive comes around. If you as a dancer are primarily looking to enrich your technique through a summer intensive, then perhaps the optimal setting for that would be with a familiar instructor who knows how your body works and what needs the most improvement. Finally, regardless of affiliations, it is important to find an intensive that allows the dancer to gain more performance experience!
3) One company or many?
If you have your heart set on a company, then go for it! It is best to attend several summer programs with that company and its school as possible. (Please keep in mind a Plan B though!) In contrast, if you are fuzzy on where to audition, the instructors from an independent school can provide constructive advice on which companies best suit your style, technique, personality, and yes, body-type. This information is crucial when selecting where to audition or what to work on. Something else to keep in mind – independent ballet school intensives can offer a wide range of guest teachers from a selection of companies, who are a great source of information on the groups they dance with.
Another thing to keep in mind is the WOW! factor. If you have a company you know you want to dance for, attending their intensive every year might be good. But imagine you are there one summer, miss the next (working hard to improve your technique, of course) and come back the year after that, now dancing at a whole new level! This strategy can get you noticed quite a bit more.
1) 4) $$$
While there is no hard-written rule that company-affiliated schools charge more for summer intensives than independent schools, you can bet that those tied to top companies (Think ABT, San Francisco Ballet, etc) will definitely make a larger dent in the family savings. After all, a call needs to be made – with all the benefits a small, local ballet conservatory can provide in a summer intensive, do you necessarily need nearly $3000 (or more) of tuition alone, plus room/board, to attend a big-time company-affiliated intensive every year?
With that, we would like to wish the best of luck to everyone in their summer programs this year!-IKN