March 5, 2014 by Nicole
I have a very solid memory of being in my ballet 4 class one day and looking over and seeing one of the ballet 5 girls at the barre with us. It was a good day for me – her presence was motivation for me. I watched her throughout class. I couldn’t help but notice that she performed the combinations a little cleaner, a little better, a little faster than most of the rest of the class. It seemed so easy for her. I wondered why she even bothered taking our class.
I’ll never know for sure, but I can guess now that our artistic director suggested it to her. It’s actually a pretty common approach in dance training – a periodic “level down” day/class. As you progress in your dance training, the speed of class and the complexity of the combinations increases. By adding or substituting a class that’s a level down from you, it gives the dancer an opportunity to “get back to basics” and really focus on the technique. By taking that step back, you’re able to really work on the muscle memory without also having to devote mental energy to the trickier/faster choreography.
Sound boring? Not if you’re doing it right.
Taking a class that “too slow” for you is actually harder than you think. When I level down, I’m usually sweating like crazy by tendus! Being able to focus on the movement means there’s absolutely no excuse to not think about (and address) what every single part of your body is doing.
Take really slow plies. If you’re really working through the plie – actively resisting on the way down, replacing the heels as soon as you’re physically able, pressing down through the back of the legs, actively rotating from the hip, engaging your abs and supporting the arm through the port de bras – that’s a lot of work! And doing it slowly should really make you feel the burn. Then you get to turn around & do it on the other side! Going a little slower actually shouldn’t make it any “easier” for you…it’s just a chance to work a little more in the body than in the brain.
Speaking of the brain – don’t let it get in the way of you getting the most out of your class time. Especially when taking class a level or so down. Go in committed to the work…instead of assuming it won’t be challenging enough or with a bit of ego because you may be the most advanced student in the class. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that you approach class focused and ready to work, so that you get what you need out of it. And if that’s the opportunity to slow down, focus & refine, then make the most out of it.
What do you think? Do you ever purposefully take class a level down?