The Australian Ballet

Beginners Ballet: A Diary

Budding ballet student Pamela Hale recently took a six-week block of our Beginners Ballet classes. She tracked her experiences and progress for us with a weekly diary. Have you ever wonder what it's like taking our Studios classes? Come on in...

Week 1 1

Week One

As I arrive at The Australian Ballet for my first beginners ballet class, the atmosphere is abuzz with excitement and nervous energy. We enter the studio in single file, a steady procession of fresh pink ballet slippers and athleisurewear. It's within the hallowed walls of the studio that we first encounter our dynamic teacher, Justine Miles. She jumps straight into things, leading us through a series of stretches that evoke a strong nostalgia, reminding me of gym classes from years gone by. As we take our places at the barre, I’m glad to be attending classes with a friend – we spend a lot of time glancing at each other, and on occasion stifling our giggles as we make our first, somewhat clumsy attempts at ballet. The live piano that accompanies us is a particular highlight; the music selection is surprisingly diverse, from the eternally recognisable strains of Tchaikovsky’s 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' to the rather unexpected theme from Pink Panther. As our lesson progresses, we point our toes, plié, glissé and revilé to our heart’s content, and when our 75-minute session comes to a close – with a curtsey, no less – the studio is once again filled with eager anticipation, this time as we begin the countdown to our next session.

Week 2 1

Week Two

With week two upon us, the studio is already seeming a little more settled. Students trickle in at their own pace to begin stretching and warming up. Once class begins, we make our way through the same barre exercises as last week, with little additions here and there and subtle increases in tempo that keep the session just as challenging as the first - which leads me to believe I’ll be a little sore tomorrow morning. As the class progresses, we work on balance in preparation for eventually learning to pirouette and the five-year-old version of me, who wanted nothing more than to be a ballerina, is vibrating with excitement. An unexpected perk of classes that has quickly become apparent is their calming influence; I regularly go to yoga classes and it’s expected that mindfulness and relaxation are part and parcel of these sessions, but the meditative aspect of ballet class has been leaving me feeling pleasantly calm and focused.

Week 3 1

Week Three

Three weeks in, it seems we’re finding our footing. Class transitions seamlessly from warm-ups to exercises at the barre and then we’re back on the floor, practising jumps and introducing exciting new direction changes. The tempo has once again lifted, and Justine is beginning to refine our attention to detail, making corrections to arm positions and bringing a little more focus to alignment, now that we’ve developed a feel for how to move. This week we were given handouts that covered a glossary of useful ballet terms and tips for correcting positions and alignment. I’ve certainly found that learning the terminology is the trickiest part although I do thoroughly enjoy listening to the language – it’s sparked a desire to begin learning French. A group of us have made a bit of a routine of after-class coffees, and chatting with other students has revealed a commonality: many of us have been drawn to Studios to revisit the childhood dance classes we remember so fondly or to fulfil a long-held desire to learn ballet. In either case, the classes certainly haven’t disappointed.

Week 4 1

Week Four

I can’t believe we’re officially a whole month into our beginners course! I’m finally feeling like a bit less of a klutz and there seems to be a consensus that things are making more sense and class is feeling a little more effortless; in particular, the ballet terminology is – thankfully – becoming easier to remember after a month’s worth of repetition. While class always follows the same pattern of warming up, followed by barre work and then floor work, there was certainly more time spent in the middle of the floor, away from the barre, this week. We were also given our first official piece of homework, which was rather novel. During class, we began combining individual steps that we’ve so far been practising in isolation into a small sequence. Our now well-rehearsed waltz step was combined with a chassé and pas de bourrée; it was exciting to begin sequencing for the first time. It certainly feels like we’re becoming more adept when bringing together what we’ve learned in this way. I look forward to seeing how our sequence will be adapted and advanced next week!

Week 5 1

Week Five

It’s hard to believe that our dance classes are coming towards their end. This past week the next series of Studio classes was announced, and I wasn’t alone in scrambling to sign up as quickly as possible. The majority of us will be repeating the beginners classes, and chatting with Justine before class, we learned that it's typically advised that students do about six months of beginners’ level before progressing to the intermediate level. The structure of our classes is, however, beginning to develop towards the structures that are practised at the intermediate level, particularly when it comes to putting together several smaller elements to create sequences. It's been a lot of fun to begin sequencing, it really feels like we’re developing new skills, which is proving to be a great test of memory retention. We’ve also been working on jumping quite a bit, in preparation for more advanced moves and sequences; I think we’re all eagerly anticipating the day small arabesques turn into incredible leaps and jumps! As usual, our steps were accompanied by an abundance of iconic ballet scores – Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet featured heavily this week – with a surprising sprinkling of Disney classics thrown in for good measure. The presence of live piano accompaniment remains as novel as it was in the first week and I don’t imagine it’ll ever get old listening to the stirring strains of a live accompaniment.

Week 6 1

Week Six

As the final week of classes is upon us, and rather suddenly at that – it’s hard to believe that a whole six weeks have gone by – I’ve been doing quite a bit of reflection. While I certainly won’t be performing on a stage any time soon (or likely ever!), I’ve certainly gained a lot over the course of the series. Physically, I’m feeling stronger and much more aware of maintaining good posture, which can only be a positive when so many of us spend days on end slumped over our desks. The series has inspired a host of new creative outlets as well. In particular, classes have rekindled my love of live music and my piano is getting more use than it has in years; the house is filled with balletic melodies on a regular basis. French lessons are next on the agenda. The series has truly provided a wonderful creative outlet, inspired new hobbies, and introduced me to a group of lovely and like-minded people; all that’s left to do now is eagerly await the beginning of the next series!