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  • Writer's picture Alison Hollingsworth

Repetition Is Key

Repetition truly is key when you are speaking in terms of learning dance. That goes for any dance form. My experience lies with Classical Ballet of course so I will limit my discussion to that. If I look at my lifetime and count the number of tendus that I have done the number is over 2 Million. Seriously, I just did the math!!! And I was using conservative numbers! And I hope to do many many more in my lifetime.

Repetition isn't simply about intellectually learning a step. Learning a step has many layers to it rather like an onion. You peel a layer off only to find another perfect layer right underneath it. As you learn Ballet in general you will find that to be true. You finally feel like you have conquered a step then you realize that you have actually freed yourself up to discover nuances of the step.

For example lets look at the tendu. The basic intellectual understanding of the step is to draw a straight line on the floor, foot articulating, toes pointing, leg turned out, pushing through the floor, and reaching to the correct placement on the floor. All of this must occur with correct body placement and alignment. That alone takes repetition to remember all of those points intellectually. THEN there is the process of translating all of that through the body to where it can be executed cleanly. Believe me, your mind might understand exactly what you want to be doing but it takes repetitive practice over time to get the body and mind to work as one. That sneaky turnout might take a nose dive to the back or shimmy as you tendu side. That is why we do a repetitive barre day after day. We do tendus in first and fifth positions daily. Not to mention all of the other exercises of which they are a part. Then we come center and repeat a tendu exercise. But we do not let this repetition become boring. We are focused on the joy and challenge of the exercise and cementing the execution into our muscle memory so that WE HAVE IT. And don't let my short description fool you! This won't occur overnight. This repetition might take months or years before it clicks. But what fun we have getting there! Also it is such a rewarding feeling to see your hard work pay off. I think that is one of the most wonderful aspects of ballet for students young and adult. Students

learn that they have control over their bodies and can work to achieve a goal.

Whew, now that we finally have it we can stop the repetition right? No! Just like peeling the onion we realize that there are more layers to the movement. There are other elements that we can add to it. What fun!! We find that if we lengthen the leg more it becomes easier! We find that if we add our breath to the moment that it becomes lighter. So many elements and nuances to play with. So we continue repeating and repeating. We can now start addressing the artistry or expression of the movement and adding epaulment. All of the sudden tendus seem pretty easy. Now you are ready to start setting new goals and conquering new challenging steps. You know how to work and how repetition pays off.

Fast forward to professional life as a dancer. You think repetitive classes are over at that point? Nope, not even then. We still do a daily class to keep our skills in tip top shape. Even at that level you are still tweaking and fine tuning your technique and artistry. As a dancer you are always growing and learning. And that of course means repetition. And I have never found the repetition boring. It becomes something that is a part of you and something that you can count on. Regardless of what city you are in you can pretty much count on feeling at home in a ballet class. So truly as a dancer repetition is key!

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