This post may have some use for everyone, but I wrote it with adult beginners in mind. Coming in to a ballet class is like entering another world; one with different rules and practices to those observed outside the studio. No one really explains those rules, you just have to pick them up- but sometimes this leads to confusion. So this is my guide to studio etiquette, and I hope that it clarifies a few things!
- Arrive in Plenty of Time
You should arrive at the studio with enough time to sign in, pay for your class if necessary, get changed and have all of your things organised before you go in, and then you should also leave plenty of time to warm up and stretch. I’d say arrive an hour to 45 minutes before the start of class, change, do your hair, pay, etc., then warm up and stretch for half an hour. This ensures that your body is ready to do its best work, that you’re not rushing around stressed, and that you’re not disturbing the class coming in late. I work on the reception at my ballet school and when clients arrive late, it prevents me from being able to join the class or go home until everyone’s arrived, and they often don’t leave time to pay or fill in their details. It makes it more difficult for everyone, including themselves, as it is stressful to be rushing in late.
However, being late does happen (I would definitely know!), and that’s fine. Get changed, make sure you have everything so that you don’t disturb the class by leaving and entering the room, then wait until the end of the exercise to enter. Slip in, catch your teacher’s eye with a nod and a sorry expression, then go quickly to a place on the barre and join in. Do not walk into the room mid-exercise and try to place yourself at the barre as you will put the people on either side of you off, and don’t spend ages deciding where to go at the barre! The class will likely have already spread themselves along, but unless the teacher tells you where to go, just squeeze in with a quick apology to your neighbours and they will make room for you. Don’t enter the room with a loud apology or explanation to the teacher, unless they ask you for one, which in the case of adult class is not likely. You may be trying to be sincere, but it is not the way that class is conducted- once it has started, there should be minimal distractions.
- Be Prepared
Different studios have different rules. At my studio, we leave everything outside of the room apart from a towel and our warm-up layers, which we shed as the class goes on. In the vocational class, we are expected to be fully warm before the start of class and put all of our warm-ups outside, but there is no uniform for adult classes so we tend to keep our layers on and lose them at various points during barre. Water has to stay outside the studio to protect the expensive floor and minimise clutter, which is unattractive and dangerous. Some people find it shocking if they are used to constantly drinking, but we are encouraged to drink plenty throughout the day and after class to hydrate, but go without during class so as not to upset breathing and fill yourself with water. I usually leave my bottle outside the door in case I get really thirsty, but I rarely need it until the end. Most studios do allow water, in which case take a bottle with you, but keep it well out of the way. Some studios also expect you to take your bags in to the room with you- if this is the case, look to where the others have put their bags and put yours there, too, keeping them well back and out of the way so that they do not pose a trip hazard. If you need anything else- pointe shoes, an inhaler, etc., either bring it in with you or leave it just outside the door. And go to the toilet before class! If you go out during the class you will miss things.
- At the Barre
Spread yourselves along the barre so that you have adequate space. Most people have a favourite spot at the barre, but it is not polite to always take the same place. Move around so that everyone gets a chance to go nearer the mirror, or at the front, or in the middle. Do not have all sorts of things hanging from the barre or around your feet- put your water and towel to one side, and any layers you take off whilst dancing, then put them out of the room when you start centre.
When it gets to adage and grande battements, you might not have enough space to complete the movements without kicking someone. Never even risk kicking someone! If you feel like there’s any chance you’re too close to the person in front, or especially behind, angle yourself outwards from the barre to lift the leg in front, or turn slightly towards the barre when you lift your leg behind. This is the accepted position when barre space is limited. If you are working in a corner it can be harder- try to adapt as necessary.
If you are using a portable barre, always offer to help put them away when the time comes.
- In the Centre
This is when most problems occur! People feel unsure as they move away from the safety of the barre. Depending on the size of the class and the studio, you may do the centre exercises as one group, or split into two or more groups. Your teacher will say, and if they don’t, you can ask. The people who are most confident with the exercise should go in the first group, that way if you’re unsure you get to see it and mark it again. If you are marking whilst others are dancing, stay well out the way to the side (not behind as you’ll put them off in the mirror) and do it subtly- don’t fully mark it as it’s really distracting, and you might find yourself in someone’s way!
I take class with adults every day, and this is the most difficult thing- organising yourselves in the centre. The best dancers should go at the front, the ones who are confident about the exercise and can execute it nicely. That way, people behind can watch and copy. Sometimes teachers may rotate the lines to give everyone a go at the front, in which case it doesn’t matter so much, but they will still normally start with the more experienced dancers in the front. It is good to push yourself by going at the front sometimes, so you are thinking more and not just copying, but if you cannot remember the exercise or cannot do some of the steps, do not put yourself at the front! Go behind, at least until you’ve established what you’re doing. This is something that a lot of adult beginners don’t immediately understand, and they put themselves at the front, get it wrong, and put everyone else off. Everyone makes mistakes, but if you don’t know the exercise or can’t do it, it is rude to put yourself at the front. You have to earn a place at the front. The front-and-centre position is for the best dancer in the class.
If you are a more experienced dancer, be aware that if the second group are struggling, you may need to go in the second or third group so they have someone to follow, or else repeat the exercise in the second group. They will thank you for it!
The dancers at the front need to move right forwards, unless the combination travels forwards. This way the dancers behind aren’t squashed. The front line should spread out evenly, and then the second line should go in the spaces between the people in front. If there is a third line, they should stand in the remaining spaces. This way everyone can see in the mirror. Unless your teacher says otherwise, stay in this place. Don’t keep moving around as you’ll take someone else’s spot who then has to move also, and don’t change groups, as again you will displace someone. If you are in the second or third line and don’t have space, ask the front line to move forwards as they will likely naturally start too far back.
If you totally mess up, try not to give up, but keep going until the end, as it is a bad habit to give up when you go wrong. You need to persevere- what if you were on stage? And for the same reason, it is not good practice to pull faces when you mess up! If it goes wrong, repeat the exercise with the next group but put yourself at the back so you don’t take someone’s spot or put them off- this is their turn.
- Avoiding Collision
Place yourself a good distance away from other dancers. If the teacher has dictated that you need to travel, EVERYONE has to travel otherwise the space is messed up. Do not go in half-heartedly because you’re not confident- if the step travels, you need to move! Likewise, if someone near you hasn’t moved enough, don’t just plough into them. They may be the ones in the wrong, but on the stage the audience doesn’t care who is right or wrong- you have to maintain spacing with your fellow dancers to the most exact degree. Use your eyes, use your brain, and keep to your space. To plough into someone because you are doing the step correctly and they are not is unprofessional and dangerous.
During turns across the floor, keep to your lane, especially if you are going across more than one at a time. Keep your spot exactly and you will be fine. If you find yourself veering off-course, STOP. Don’t carry on as you’ll cut off your partner, who may be doing the best series of turns of their life, and will have to stop or be crashed into! If you can, place yourself where if you veer off, you’ll be going into empty space rather than in to someone, or ask to go alone.
With travelling jumps, put yourself in partners or groups with those who have a similar jump to you. If you are a man with long, strong legs and a high jump, do not go in the same group as a small, older lady with less experience, as you will flatten her! She has her right to do the exercise as well! Jump with the other men, or with taller people, and those more experienced so they can match your space consumption. Likewise if your jumping days have been and gone or if you’re yet to get the strength up for big jumps, go with others of the same ability so that you compliment each other.
Sometimes the music continues between combinations and the teacher will ask the second group to take over from the first group without stopping the music. If you are in the first group, don’t hold your finishing pose- strike it, then RUN. Move to whichever side is nearer you, and give it some pace! Run balletically, but make sure you are well clear before the other group starts, so they have space and can see in the mirror. If you are in the second group, don’t run in from the side or front. The first group should run to the side but forward and you should come in from BEHIND them, and go straight to your spot. That way there are no crashes!
This was a problem with some men at my studio. Make sure when you come to class that you are clean and wearing clean clothes and deodorant. If you sweat a lot, bring a towel and avoid wearing anything with sleeves as this is asking for bad smells! Don’t wear the same outfit every day if you can avoid it. Wash after every use or maybe two uses, and if you can’t you should hang your things up to dry out and spray them with scented fabric spray such as Febreeze. The same goes for shoes! Get canvas shoes and wash them weekly in the machine with your dancewear on a cold, gentle cycle. If you have smelly feet, spray your shoes between uses and let them dry, don’t just stuff them away in your bag until the next class. It can be very off-putting for others in the class, and it is an embarrassing subject to approach with people.
There should be no talking during class. The time for talking is when you are warming up. Once the teacher enters the room, they should be given the utmost respect, and silence should be observed. Chattering to your friends during class is disrespectful to your teacher and classmates, it does not demonstrate the correct discipline for ballet, and it stops you from learning as much as you could.
When a teacher corrects you, apply the correction straight away. It is a privilege to be given an individual correction and you should show that you understand it and are trying to use it straight away. Nod and listen- never, ever pull a sour face when corrected! The teacher is imparting their knowledge unto you, and you should take it with gratitude and use it to better your work.
Try not to upset your colleagues. Don’t steal their place at the barre when they are out of the room, don’t move around between exercises and get in the way. Don’t stand in front of them so that they cannot see in the mirror, or encroach on their personal space. In ballet, you must always be disciplined with yourself and conscientious of others. Similarly, a golden rule is to NEVER talk when someone else is dancing- you should be watching to see what they do well and what they do wrong, and learn from it, and because you are showing respect to their performance. And unless something genuinely funny happens, NEVER EVER laugh!
It is good to ask questions, but there is something very annoying about an over-keen dancer holding up the class with constant questions. Unless it benefits the whole class, you should save your question until the end, and approach the teacher yourself. Wait until a good time to ask, and try not to ask a lot of unnecessary questions about things you are ‘just checking’- if it’s something you can find out by looking and watching, you shouldn’t have to ask (like asking which foot you’re going on- if you don’t know, you should look and figure it out!). Only ask if you need the information to do the exercise. It’s good to ask questions, but make sure they are thoughtful and worthwhile, and ask them at the end if you can.
At the end of the class, bow or curtsey to your teacher and many places will give the teacher applause to thank them. You may also wish to thank them individually afterwards.
This was a long one, but this is pretty much everything you could need to know about studio etiquette! These things are so important to make sure that you and everyone else gets the most out of your classes. Ballet is a different world, one which is quite old-fashioned and very disciplined, so not everyone adapts to that straight away. I hope that this clears up any questions you have about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. Of course, some studios are less strict than others and observe different rules, but strive to set an example and lead the way and you will find yourself getting more out of your classes and impressing your teacher.