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12 life lessons learned in ballet class.

It’s no secret that ballerinas know about hard work and sacrifice. Just look at their scarred, calloused feet.

But I guarantee you, they will tell you it was worth it.

Ballet was a huge part of my childhood. It’s the reason I know that practice makes perfect. It’s the reason I have the confidence to try anything, and the co-ordination to back it up. It’s the reason I love the smell of hairspray (weird, I know, but shut up and spray me).

If you want to know the meaning of respect, discipline and real blisters, do a ballet class or fifty. It’ll change your life.

12 life lessons learned from ballet class.

1. Take a breath to prepare.

In some ballet exercises, the introduction before the dancing starts is a choreographed breath in, breath out. Metaphor for life, people. Before sh*t gets hard, take a breath.

2. If you fall down, get up. And you will fall down.

But if you make it look like you did it on purpose, no one will know.

3. Respect your elders.

And by ‘elders’, I mean ‘anyone who is more advanced than you’. When I was a kid, the oldest dancers at my ballet school were called Majors, and they would have only been 18 or 19 years old. But my GOD, when one walked in the room, I worshipped their every move like they were Ballet-Jesus and I was a disciple.

4. And most of all, respect your teacher.

Ballet teachers – respect them, love them, fear them, revere them. Traditional ballet schools have all kinds of hardcore respect rules for the teachers. Stand ready when they walk in the room. Curtsey and say ‘thank you’ at the end of every class. They are Yoda, Dumbledore, Gandalf and Mr Miyagi rolled into one graceful human, and they will teach children about respect more than anyone else in their life can.

My mum took a sneaky photo of me at our ballet concert, aged three, watching the big girls do ballet. Credit: Mum.

5. Posture, posture, posture.

You can always spot the middle-aged women and men who grew up dancing. Their spines are long, floaty pieces of artwork. Their deformed feet are a different story….

6. If you don’t know what you are doing, pretend to know what you are doing.

‘Ballet face’ covers a manner of sins. If you work with an ex-ballerina, don’t always trust that she knows what is happening in a meeting. She may just be subtly copying everyone else while distracting you with pretty arms.

7. Can’t do it yet? Just keep practising.

Determination and persistence. That’s all it takes. And it’s not a life lesson that ends with the final curtsey, either.

8. When your world is spinning, focus on one thing.

In ballet, it’s called ‘spotting’. In life, it’s called ‘coping’. If it’s almost impossible to keep your balance, keep your eyes focussed ahead and you might just stay on your feet.

9. Grooming is everything.

You know those hair tutorial videos that come up on Facebook? Get your ballerina friend to do it. Need help glueing on false eyelashes? Get your ballerina friend to do it. Winged eyeliner? Sewing on a button? Invisible panty line underwear advice? Get your ballerina friend to do it.

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10. The only competition is yourself.

Growing up as a dancer might involve a few competitions, but every dancer’s biggest competition is herself. Better results in her ballet exam than last year. Getting flat in centre split. Adding an extra pirouette to her PB. Ballerinas will always strive to be better, faster and stronger than yesterday.

Lucy ballet shoe
One of my first ballet shoes. Doesn’t fit so well now. Image: Me.

11. Your friends can be your family.

Your classmates become your own siblings. Your teacher becomes your parent. You know each others strengths and weaknesses, and you know they will dust you off when you fall down.

12. Everything worth doing takes time.

Ballerinas are built from the ground up. All the fancy leaps and spins are from years of strong foundation work, and every class always starts with that same foundation work, even at a professional level. You need to know how to walk before you can leap.

Ballet teaches you everything. And as for one of the biggest misconceptions? The Dance Moms level of craziness behind the scenes? It’s not like that at all.

The mums don’t push the dancers. The dancers push themselves.

The mums (and dads) wipe up the tears and pass the bandaids and kiss the bruised knees and do all the driving and buy the bobby pins and clap in the right places, but not because they want her to be a dancer. Because she is a dancer, and that’s what makes her happy.

So to all the little girls and boys out there learning how to point their toes and make a diamond with their pliéd little knees, you have a big future ahead of you. No matter what, whether you end up as a dancer, an accountant, a teacher or a bus-driver, you will have the foundation to leap.

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