Something you should know about me in case you haven’t guessed it already…I’m NOT a bunhead. I don’t follow the traditional route of taking class (or multiple classes) every day to “stay in shape”. I don’t drag myself to the studio out of obligation or some unspoken, implied rule of being a ballerina. I only take class when I want to…for artistic purposes and as an outlet for my creativity and self-expression. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with taking class every day if you enjoy it. It's just not part of my lifestyle design at this point in my career. Since time is such a precious, limited resource and we all have to abide by its unforgiving rules, I choose very carefully how I spend my time the more seasoned I become.
That being said, since my companies are not in season right now, I had the desire to dance the other day and took a ballet class for the first time in weeks. After class, a fellow dancer came up to me to discuss the quick, crisp, precise quality of my petit allegro. Now, there’s something else you should know about me. Petit allegro used to be the bane of my existence. Every class when it came time to do petit allegro, I would get a horrible, nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach because I knew how much I struggled with it. (Just thinking about those days still gives me a shudder of dread!) No matter how hard I tried, how much I practiced, how intensely I focused…my skills were so inadequate. Ask any of my teachers from my younger years about my weaknesses, and petit allegro will be high up on the list.
I just couldn’t make my body move fast enough. I would rehearse the combination in my head over and over again, but when it came time to do the movement, my body couldn’t keep up with my brain. I would end up stumbling through the combo as a sloppy mess. It wasn’t a problem with being too heavy or carrying around excess body weight that was slowing me down…as I spent most of my younger years about 15-20 pounds lighter than I am now at an extremely unhealthy weight due to my struggles with eating disorders. And, it wasn’t a problem with knowing how to do the steps, as I perfectly understood what the steps should look like and what my body needed to do. The problem was getting my body to actually do it. For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I thought I was just destined to suck at petit allegro.
It wasn’t until I started training differently that I realized my problem with petit allegro wasn’t a lack of skill…it was a lack of power. I didn’t have the muscle to pull my body through the air at its will. I didn’t have the control to execute the precise footwork. I didn’t have the strength to move fast enough. And, I didn’t have the force behind my physical body to make it do what my brain was telling it to do.
We’ve talked about the size to performance ratio before and how your level of leanness needs to be proportionate to your strength in order to perform at your peak. Even though many dancers can achieve the "dancer look" they want through diet or their natural genetic gifts, many are still missing the strength necessary to operate their bodies at an optimal state. You can practice and rehearse a skill a thousand times, but without the power in your muscles to master the movement…you're not going to improve.
Don’t underestimate the importance of muscular strength. It’s what gives you the ability to both float across the stage with effortless control in a slow adagio as well as speed through the quick, precise footwork of petit allegro. Don’t keep doing the same drills over and over again, expecting to see different results. Different results come from training differently. Focus on your missing link – strength – and let that impact your skills.
Do you struggle with petit allegro? Maybe what you’re missing is not necessarily skill…but strength.