Lesson One: Everyone Starts At The Beginning
There’s a famous saying in cycling circles attributed to Greg Lemond: “It never gets easier, you just go faster.”
It reminds me of something my ballet teachers say: “In ballet, you keep doing the same basic things. You just get better at them.”
Many adult beginners (and probably some child beginners) walk into the studio carrying a load of worry about being beginners. Adult re-beginners often walk into the studio carrying a load of worry about how much they’ve lost in the year or ten years or more that have elapsed since last they slipped on their slippers and danced ballet.
Yet, just as basic elements of cycling remain the same no matter how long you ride — you turn the cranks and balance; that’s basically it — the basic elements of ballet never change. Like cycling technique, ballet technique elaborates upon itself.
The five basic positions (of which you will mostly never use one — the third — unless you can’t get into fifth for some reason) never change.
Everything begins and ends with turnout and plié.
Tendu leads to dégagé. Dégagé leads to grand battement. Grand battement leads to jeté. Jeté leads to tour jeté. Tour jeté, for what it’s worth, looks really impressive.
You learn tombé and fondu at the barre; later they become connecting steps that you will use all day, every day, at center and eventually on the stage.
And still everything will begin and end with turnout and plié.
When we first began class, Denis worried about how polished many of our classmates seemed. Now, he is beginning to show a little polish of his own. He began at the beginning — all the way at the beginning, having never set foot in a ballet studio before.
Last Saturday, at the Joffrey, the population of our class ranged from newbies even less polished than Denis to one guy who danced with a degree of refinement that suggested he was at very least an advanced student who was either filling in a class due to a scheduling issue or possibly working back from an injury.
We all did the same things. Nobody judged anyone else.
We were all true beginners once. Every principal dancer commanding the stage; every top racer commanding the mountain — they, too, were beginners once. They, too, start every single day — every class, every workout — with the same basic things we do. They have simply been doing them longer.
So beginning is important — and not just important. It’s good. If no one was ever a beginner, we would not have the David Hallbergs and Jens Voigts of the world; the Natalia Osipovas and Marianne Voses of the world.
I’m not going to say we shouldn’t worry about being beginners. To worry is human. What we shouldn’t do is let that worry stop us from beginning.
Everyone starts at the beginning … and once we start, we often learn that the little elemental skills we learn at first lie at the heart of something beautiful; that the beginning is, in fact, the most important part.