Working in class every day, making progress, is essential to become a good dancer, but is that the only thing to do if you want to get a professional contract, a promotion or simply become a better dancer?
There are several skills that make some dancers stand out more than others. None of these are about how many pirouettes they can do or how high they can jump. What really makes the difference then?
Being able to pick up choreography straight off
When working with a choreographer, you want to be able to pick up even the smallest details rather quickly. Dancers who know how to learn fast are always appreciated and they get chosen for last minute replacement, which can lead to promotion. The good news is that you can train to become a fast learner.
How to practice: watch sections of ballets on video. Be very attentive and stop the video after a musical phrase, or even the end of a variation. Note down everything you remember and double check afterwards to see how accurate you were. Once you start getting the hang of it, you can set up the barre higher: wait for 5 minutes before noting down the choreography.
Knowing the story behind what you are dancing
Have you ever wondered why some dancers are just able to catch their audience’s attention when others, despite having the same technical skills, appear to be more distant? A huge part of building a connection with the public lies in knowing what you are dancing, knowing what you want to share.
How to practice: doing the research! Make a list of ballets you would like to know more of and, picking one at a time, collect as much information as you can. From watching different versions to reading books, everything you learn will one day come in handy. You can start with the Repertoire coaching of Core de ballet’s Video Training as they are presented by Principals dancers who were famous in this role and they explain the meaning of the variation in great details.
Remembering corrections is great, but the great deal is putting them into practice. Acknowledge that applying corrections takes time and effort. Don’t beat yourself up, instead seek for help.
How to practice: first of all focus on one single correction at a time. If you can’t pick on your own, ask your teacher or coach for advice, otherwise answer this simple question: “what is going to allow me to progress the most?”.
Once you know what to work on, create a mental image of how you want to look and feel like. Ask for feedback, film yourself and analyze your videos and keep track of your progress. I find it very helpful to note down specific feelings, exercises, phrases that somehow help me. Keep the same focus in class until you can apply the correction almost naturally, in short, until it becomes a habit.
Learning how to sew efficiently and quickly
Sewing is always a very useful skill for any dancer. You are almost about to go on stage and suddenly your shoes or your costume rip off. How many times did you wish you knew how to sew quicker than the wind?
How to practice: learn different sewing stitches. The most useful for dancers are generally the “running stitch”, the “overcast stitch” and the “tacking stitch”. There are many tutorials online that you can take advantage of. Don’t forget to practice threading a needle, usually that is what takes up most of the time!
Knowing how to apply stage makeup
Applying stage makeup is a true art. It takes patience and dedication to find what looks best on you, but it’s truly worth it.
How to practice: look for stage makeup tutorials. There are some very good ones on YouTube, like this one from Dance by Lina with Wiener Staatsoper ballet principal Natascha Mair. Experiment with different details, colors, angles and so on. Remember to keep track of what you do and don’t like.