Hello, everybody. This is Krishna, your Dark Room Ballet teacher, back at it again with another Dark Room Ballet mailbag. It’s Krishna’s Mailbag time! Let’s rustle in that mailbag and find if we have any interesting messages today. Oh, this one is really great.
It is, “Hi, Krishna. I have a question about ballet class levels. What is an open-level class, and what do the other ballet class levels that I sometimes find mean?” Okay. So, this is a really important question, and it’s going to help me explain explicitly what Dark Room Ballet open-level class is in depth because I think that I have never actually really explained what it is exactly. So let’s get into what ballet class levels that you might find at different studios and institutions that you might encounter. What do they mean?
Okay. Let’s start with some of the most common labels that you might encounter. You might encounter a class that is labeled as Beginning Ballet. What does that mean? You might think, “Oh, this is the class that you take if you haven’t taken ballet before.” Au contraire, in New York City and throughout most other major cities in the United States, when a class is labeled as a beginning ballet class, that actually means that you have probably studied either as an adult for about two or three years or that you studied when you were a kid for maybe about five or six years, and maybe you have not studied in a while, and you are returning to class.
A beginning ballet class assumes that you have actually a considerable amount of prior knowledge relating to ballet. The most common kind of person that you will see sign up for a beginning ballet class is someone who studied ballet as a kid, did not dance for a long time, and now wants to refresh and relearn those movement concepts. They’re all kind of in the back files of their memory banks, and they need a place to go bring them back to the front of their minds.
If you don’t have any ballet experience, what are the labels you should be looking for? There are two that exist in New York and most other American cities. One is absolute beginner and the other is intro. That’s why Dark Room Ballet’s intro class exists. It is a class that is designed that assumes no prior knowledge of dance at all. Absolute beginner and intro classes are typically given as multi-week or multi-class workshops. They are generally taught in a sequence, and they are generally not an ongoing class. They tend to be for a limited amount of time. It’s to get people their basic knowledge. Now, another word that you might find describing a ballet class is “basic.” Basic ballet class is actually that in-between class between an intro class and a beginning level class. Sometimes adults who are studying for the first time who have completed an absolute beginner or an intro level class will take a year or so of basic before they move on to beginner.
Now, there are also classes called pro. What is a pro class? A pro class is not really a place for study. It serves a very specific function, which is to prepare people who are working dancers, professional dancers for whatever is that they’re going to be doing for the rest of the day, whether that is a rehearsal day or whether that is a performance day. So you will see pro classes offered at about two times during the day usually in the morning at about 10:00. That’s for people who have a rehearsal day, and also in the afternoon at about 2:00. Those are for performers who are having a performance day and who generally have like 5:00 PM call time at their performance venue. That is across the board for ballet and also probably contemporary and jazz classes as well.
Pro classes, in general, the teacher does not demonstrate. What the teacher does is yell a bunch of vocabulary words at the class, and those folks know how to memorize and interpret those movements without having someone demonstrate for them. They will just know. If the teacher yells out, “Okay. Sissonne failli. Tombe pas de bourrée. Coupé. Pas jeté. Tour jeté. Pique step. Couru. Tours en l’air. Single tours en l’air. Double.” They’ll just know what that means and then what to do, and they won’t forget it because it’s their job to know.
Pro classes are typically very quick tempo. The movement is very, very light. It does not bend into the muscles that much because it’s just there to get those dancers warmed up and ready for other exertion later that day. That’s what happens in pro class. I actually love pro class. I’d take pro class all the time. Sometimes with a Katy Pyle of Ballez. Sometimes with Igal Perry at Peridance. It all depends on my mood. Pro class is great for if you are a professional working dancer and are going to be dancing for the rest of the day, and you just need something to get all the joints working properly.
Now, there’s also classes that are labeled different kinds of intermediate. Like you’ll see intermediate, beginning intermediate, slow intermediate, advanced intermediate, intermediate advanced. All these kinds of things that include the word “intermediate.” What is that all about? I think that that term is really confusing, and it really does not describe what those classes are because there’s really essentially two types of intermediate class. There’s one that I call the pre-professional class. That’s really what most intermediate classes are. They’re pre-professional classes. They are there for people who are planning to have a career as a performer and who need to develop specific performance-based skills. So that means they need to learn how to memorize longer dance combinations. They need to know how to do more challenging and complex transitions between movements that they learned earlier on in their lives. It’s generally not a place where you’re going to be encountering new vocabulary, new concepts, and things like that.
There’s another kind of intermediate class, which is not really that. It is more whatever that teacher feels like teaching. There are some teachers who just slap the label “intermediate” on their class because they don’t know what else to do, and it’s more a class where, “This is the kind of class I enjoy teaching. I don’t think about difficulty. I don’t think about level. I just like teaching this kind of material.” Those types of classes, they tend to have pretty loyal student followings because it tends to be students who really enjoy the particular style of that teacher for whatever reason.
So those are the two types of intermediate classes that you might come across. Then, there are open-level classes. What is that? Now, if you call a dance studio up on the phone and you said, “What does that mean, open-level class?” What you’ll get back from the person answering the phone is, “Well, this class is for everybody.” Now, that’s a very confusing idea to a lot of people. “What do you mean this class is for everybody? What is actually going in on there? There’s people who have a lot of experience. There’s people who have only a little bit of experience. What is that all about? What is an open-level class?”
Let me tell you something. Whether you’re studying ballet, jazz, contemporary, any style, open-level classes are cool. Open-level classes are cool because what those teachers who teach open-level classes, myself included, tend to do in order to create an environment where there is many, many levels of dancers, and everybody is learning new things, and having fun, and experimenting, and trying new stuff is they do what’s called unit-based work. Sometimes a teacher will come up with a unit-based on a movement concept. That movement concept might be a body movement. A simple thing like right now, I am teaching a unit on frappé. That means I start the unit from zero knowledge. “Okay. This is the movement. We start from the very beginning.”
Then, as the weeks progress in the unit, whether that unit goes on for eight weeks, 16 weeks, something like that, we try different permutations, different styles, and increase in difficulty level throughout the unit. Then, when that unit wraps up, we put it on the shelf. A few months later, maybe a year later, the teacher returns to that unit and starts the cycle over again. We start from zero, no prior knowledge and moving through the weeks. Each week, more challenge, a little bit different, a little bit more complicated.
At any given time, a unit-based class might have six concepts that that teacher is rotating through. I’m going to be honest. Dark Room Ballet is generally using about 15 or 18 concepts in unit, and they’re all at different points throughout the class. It is so much fun to program a unit-based class because you’re always moving through these different cycles of concepts, putting stuff on the shelf, coming back to it, moving through different ideas. If your students come regularly, they’ll get to cycle through those things again and again as they study. They will always be continually reminded of their fundamentals, helped through to the next level of their study each time they touch upon it, and you’re never ever bored in open-level class.
So let’s say you’re a relatively new student, and you just went through a unit in an open-level class, and you’re like, “Holy cow, that got fast really quickly. My first day, I was hanging in there, but man, second time, that was hard. That was too much for my brain.” Don’t worry. It’s supposed to be like that. The next time that unit comes around, you’re going to be shocked at, A, how much you remember and B, how much farther along in the unit you go feeling calm and confident before you’re like, “Whoa, this is amazingly challenging.”
That’s what makes open-level classes fun and sustainable environments to help serve students all throughout their dancing careers. I have belonged to certain open-level classes for six years, seven years, eight years. There are some open-level classes that I’m probably going to continue to take as long as that teacher is teaching because there’s always experiments, and fun and interesting things going on. There’s always parts of class that are returned to basic fundamental ideas. There’s always parts of class that are a real stretch for me, that I’m really moving into material that is a real challenge, that’s very new.
It’s always a mix of ideas flowing through in and out. You’re always going to be interested in an open-level class. So if there’s ever an open-level class at a different studio or institution that you’d like to try, don’t be afraid of that label. Don’t feel like, “Well, I don’t know what that means,” because now you do. Open-level classes are great. They are cyclical, and if you hang out there for a long time, you know that you’re going to be reminded, and refreshed, and always moving through material that is designed to help you progress, and learn, and develop over time as a dancer. I hope all of you have a lovely day today, and I hope that this mailbag was interesting to you. Much love to you all. Bye, now!