"You Will, If You Keep Moving" - My Beginning Experiences with Ballet

Anthony Cornatzer

I’ve never been the best with dance. My earliest experiences with it would go as far back as learning choreography for the first musical I ever acted in when I was in high school with Singin’ in the Rain. From there, in continuing to pursue acting, I gradually picked up on more and more comfort-ability with approaching it. But it was still always an awkward relationship—kind of in the same vein of being mutual acquaintances with someone, but having mixed feelings about them for whatever reason. 

With arriving at Stockton University as a Theatre Performance major, I naturally felt more comfortable with the aspect of performing itself, but desperately clinging more to acting… being specifically a straight-actor, at that. Getting my feet wet with all too many college experiences and experiences in a small performing arts program, I ultimately found myself being as curious as much as I was enchanted with the dance program when I first worked as a sound board operator for one of its showcases. Yeah, I was familiar with choreography—but not to such an extent with such control and specificity within movement and raw emotion that manifested itself within the moment, with no need for words. Words would only ruin what was present then, and only then.

This subtle, little bug I got with dance slowly began to grow more and more within the past few years I’ve been at Stockton in learning so much among so many any other concepts with theatre, acting, music, as well as ultimately dance. For my major, I had to take some dance
classes as a requirement. For the first two I took, an introductory course and a beginning modern course, I did learn a great deal of various levels of specificity, awareness, as well as some technique. Even with fulfilling all of the dance requirements I needed for the major with those two classes, I still wanted—and really, needed—to learn more if I was seriously going to pursue theatre and acting for a living, in being practical and brutally honest with myself.
 
My placement from the dance program was a recommendation for beginning ballet. I looked forward to getting even more well-rounded with dance and even went into it with confidence…confidence that I would end up chewing like a stale piece of food. I liked the class and I really enjoyed working with the professor and was very welcomed by her warm, fast-paced energy. It was just in going through all the various poses and movements that I was dumb-founded in how uncomfortable and unfamiliar it initially all felt.

With tendus, I was constantly bending my leg even when I made conscious efforts to not do it and still fell into it, anyway. I could barely hold myself together without holding on to the barre for dear life in transitioning either into sus-sus or releve. And pique turns felt like a mad, spinning nightmare, like some sick, drunken carousel ride, for the longest time among so many other movements and poses. This beginning ballet class felt like a foreign, cryptic language that my body literally shook in panic and discouragement trying to understand—and to not get it at all for a while. 

Still, even so, after a while of holding on, all of these little things I had such a struggle with I began to chip away at and somehow felt more comfortable with it. It did take that much more effort and patience to even get there, but then it dawned on me that I was actually trying too hard in making it more complicated than it had to be, as my professor pointed out… gee, big surprise, right? But still, things started to click more and more, one class at a time. 

My legs got straighter, not bending as much. My feet became more pointed. I didn’t get as dizzy during pique turns among other turns I would learn, and actually gained more control in turning out more in looking where I was going. And I actually gained more control and balance in holding myself either in sus-sus or releve among other poses, including a bit of passe. Very similar to breath support and in utilizing the diaphragm, I learned of it just being a matter of having your chest forward and tightening your muscles—stomach meets spine, as they say. 

So yes, now I naturally feel much more comfortable as a beginner with ballet as well as dance as a whole. What continues to delightfully frustrate me and drive me, among anything else I’ve learned and am learning as a performer, is just that—there’s still always so much more to learn. There are so many things that I wish to improve and grow upon more within dance and ballet. For now at least though, I remain so grateful not just for the level of self-awareness I’ve gained and become accustomed to with my body, but also with myself, too. 

Looking back on it now, as well as looking ahead, I realize that half of my struggles I’ve had and will inevitably have in the future with ballet and dance, as well as anything, is how I’m approaching it. Yes, it seems like such a simple thing. But it is this level of perception I’ve found that affects our overall performance, as well as whether or not we ultimately stay committed with what we’re working towards. It becomes the definitive line of when you decide to stop saying “you can’t” and wake up to the reality that “you will”, if you keep moving. 

As I mentioned before, I’d like to think that where I am with dance, as well as performing in general, I’m more self-aware. And I don’t mean that so much in the sense of knowing movements and poses for the mere sake of memorizing movements and poses. More specifically, I envision that as being able to trust myself with my body with movement. I’ve noticed now in learning new pieces or movements of choreography that it takes me less time to get it within my body and become comfortable with it. It’s such a little, easy thing to overlook—but then I realize for the scared fifteen-year-old kid first approaching dance, it sure is a lot further along than he initially imagined he’d be someday.

So yeah, in many ways, I’m still really not the best dancer. I’ve kind of embraced that. I’ve immersed myself in the idea of always learning, to keep on exploring the lengths of what my body can do and what I can do, with no specific end or goal—whether it be in class, on stage, or whenever. And in a lot of ways, I’m really excited about those possibilities.