Rules for ballet class are usually communicated clearly, and most dancers who begin as young children are taught the appropriate way to behave while in the classroom. Not only are rules—or etiquette—for class a sign of respect towards the teacher and the other students, they are necessary in order to progress through all the combinations that make up a full class. There is simply not time for a teacher to be reprimanding students or calling them back to attention every few minutes. However, you may begin taking lessons at a new studio or academy where the etiquette may differ from your former school, and it might be up to you to find out what the standard expectations are for students.
Many schools have a dress code. Quite a few require pink tights. This sounds easy enough, but there can be many variations: students are clever at turning a rule on its head by changing it enough to say they are following the rules, when actually they are not. You need to know if pink tights means footed, or if transitional tights, stirrup tights, or footless tights are acceptable. Sometimes a student will have on transitional tights—which, when worn over the toes are considered footed—and have them rolled up to mid-calf. When it comes to class, pink can probably encompass ballet pink, classical pink, light pink, or European pink. (Or, as it was in my case as a kid, white tights dyed into a pink that came from red food coloring!) For performances, most teachers will be painfully specific about what color pink they want and if they want the tights to be mesh, seamed, or seamless; supplex, cotton, nylon, or a combination of fabrics; Capezio, Bloch, or Danskin. To make it a lot easier, some teachers will tell you a style number to be sure you get exactly the right thing. The Danskin mesh seamed tight in style 32 is very popular, for example.
Along with tights, some schools will require that you wear a specific color leotard or a specific style: camisole, tank, short sleeve, or long sleeve. A lot of schools will not be too picky about style as long as you wear the correct color, or a solid color. Make sure you are wearing shoes that are acceptable as well. Usually this is left to the discretion of the dancer, but some teachers don’t particularly care for canvas over leather, for instance. Some want you to have a full sole rather than a split sole. Just be certain you know if there's a preference, and make sure your shoes have the elastics sewn securely. Elastics that are tied behind the ankle or kept on with paper clips or safety pins are irritating to most teachers. You’ve been warned.
Hair and jewelry are biggies in ballet class. To be safe, I would say to put your hair in a bun with a hair net and plenty of hair pins and hairspray, and don’t wear any jewelry at all. Here again, there will be variations of what is acceptable at your particular school. You may be allowed to wear your hair clipped with a great big barrette so it doesn’t flop at all when turning, and it might be fine to wear earrings as long as they don’t dangle. Sometimes earrings that slip through without a catch at the back can fly out during grand allegro or turns across the floor, so use good judgment here. Click here to see a great video by dancers at the Anaheim Ballet on how to make hair buns. And a fun place to find ballet needs is at bunheads.com. For hair accessories, click here.
Finally, we come to the behavior that is expected in class.
- No talking unless you have a question for the teacher (and questions are normally very welcome, especially in beginning to intermediate levels). This includes any kind of communication with others in class, so no miming or eye-rolling either!
- Do not chew gum, eat, or drink during class. Sometimes you may be permitted to get a drink between barre and center, but it's typically best not to leave the room to do so.
- Do not arrive late. If you arrive during the plié combination you can usually catch up. Otherwise you need to check with the teacher to see if it’s okay for you to join or if they prefer that you just observe class.
- Do not yawn.
- Do not get impatient with yourself—this can be misinterpreted by the teacher who thinks you don’t care for their class or combination.
- If you have an injury prior to class, let the teacher know that you may not do everything full out.
- If you get injured during class or pull a muscle, let the teacher know. Get ice, if possible, and watch the rest of class from the sidelines.
- Do not always stand in front. Take turns.
- Do not always go first across the floor unless the teacher asks you to.
- Do your best and have a positive attitude.
I encourage readers to add to the list if you can think of others I omitted. Of course, cells phones and ipods are also not good to bring into class. A few pet peeves of mine when I was teaching included students who had to go to the bathroom (although there might be exceptions, just don’t do this every single class), students who wanted to teach the class or recommend steps, and students who wore sweats over their tights once class began. Again, if you have an injury and you need to wear extra clothing for warmth, get permission from the teacher prior to class.
The nicest thing about class is the end. I always thought it very appropriate when I was dancing that we would let the teacher know we appreciated class by applauding at the end. Some teachers will tell young dancers that they should "give themselves a hand" so they get into the habit of clapping after class, but I believe that this part of ballet etiquette is more a show of respect for the authority and guidance of the teacher.