Ballet class etiquette is 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
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.
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.
Other things to note
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.
My heart asks pleasure says
Hey, what a great post!
I'm thinking about some things to add:
– Try to spend attention to every tiniest thing the teacher says, corrections others get can also be useful for yourself
– Mark the exercises when the teacher explains them, you will remind them better if you do so
– Be respectful to your fellow dancers, never ever laugh at them when they do something wrong
– You are not in a bar so don't lean against the barre
– Try to adopt the corrections you get and keep them in mind
Have a nice day! Anouk
Tammy Stanwood says
Thanks, Anouk. Those are all great contributions!
thanks for this – I get asked a million times a day what the etiquette for class is. You've captured it perfectly !
First–this post is terrific! : ) I’ll add one…Don’t stand directly in front of anyone when you are in the center–everyone should be able to see themselves in the mirror.
There is no mention of what a male should wear to take ballet class. :-)Most schools go with black tights, White t-shirt and either black shoes OR white sock and white shoes.
Tamara Stanwood says
Very good point, Eric! And thanks so much for the additional information!
roni mahler says
thank you for taking the time to write this wonderful, much-needed article! here is my “slant” on a few issues:
1) i don’t think the color of the leotard (solids are best!) is as important as the style … as in, “what does the BACK of the leotard look like.” during my many years of teaching, i have come to notice that “we become the shape of our leotard.” hence, if there are criss-crossing straps in the back, the dancer tends to round her shoulders. also, the wearing of a “sports bra” (with that center panel) tends to do the same thing. (it’s amazing how many children and “minimally-endowed” girls wear those sports bras!) in my opinion, the best leotard style (and i’m talking here ONLY about ballet class) is the one that emulates a low-backed tutu … with the shoulder blades UNCOVERED by any material. there’s an old saying (i just made up!): “what we don’t see (i.e. what we cover up), we don’t work on!” that goes for knees, as well! (goodbye … “wrinkly” leg warmers!) and … even though “halter-top” leotards expose the shoulder blades, i find them extremely “counter-productive.” the tension of the elasticized material around the neck (have you ever put your finger under it?) tends to jut the chin forward and (in many instances) makes it difficult to hold in the lower tummy.
2) i don’t believe that yawning in class should be a “don’t.” (BUT ONE SHOULD COVER ONE’S MOUTH!!!) there are many reasons to yawn that have nothing to do with boredom or lack of respect. lack of sleep and low blood sugar are very often the culprits. many students (especially, of middle-school and high-school age) are “burning the candle at both ends” … juggling heavy academic loads with demanding ballet class schedules. they arrive at academic school very early, and “lunch” is often before noon. by the time they get to a late-afternoon ballet class, their blood-sugar level has plummeted. i counsel all my students to toss 2 or 3 high-protein, low-sugar energy bars into their dance bags. no need to eat an entire one. 2 well-chewed bites in between classes will certainly help. (more, of course, before classes begin would be great!)
3) now this “dinosaur” will address applause at the end of class! i truly believe THAT custom can be traced to dance “conventions,” where large numbers of students want to say “thank you.” there is CERTAINLY nothing wrong with applauding. it is definitely an accepted practice of expressing gratitude! however, allow me to present another option, with a somewhat more “personal” touch! at the end of class (one at a time), my students curtsy WHILE LOOKING INTO MY EYES and saying “thank you.” looking down or away doesn’t count! it robs us of “connecting” for that one-on-one moment … which the student and i have come to treasure. but … that’s just me!
roni mahler says
sorry! i should’ve used capitalization! bad habit …
How about the respect and curtiousy students need to show one another ? I am an adult ballet class student and a few classes I have taken there is one ( it only takes one ) who considers themselves above and beyond the rest ,and take it upon themselves to point out where I should stand ,etc..,When center work is performed in groups ,said student will observe and comment in a disparing manner to her buddies ( who she talks to often showing lack of respect to the teacher ). This week I was actually rudely heckled.
I know ballet class has strict protocol , which I love , and due to my own age and level of experience I am highly cognizant of keeping myself in a proper place and generally prefer to a) pay very rapt attention to any direction given to any student, and b ) stay in the back row and cross the floor with a great deal of awareness.
The teacher is very curtious and encouraging of all of us ,but this is the third year in a row this behavior gas gone unchecked.
The aforementioned ” Prima Ballerina ” is quite unremarkable in performance ,while my less techniqly blessed fellow students were breathtaking on stage.
I love my ballet classes ,they are an oasis, and this behavior breaks my heart. The other time I had someone in my class like this I had to leave the class.
Ballet Mummy says
Students should not walk around the streets in their pink tights and leotards. I’m seeing it constantly here in Singapore and it’s just dreadful.