Expert Feature: Ballet with Maria Dean

EvolvEd intern Johnathan Dean sits down with Maria Dean to talk about her experience with ballet, why she loves dancing, how it serves as a creative outlet and avenue of self-expression.

When did you first start ballet? 

I first started classical ballet at age 5. 

Why did you try ballet? Were there any people who encouraged you to try or who influenced you? 

I mainly tried ballet because I wanted to see what type of activity I loved the most. There weren’t many people who have influenced me to continue ballet, but there definitely have been people who encouraged me to work hard and continue to improve my technique. 

What do you like most about ballet? 

I love the performance aspect of ballet. It isn’t about competing with others but rather a group activity where you can work together to produce something beautiful. 

Dance is often referred to as a way to express oneself, artistic or otherwise–is this true for you? 

Yes, completely. Whatever feelings you may be having while you are dancing, can bring out specific elements you may otherwise not recognize. I find it also to be a way to forget about other challenges you may be facing in your life, and just focus on the artistic and physical challenges of ballet, which can almost feel like a meditative practice.

What’s the most important to learn and focus on when first learning ballet? 

I think being open minded when learning ballet is a really important skill. You should be able to take constructive criticism to better your dancing, and be patient and realize that it may take time to improve, and consistency is key. 

What do you typically think about while dancing? Is there something that you direct your attention towards? 

Typically for me, it is hard to focus on one thing at a time. Every part of your body needs attention while dancing, so by focusing on one part of your body at a time, you may be forgetting others. The main thing I tend to think about is the combination, or order of steps that I need to follow, and your technique and way your body moves will eventually come naturally. However if you are given a correction, focusing on the one part of your body that needs a change can help. 

What’s something that someone might not initially realize about ballet? 

One thing people may not realize is that ballet tends to rely on quick thinking. For example when given a combination the teacher may repeat it one to three times depending on the level of challenge, and you need to be able to pick up the combination and do it within minutes. As the level gets higher, the teacher may only repeat it once and then begin the music and there will be no time for questions. 

Do you anticipate dancing after high school in college or elsewhere? 

I hope to continue dancing all throughout my life, whether it be as a ballet teacher, dance in college, or joining a dance company. 

What’s the hardest part of ballet?

Personally the hardest part is pushing through when you are in pain. Often when a teacher gives a challenging or long combination, you may feel like stopping or taking a breath, but in most ballet classes it is unacceptable to stop in the middle of a combination. You need to develop the strength to push through, even if you are at your wit’s end.

What are some basics of ballet that you would bring a mentee through? 

I would bring them through the first six positions, common arm positions, and the most basic steps that most ballet classes will include.

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Check out Maria’s course on Ballet Basics!

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