Ten Things I’ve Learned About Watching Ballet

Last night I went to the Freeman Stage to watch a ballet with Carolyn and Laura Marie.  It was my daughter’s first ballet, but I’ve actually been to several.  In my experiences with live ballet, I’ve learned a few lessons about enjoying this particular form of fine art.  Since Laura Marie is really into ballet, I intend to pass on these lessons to her as part of fulfilling my duty as her father.  In the meantime, I would like to share them with you so that you, too, can enjoy your ballet experiences to the fullest.  So here are ten things I’ve learned—from experience—about watching live ballet:

(1) Ballets don’t always have machetes.  Don’t be deceived like I was.  My wife was very strategic in getting me to go to my first ballet with her.  It was some kind of cultural thing where a few guys danced around while flashing machetes.  They scraped them together, shooting sparks.  It was pretty cool.  I decided then and there that I was a big fan of ballet.  All these years, and I didn’t even know what I’d been missing!  Sadly, however, that was to be the last time I ever saw machetes in a ballet.  In every subsequent performance, they’ve been replaced by ribbons and flowers.

(2) When enjoying a ballet, you’re supposed to clap whenever a dancer spins like a flicked nickel on a table.  This also applies if the ballerina does big leaps in a circle around the stage.  Upon completion of the circle, you can also whistle if you happen to be in an outdoor venue.

(3) Apparently a male ballet dancer is not called a ballerino, though I’m not sure why.  It would make sense to me.  I should warn you, though, if you insist on using the term anyway, not everyone (ahem ahem your wife) will always find it as amusing as you do.  For lack of an alternative, however, I will continue to use the term ballerino here because “male ballet dancer” gets cumbersome after a while.

(4) If you’re a ballerino, it’s okay to grab a ballerina’s butt.  Just being present at a ballet will not qualify you—you will get arrested.  But when a ballerino hoists the ballerina up by her southernmost cheeks, you are not to gasp or snicker.  That is considered indelicate.  Acting as though you don’t even notice will make you appear more highly cultured, like a real veteran ballet-goer.  Try your best to appear unfazed.  The ballerinas themselves are obviously unfazed.  I suspect it’s less awkward for them because the guys holding them by their butts are wearing quite a bit of makeup.

(5) When the male ballet dancers do dainty leaps while tossing their hair, it’s not supposed to be funny.  Don’t laugh.  If you do, you’ll be the only one.  I learned this the hard way at the Kennedy Center.  Unfortunately they have great acoustics there, and a laugh really carries around the theater.

(6) If you truly cannot help laughing—and in fact laugh so hard that you’re actually crying—you have two choices.  Assuming you’re not in an aisle seat, in which case you can feign a sudden need to use the bathroom, you can pretend to have an allergy attack.  Don’t let your fake sneezes be too loud, though—just put on enough of a show to explain why you’re shaking and gasping for air and tears are running down your cheeks.  Another option is to shake your head with great wonder and appreciation, as though you’re moved beyond expression and carried away emotionally by the performance.  Concealing laughter at a ballet is an essential skill.  If you’re not able to control your laughter and can’t sufficiently play it off, you could really embarrass your wife and in-laws at a D.C. performance of The Nutcracker.

(7) If you feel inspired to clap but you’re not sure if it’s the appropriate time, play it safe and wait for others to clap first.  This is especially important if you’re sitting in the middle of the front row.  In that situation, clapping at the wrong time might distract the prima ballerina.  That’s all I’m going to say about that.

(8) Don’t get too close to a ballerina.  Evidently they’re like the wild ponies at Assateague—they might not bite, but they will definitely kick.  Why else would the male dancers wear those giant cups?

(9) When a ballerino walks out onstage wearing bright purple pants and a yellow shirt with sparkly pink flowers, pretend this is normal.  Any other reaction will expose you as a false ballet enthusiast.

(10) After a concert or play, the performers take a bow and the audience claps.  It’s a little different with ballet.  After each dance, the ballerina will bow while the audience claps.  However, she’ll keep moving around like her head, arms, and legs are flowing in a light breeze, and apparently you’re supposed to keep clapping until she stops fluttering around.  It’s possible that she might stop moving if the applause stops; but to the best of my knowledge, this theory remains untested.

When viewing ballet, it won’t be hard to find yourself surprised by how impressive the dancers’ finely tuned skills are.  But don’t forget yourself and lose sight of these important guidelines.  Then you, too, can maximize your ballet enjoyment.

Published in: on August 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hilarious! You really pay attention to details. You may or may not be interested to know that there are Washington Ballet performances that are, shall we say, not appropriate for Laure Marie. Haven’t been to one, but the advertisements are pretty spicy.

  2. Thanks for the warning!

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