I have done ballet since I was five years old, so I was very excited to take ballet class every week during my semester in Kyoto at K.Classic Ballet Studio. Initial contact was a bit daunting, as it involved painstakingly reviewing rather simple emails to make sure they didn’t involve any embarrassing keigo mishaps. My first day at the studio, I was very nervous, wondering how out-of-place I would look and feel. However, as we took our places at the barre to begin class, I felt completely at home.
The etiquette in a typical ballet class shares a lot in common with that of Japanese society. Politeness and humility, especially toward one’s teacher and to older students, are essential, as is following the rules of classical dance. Uniformity is emphasized; the students all wear a similar style of leotard, tights, and ballet slippers. Even the Japanese rule of not wearing street shoes indoors applies to ballet studios. I realized that having grown up taking ballet classes helped me to adjust to life in Japan.
The content of ballet classes here is comfortingly familiar. The same French ballet terms are used, although they are uttered in Kansai-ben. Our teacher is very direct in her critique, and ballet class is the only setting in Japan in which most of the Japanese I hear is in command form. However, although class is very formal, the students have been very welcoming. I feel that we relate to each other because of our shared love for ballet and because of our shared lifestyles, which have been shaped by ballet.
Through my classes at K.Classic Ballet, I have been able to challenge myself to branch out beyond the community at KCJS and Doshisha. Ballet classes themselves do not offer much opportunity for communication practice, as everyone, besides the teacher, is expected to be silent. It was the moments in the dressing room when I worked up the courage to ask someone their name or to compliment their dancing—and the conversations which stemmed from these initial remarks—which were the most rewarding regarding interaction with the other ballet students. In my experience, taking initiative to interact with my CIP peers, along with choosing an activity I am truly passionate about, have definitely been key to having a meaningful community experience in Kyoto.
Hi Hana, I am so jealous of you! Taking ballet for almost all of your life sounds really awesome and I can feel how much you love ballet through your blog.
I am glad that taking ballet classes helped you to adjust to life in Japan. I hope I can see your performance in one day! The Kansai-ben part is also interesting!
Thanks, Heity! Taking ballet lessons in Japan really helped me understand that ballet, and dance in general, is a universal language. And regarding adjustment to Japan, ballet really did help me to feel both emotionally and physically adjusted.
It’s great to hear that you fit into your class so easily. I think that finding a CIP that you’ll enjoy is contingent on how well you mesh with your peers, and so getting into something that you’ve been doing for years is one of the best ways to participate.
I noticed a similar abundance of French words in my cooking classes, especially when it came to the names of well-known dishes, certain techniques, or prep work. Have you ever looked at how the katakana looks for them? Going from English to Japanese is generally easy to do, French to Japanese feels like a lot of guesswork as to where the long sounds or yōon go.
Were your classes mainly geared towards people looking to just practice and perform in the classroom, or were there events like recitals that you would train for?
That’s an interesting question about the French terms. Reading French ballet terms in Japanese is a bit of a pain, partly because I am used to hearing them in an American accent. Sometimes the Japanese spelling and pronunciation more closely mimic the actual French pronunciation, to which I’m not accustomed.
I just went to the studio for regular lessons, but the other students always rehearsed after class, either for their upcoming spring performance or for various competitions.
It is so great that you fit into the class so easily! I am wondering if your class only opens to people who are already expert and have been practicing since 5 years old, or the participants have more diverse background.
I took the highest level, which is mostly for high-school students and older, who have all been doing ballet since they were very young. However, the studio also offers beginner classes for adults.
It’s great that you were able to continue your passion in Japan! I find it so interesting how unique the ballet etiquette is, since it stems from certain aspects of Japanese culture. Does the structure of the ballet class and the type of ballet steps you practice differ a lot from your ballet classes back home?
Honestly, not really! In general, the structure of a ballet class is always the same (barre warm-up–center work–jumps), and classes include the same types of steps. Other than saying お願いします to the teacher at the beginning of each lesson and お疲れ様でしたto the other students at the end, the classes were pretty much identical to the ones I take in the US, just conducted in Japanese.