From Barre to Bar: Lessons Ballet Has Taught Me About Drinking Etiquette

At the age of three years old, I, like many girls, put on my pink tights, black leotard and ballet shoes for my first dance class. From that day, dance became such an integral part of my life. I went to a studio that concentrated strongly on ballet, so I often found myself in ballet classes 3-5 times a week unless it was Nutcracker season…I might as well have waved my social life goodbye.

There were days when I could not wait to put my hair in a bun, forget about my schoolwork and just dance. I will admit, however, there were also days when I thought my dance teachers were out to get me, trying to tear at every emotion and muscle in my body. These were the days when I doubted if I had the mental and physical stamina to get me through my ballet classes. As hard as I may have been pushed, I would never trade it away for the feelings I had whenever I mastered another move or performed in front of an audience.

It has been about five years since I hung up my pointe shoes and packed away my leotards, but I can’t shake the lessons I learned in those countless ballet classes, especially at the (sometimes daunting) barre. Although I’m not at the ballet barre, a few nights a week here in college I do still find myself at another type of bar…the drinking bar. What does a ballerina in a tutu know about throwing back a few beers? Honestly, quite a bit! There are many lessons ingrained in my mind from years at the ballet barre that I now find applicable in my college years out with friends at the bar.

1. To achieve greatness and your moment in the spotlight, you have to work very hard and sacrifice.

In ballet, you are always going to be next to someone at the barre who is more flexible, more graceful, or jumps, turns, and developpes in a more technically beautiful way than you. Similar to this, at the bar there will always be a girl who is better than you at getting the bartender’s attention, holding a martini in a “fancier fashion,” throwing back shots, or shot-gunning a beer. This should not deflate you; instead you should push yourself harder. You may have to sacrifice your clingy friends to get that guy’s attention across the bar, be borderline aggressive to get into MA’s on a rainy cold night or work very hard to build up your tolerance in order to be successful in your endeavors at the bar. “Don’t give up, you are meant to be a star.” There is another side of the story though: similar to dance, you may have to sacrifice those social nights out at the bar with your friends in order to achieve greatness in other aspects of your life like school, extracurricular activities, and work.  

2. No matter how much pain you may be in, you must always smile through it and maintain your posture.

If you have ever experienced the numb feeling in your feet that takes over while en pointe, or the pain of being in a gut-sucking tutu, then you know exactly what I am talking about. To the audience, we look graceful and want to have them believe every move is done with ease. On the inside, however, we are trying to remember to breathe, feeling our muscles cringe, and sweating from the lack of air on a July afternoon during ballet workshops. We can NEVER let them know! When we go out, sometimes we wear heels on cobblestones in Boston or tank tops and skirts in January. We also deal with the “Am I gonna make it feeling?” on those rough nights, but composure is always key. You can never be “that girl” and therefore you must keep your posture, take deep breaths and smile because to the outsider you are a graceful girl and nothing can shake you. Side note: Once you get back to your dorm, THEN you can collapse in your bed!

3. Sometimes you will fail, but that doesn’t mean it’s crazy to try the same thing over and over again until you get it perfect.

In dance, like many things in life, it is rare/impossible to do something perfectly the first time you try it. I fell several times on my face as I tried to add another turn to my pirouettes; I didn’t place first despite how hard I practiced for competitions; I had my body position corrected more times than I can count during technique classes at the barre, but this only made me work harder to perfect it. When drinking, you will not be a professional pong player the first time you play, nor will you be able to mix the perfect drink on your first pour, but you can practice over and over again because once you nail it, it is awesome!

4. Patience is a virtue.

No matter how much I stretched, sometimes I just could not get my leg any higher. My teacher glanced me over multiple times in ballet class as her direction was focused on another student. My time eventually came though! There was no use getting frustrated because that would only affect my mentality. At a bar, you often have to wait much longer than you want to get in and then you typically have another waiting session before you can get the bartender’s attention and who knows how long you have to wait until you get a seat! Don’t get uptight, just be patient and enjoy the moment. Nobody wants to be around an angry ballerina, nor do they want to be around a grumpy person when they are trying to have fun at the bar.

5. Let the music move you! (You can be any character you want to be)

When I danced, I took on roles of a flower, “snowflake,” and Giant Mouse, all in one rehearsal. I just had to let the music move me. Similar to this, we all know too well after a few drinks we feel ourselves swaying to the music and tempted to dance. For better or worse, let the music move you and embrace your moves. We have all seen someone at the bar who embraces this mantra and thinks they look like Beyoncé once the music is blasting, but actually have moves more like Barney. Just let them be, there is nothing like that passion to dance that wells up in you when you feel it in the music.

6. If you’re a beginner, no need to get fancy! Stick to what you know and own that before you move on.

Your body knows how much you can handle as a dancer and although you should always push yourself, I learned never to push myself too far. If I was trying to impress the judges or my teacher, it was better to stick with something I was comfortable and confident doing instead of trying out something knew that could lead to a sprained ankle and looks of confusion. Similarly, don’t try out a “fancy cocktail” if you don’t know at least one liquor in it. Build up your tolerance and your palette to save you some embarrassment and some cash.

7. There is a time to lead and a time to follow. Know when you need to do each and stick to it!

As a dancer, you are sometimes front and center, but you are also sometimes in the back corner. Your teacher may praise you and have you show the class your technique or they may have you follow the technique of a classmate. Just accept your position and make the most of it. Don’t push it because you are bound to hurt yourself and your reputation. Similarly, don’t question a bartender when their job is to make drinks or a bouncer when their job is to check IDs…it will only get you watered down drinks and angry neighbors. Also, if it is someone’s birthday, never try to steal their spotlight; you are there to have fun with them and support them so don’t overshadow their moment. With safety, there is also times when you may need to step up and lead the pack to help a friend, but if a fight or emotional breakdown is about to take place, it may be better to take a backseat.

8. Your body is a temple, treat it that way…or you will regret it.

In ballet, we had to eat, drink and sleep in a way that would keep our body in shape and our stamina in check. Saturday morning ballet classes were never enjoyable when I did not get enough sleep the night before, nor were the nighttime classes pleasant if I ate junk food during the day. Everything had to be done with preservation in mind so I would have enough of the right nutrition and exercise to make me feel good. With drinking, you must also treat your body as a temple. I have never heard of anyone having a pleasant hangover. We only have one body and therefore must remember to drink in moderation to have our health last for years.

9. Discipline and self-control is key!

Holding yourself up in a passé on relevé as sweat is beating down your back until your teacher says “and down” (which depending on her mood could seem like an eternity) is NOT easy. There were many times I found my muscles shaking as I tried to maintain my balance at the barre, but I had to stay focused with discipline and self control. When you are drinking, you also need to show these skills. Know how much you can handle, keep yourself composed and be focused. You are not invincible no matter what your inebriated voice tells you so “make good choices.”

10. It is always more fun when you are around your friends.

As serious as I often had to be in class, I think I was my silliest self whenever I was around my dance friends! Seeing my friends grimace, roll their eyes when the teacher said “MORE” as well as see their elation as they mastered something they had been working on for so long was incredibly rewarding. When you have rehearsals for hours on end, it gets much more enjoyable when you are surrounded by your friends. Plus, they always understand when you have to say, “Oh sorry, I can’t, I have dance.” Just like I enjoyed ballet most because of the people I was around, I also enjoy my nights out drinking when I am around my friends. They are my wing-women, my confidence boosters, my guides back home, and my dance partners. Always have a drinking buddy; it makes your night that much better!

11. Be confident in you.

There were many times I would question myself as a dancer when I stood at the ballet barre. Was I good enough? Did I really like this? What did my teacher think of me? These thoughts only made me flustered. I had to be confident because it created a mental and physical strength that got me through those tough classes. Out at a bar, there is nothing more attractive than a confident girl who knows what she wants to drink, how to order a drink and trusts what she is wearing, who she is with and what she wants to do for the night. Don’t question yourself and always go in with confidence.

I’ve turned in my ballet shoes for ballet flats and toned my stage makeup down a notch here at college, but I have still held onto the lessons I learned in ballet. You probably won’t find me (on most nights) doing grandé jeté across the bar floor, but you will find me having that same confidence, composure, and passion that I had in my leotard and tights years ago.


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