Everyone knows the basics of classroom etiquette. They go back to our kindergarten days: arrive on time, no talking, no chewing gum, no food, etc. Some studios ask students to turn their cell phones off. Some require that you remove hard-soled shoes, that you bring only water with you to the studio, that you leave your coats and bags in a dressing area, and so on.
But what about the unwritten rules? You know, the ones everyone else seems to know but you. Why is everyone lined up there? Why is she in front? What hand do we start with on the barre? Heaven help you if you break these rules: you'll bring the wrath of Anna Pavlova's ghost upon you! It can be intimidating to a new student and is often a reason why some people don't go to class. So here are a few do's and don'ts to help you before (and after) you go to ballet class:
A ballet class is structured in 3 general parts: barre, centre, and allegro.
The barre's exercises alternate so that you will perform one side with the left hand on the barre, then turn around and do the same exercise on the other side.
In the centre, we do adagio, turns and petit allegro. Most of these exercises are done in groups. Usually the teacher will decide how many students will go in each group - often, half and half for adagio and smaller groups for turns and allegro. When you are not in a group, step aside and watch until it's your turn.
For grand allegro and other locomotive steps like pique turns, etc. we usually conduct exercises in specific groups of 3 or 4 and we begin from the upstage left side of the room (the mirror is downstage) and travel on a diagonal downstage to exit stage right. The exercise is repeated group by group perhaps 2 or 3 times and then everyone moves to the upstage right side of the room to go downstage left.
And now some specifics--
DO find a spot at the barre behind a student who obviously knows what she's doing. Even better, get one between 2 good students; that way, when you turn around, you will have another person to follow.
DO line yourself up with your left hand on the barre. Traditionally, each exercise in class leads with the left hand on the barre, using the right arm for port de bars and the right leg working. Very rarely you will be in a class that begins with the right arm on the barre.
DO turn in to the barre if the class is crowded. This means angle your body slightly toward the barre if there are a lot of people in your class.
DO alternate hands on the barre. For classes with free-standing barres in which students line up on both sides of the barre, please situate yourself like so: first person at the barre usually stands in the center of it. Second person is on the other side to the person #1's right or left. Third person usually stands on the side of person #2 with their hand on the other side of person #1. A fourth person on the barre stands on person #1's side behind person #1, alternating with person #3. It looks like this:
DO continue to stretch while the teacher talks. Never stand/talk/lean/daydream while the teacher demonstrates an exercise. Mark it along with her using your hands or feet and if there is a break while she talks to the accompanist or figures it out for herself, just stretch: legs, arms, etc.
DO watch for corrections that are given to other students. Even if the correction does not specifically apply to you, pay attention. You may be able to use it for yourself elsewhere. Plus it's rude not to.
DON'T interrupt the teacher by shouting at her. Just as we learned back in kindergarten, a slightly raised hand to call attention to yourself will likely get you a better response. And please, please refrain from saying things like, "Wait, wait! I don't get it." Most teachers react very badly to this sort of comment.
DON'T talk to the accompanist during class except during the brief break between barre and centre. She might be having fun but she's working and trying to pay attention to the teacher.
DO stand behind the teacher when she is demonstrating in the centre. If you stand in front of her or directly to the side, it will be harder to see the exercise.
DO stand behind better students in the classroom. Unless the teacher specifically places you (and some do!) opt for a spot behind someone who clearly knows what she's doing. But---
DON'T stand directly behind anyone ever in the centre. It's distracting when you're looking into the mirror to see a random arm or leg poking out from behind your reflection. Likewise, if you're in the front of the class, please DON'T take a spot directly in front of the person behind you. You need to separate yourselves both on the floor and in the mirror.
DO pay attention to the music and the intros. Not all intros are 8 counts. Some are 4. Some are 2. Sometimes there is no intro at all and the second group directly follows the first. Always be prepared to go.
DO mark the exercise on the side of the room. Rule of thumb: if there is a marley floor atop a wooden floor, do not stand on the marley unless you are dancing. Think of it as a stage.
DO be aware of students exiting the centre, especially if you are the next group to go. Always take note of where people are leaving - stage right, stage left. When YOU are leaving the space, ALWAYS go downstage toward the mirror and then off to the right or left to allow for the next group to come in and follow you.
NEVER simply stop dancing in the middle of an exercise. If you suddenly forget or get flustered, carefully exit - downstage and then off to the side. It's very difficult to go around someone who has stopped dead. And it can be dangerous!
Whew! That's a lot of information, isn't it? Don't worry - it's not that overwhelming. And Anna Pavlova really won't curse you if you don't remember them all.
Added 6/25...one more thing:
EVERY class usually ends with a reverence, which is a short port de bras or battement or other combination which ends with a bow to the accompanist and to the teacher, after which everyone applauds. You are not expected to know the combination but simply follow along with the teacher who will do it in front of the class with you. Traditionally, we thank the accompanist for playing for us and we also thank the teacher for sharing her knowledge with us. It's a respectful and formal way to end the class. Very old-fashioned but I like it.