Have you ever thought about what goes on behind the scenes for a ballet performance? Since ballet is a fairly elaborate and very intensive art form, the dancers and artistic staff will have put hundreds of hours into the creation process when all is said and done!
You may have heard the statistic that it takes about one hour of rehearsal to set one minute of new choreography. Well, after the choreography is set, it can take up to five hours of rehearsal to perfect each minute of choreography that goes on stage! The dancers will have performed the choreography literally hundreds of times before it is ready to go onstage. The endless repetition allows the dancers to imprint each of the steps to their muscle memory. Think of it a little like your morning routine. Perhaps after you get out of bed each morning, you do things in a certain order - eat breakfast, shower, get dressed, etc. Have you ever done the same things in the same order so often that you don't actively think about them anymore? It is much like this with the steps that the ballet dancers perform.
Once the steps are second nature, the dancers are able to focus on things like portraying their character and can adjust even the smallest details of where their fingers are placed, where they turn their heads at different places in the choreography, and so on. The dancers will also receive specific corrections from the rehearsal director, who watches each of the rehearsal runs. The rehearsal director will take notes during the ballet and will then let specific dancers know if they need to adjust anything - members of the corps de ballet, or the dancers who perform in large groups, must ensure that they perform each step, head, and body facing is exactly the same as the other dancers. The dancers' timing must also be perfectly in sync.
Getting the ballet to this point is often a long, arduous process, but once you learn to love working hard, the process is a lot of fun. The reward is being able to step off the stage at the end of a performance and know that you've danced your role well. Even if there are hard days during the rehearsal process, the performances remind everyone that it is all worth it.