January 20, 2015

Quality, not Quantity

Quality, not quantity. How many times have you heard it, and still felt frustrated because you can't developpé your leg past 90 degrees or turn multiple pirouettes? Today, we had an adagio/stretch exercise where the last developpé a la seconde turned facing the barre. On my right side, it's a struggle every time. I try to lift my knee as high as it allows, but when I extend the leg, it feels jammed. Like something is pushing it down. I've had this problem for as long as I've been dancing. I work, do the best I can, but there's been almost no progress. You can understand how one might give up trying... Especially when the body feels tired, and the barre that I'm facing has a mirror behind it. There are times, when I don't like to look at myself. My mirror image shows my struggle, and it's not pretty.

I was so frustrated today, lifting my leg up, feeling the effort but not seeing the result, that I gave up. My mind was telling me: "What's the use, you will never have a high developpé, where's the fun in trying?" But it's no way to dance... You have to give your body and mind a fighting chance! Because when you practice halfhearted, it shows. The movement loses conviction, it becomes something that is in-between. Not ballet, not anything really. My teacher, she noticed. Of course. And she gave us (me) the Talk.

It is about quality, not how high you can extend your leg. Not even professional dancers have their extensions always up to their ears (although my teacher does). When you are well placed, a developpé is beautiful at any height. Also, it's not just about the destination. The journey is equally important. The way your foot leaves the floor (through a high demi-point), touches the shin at coud de pied, caresses the leg all the way up to your knee, stays pointed while you lift the knee, making room in your hips, engaging your core, stretching and turning out the working leg, keeping the back long, then extending, elongating, breathing, reaching out...

Work on your technique and your strength as much as your body and life allows. But as you dream of greater heights, do not lose sight of what can be beautiful right now. Make every developpé count. And please, never feel it's worth less just because it rises low. The lines you draw with your arms, feet and legs - they have no limits.

I have no picture of me in developpé a la seconde, but this is a good stretch for it.

- Johanna

January 19, 2015

Dancer's DNA

My DNA dictates that I do not have a beautiful body for ballet. My hips are too wide, my popo too square, my thighs too round, my arms and hands not graceful enough. My DNA dictates that I lack turn-out, hyper-mobility, and that my arabesques will always be low. My DNA dictates that I will never look like a ballerina. Well, to hell with those dictators!

My DNA has given me a strong body. It has muscles, legs that jump and stretch and toes that point. It has arms for port de bras, and fingers that can flutter like leaves in the wind. It has a rhythm and a heartbeat and lungs that breath. I can dance with this body.

My DNA dictates that I have a brain, and it has made up my mind a long time ago: my heart is in ballet.

So what if you and I lack the facilities and looks of a professional ballerina? It is not relevant when you dance for yourself. Our DNAs are unique, and if it makes us stands out in a crowd, let's carry it with pride and joy!

If you have a dream that dictates you must dance, then that is the only dictator you should follow.

xoxo - Johanna

This short post was inspired by Misa Kuranaga in SK-II's new ad campaign #changedestiny.

December 16, 2014

When You Feel Small, Dance Big

Sometimes, when we are doing agadio, arabesques and attitudes, I see myself in the mirror and think: it's never going to be beautiful. I'll never have the turn-out, lower back flexibility, hyper hip mobility, slender shape, whatnot. Now let me tell you this: it's a train of thought that will get you to Nowhere quicker than you can passé retiré. Don't go there. Instead, take the opposite track. Tendu, fondue, developpé like you have the longest legs in ballet. Stretch as if you're reaching for the stars. Present your extension as if you had diamonds on your heels. Dance big.

More often than not, something is not working the way I want it to. Balances tumble, pirouettes fail, and in the process, my confidence crumbles. It can make me feel small. But this is not the time to cave in. Instead, take out the big guns: the deep pliés, strong center, stretched knees, and pointed toes. Apply the corrections, try again, believe you can - and dance with conviction. When ballet gets hard (and it always does), you get stronger!

"Dance big!" That's what my teacher always keeps telling us. In other words: don't hold back, and don't make yourself small. Reach out, connect fingers with toes (it's a visual), elongate, lift your chin up, look... And see all that you can be. Trust me, it's more than you think. I found that out today, once again. A pirouette diagonal that was not working at all to the right, but then it did to the left. Why? I went back to the basics: plié-ing and push-ing into the floor, closing my opposing arm in quick, not giving up. Because when you're on the floor, that's what you do. You dance full out. Big time.

The best part: dancing big makes you feel not small, but a kind of beautiful.

November 24, 2014

Pretty in Purple

Every adult ballet dancer should have at least one perfect go-to-leotard, the kind that makes you feel pretty even on a shitty day. I have two, in my favourite colours of purple and blue. Both have half-length sleeves, which is probably not a coincidence. Let's just say that upper arms loose some of their firmness once you hit forty... I also have some lovely camisole and tank styles, because you can't really wear long sleeves in summer. But, as it's now winter, I'm happiest with my arms covered. Long sleeves used to be too hot for me, but with stretchy lace and mesh fabrics you won't overheat (unless you're lucky and live somewhere warm. Not Northern Europe).

My latest go-to-leo is this one from So Dança. Wherever I wear it, it gets the most flattering comments! I love the lace sleeves and back, and the boat neck -cut. Very elegant. The fabric is warm and soft but also a tad lightweight, which means that you don't get a lot of support. The sizing was a bit tricky for me. Usually I wear a size medium, but the lace sleeves felt too constricting, so I went one size up. Now the sleeves fit well, but the torso could be a little shorter. I think this model would work well for dancers with longer backs.

Love the lace sleeves! Leotard by So Dança, provided by Suomen Tanssitarvike (dancewear store in Helsinki).

Same leo as above, here with a skirt by Grishko (no longer in their collection). The skirt is a pull-on, with a side-slit.
It has two layers of mesh, in black and red. You can wear either one as the top layer. 
Same leo and skirt as above. 

My other go-to-leotard is this blue one from Mirella. High points for the semi-mesh sleeves and the gorgeous back! I also like the round neck and the seam under the boobs. It fits very well, and the fabric is more supportive than So Danças leo. I have worn this also in summer temperatures, as it's cooler than the purple one.

Blue leo from Mirella. Wrap-around mesh skirt from Wear Moi. The back of the skirt is longer than the front.

As for bottoms: I never go without a skirt. Sometimes, when I'm feeling very confident, I might wear only short black shorts at the barre - but I always add a skirt for center. I have a short mesh "warm-up dress" from Bloch, which looks a lot like a negligé (and you could probably wear it as one). It's great for covering up a too generously cut cleavage (sometimes I worry about leotard-malfunctions), and it does actually keep you warm. What I also like about it: you can roll it down as a skirt. Plus it weighs nothing and takes up no space in your dance bag. The only drawback: the slight flare cut can add width to your hips. Not a lot, and certainly not too much. In fact, I had my slender no-hips ballet buddy try it on, and it did not flatter her at all. So, if you are curvy like me: this dress might look great on you!

Bloch mesh warm-up dress. 
I have quite a few dance skirts. Some are longer, a few are very short, and one has a cheery red polka dot print. Short skirts work best with my height (1.61 cm), but I tend to be a little shy about exposing too much thigh. I don't really like the look of my legs, at least not the upper part. But going for longer lengths does not always look better. It really depends on the proportions. You do not want to shorten the appearance of your legs, or hide too much of your hard-earned lines! Still, go with whatever coverage makes you feel most confident. In short: you don't want your dancewear to distract from your dancing. And: Looking oh so pretty always works!

Leo from Mirella, red polka-dot skirt (sorry you can't see it very well) from Designed by Alice.

Note: Purple So Dança leotard provided by Suomen Tanssitarvike.
Finnish readers: So Dançan violetti tanssipuku yhteistyössä Suomen Tanssitarvikkeen kanssa.