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. 

November 10, 2014

Dance Away


It was my third class with our guest teacher, and the tricky exercises were at last familiar. Not easy by any means, but I was no longer getting lost within all those changing directions. Time to focus on technique and corrections. But with a huge studio full of students, there was no time for any personal feedback. I had to fall back on myself. And as soon as the music started, so did the record in my head: Ribs in. Knee over toes. Point those toes! Are my knees stretched enough? Is my leg in derrière crossed enough? Am I sitting? Must round arms more. Relax those fingers. Shoulders down. Where is my head, where do I look? Stomach... I'm not using my abs. Heels... Must forward heels in degagé, work through demi-pointe. Don't lose turnout!! No banana feet. The toes! Breathe, remember to breath.

Only when it came to ronde de jambe à terre exercise, I found my calm. Plié degagé devant, in effacé, with the free arm in fifth/couronne, then to a la seconde, then to the back, in effacé again, allongé. Our accompanist was playing another beautiful piece of music, and I started to feel... The many voices in my head simmering down to one: "You can do more." And then it happened. I was dancing as if no one was looking... And no one was. It did not matter. I felt complete, beautiful. I had my moment.

Still, I'm happiest in class when I have my teacher to guide me. My brain is much too busy, over-thinking and over-correcting all the time. It's another aspect about ballet class which I like so much: I don't have to make all the decisions. Our teacher gives us the exercises and combinations, and we follow her directions and apply her corrections. Of course, it doesn't mean that you sit back (no sitting in class!) and stop working. But it means I can focus on the dancing right away. I trust my teacher to push me into the right direction, to captain my ship when needed and to let me sail away when I'm ready...

August 11, 2014

From Beach to Barre

Another summer coming to an end... My dance studio's fall/winter semester begins today, and I have my first morning class already tomorrow. I'm happy, because I've missed those classes, but I'm also feeling a bit of fall melancholy... Not quite ready to make the transition from life at the beach to schedules, adult responsibilities and outerwear. Thankfully, there is dance. What would life be without a passion to sustain us?

I continue to be passionate about ballet, even though I spent more time at the beach than in a dance studio this past summer. Two classes per week, that's all. Can't even remember the last time I've danced as little. I can feel the difference, and I can see it. My leos have shrunk, and there's a new heavyness. But I've never taken class to maintain a certain weight, not even to stay fit... Those have just been bonuses. I dance for the pleasure of it.

This summer, there has been little feedback and even less personal corrections, but I've still had some big relevations. I discovered that working with gravity, really going down into the floor, makes my dancing look and feel more effortless. If you focus only on pulling up, you loose a dimension. One has to go down to come up again. Rebound, in dance and in life. I've also rediscovered my back leg. Previously, when we've been doing chassés/glissés, I've had my weight on the front leg - when I should have pushed more with the back leg. A small adjustment, but a big difference.

My happiest class was when we repeated one of our beautiful adagios. I knew the steps, directions and counts - and then I let go. No more thinking about technique, just flowing with the music. It was a really intense feeling. Made me fall in love with ballet all over again.

Last day at the beach, getting back into the spirit of dance.