May 30, 2011

Light!

I love this time of the year. Here in Finland the days are getting longer, and there is still light late in the evening. Today, the sun will begin to set at 22:27 and rise again in less than six hours! All this surplus of light brings with new life and joy, and the many delights of summer: swimming in natural waters, eating fresh sun-ripened strawberries, living outdoors, basking in the warmth.. But it´s those endless days that really revitalize both body and mind! 

Summer night in Helsinki. Photo:here

This past Saturday, when I came home late from our spring recital and was still feeling the stage-buzz, it hit me, right in the face. The daylight at 10 p.m., the soft breeze on my skin, the scent of newly blossoming lilacs, the birch trees swaying and wooshing in the wind, the songbirds chirping.. Oh, how alive I felt at that very moment! I really, truly, could have danced all nightless day!

Dear reader, I can already hear you: What about the recital? Well, it was fun. Not the most clean dancing I have ever done, in fact far from it, but I remembered to exercise another important muscle: my smile! You can cover up a multitude of sins, just by showing the audience that you are having a good time on stage! Of course, someone will pay attention to your technical performance - and I´m my own toughest critic - but a recital is not an audition, nor a competition. The world will not end if you miss a step here, or stumble off a balance there. 

Alexander Theatre, view from the stage.
Having said that, I will take care to be better prepared next time. For this recital I came in at the last minute, after having decided 2 months ago not to perform at all. Too many breaks, too little actual dancing. But when the teacher asked if I wanted to join them anyway, I thought what the hey, life is short.. Fortunately the choreography was not the most demanding, as it was done for the advanced beginner level, but I still had difficulties in remembering the transitions. "What, here 4 steps around, then effacé, and here 7 you said, and 8 counts arms down and what how many steps??? Show me again, please!" Oh dear goddess of dance Terpsichore, help me so I won´t crash into anyone..

Considering all, it was not too bad. I did not bump into the other dancers and I smiled my way through the rest. A dear dancer friend commented on my good stage presence and "beautiful épaulement", so I must have done something right at least. And you know that moment, when you are standing on the dark stage, just before the lights go on? I have no words to describe it, other than: Intense. Excitement. Fear. Bliss..

May 22, 2011

Sink or Swim?

Last night I had the weirdest ballet dream.. I was in pointe class, and about to do a piqué  - when all of a sudden the pointe shoe had turned into a stilt, making it impossible to go up. No need to consult a psychiatrist to figure this one out, not with the class I had on Friday.. It was as if someone had pressed the fast forward button, but edited me out of the loop. Or if everyone else had hitched a ride on the time machine, but left me holding my ticket. I can´t decide which metaphor to use, but you see where I´m going with this. For the first time in a long time I felt like I did not belong in that class.

Part of the reason for feeling sidelined is that it´s no longer the same class, nor the same teacher of late. Madame had to take an early leave, and our previous teacher G (who has been my main ballet teacher for the past three years) returned one month early from her maternity leave to spring in for Madame. Please don´t get me wrong,  I love G´s classes just as much; she is energetic, strict, fun, gives lots of spot-on hands-on corrections, and her technique is precise, quick, springy and very musical - all good. When I started pointe last August, it was in fact with G - and the the best introduction to pointe technique I could have asked for. Even though it was a mixed level, I could begin from point zero, and G took great care that I would not get ahead of myself. We had 10 weekly classes before Madame took over.

I gotta tell you, it was not the easiest of transitions! Classes were more difficult and I had the hardest time trying to keep up. Fortunately we were very, very lucky to get Madame to teach us! I have already sang her praises in many posts, but in short - she really knows how to get the best out of everyone. I don´t think I have ever been more challenged, and yet happy at the same time. She gave us real work to do, killer body-and-feet-building barres, combined with elegant épaulemant and center work that was both scary and exhilarating. It was often way over my head, but she would never give up on you, always taking the extra time to help you get there.

So you get used to a certain way, and then comes another way of doing things - which I should welcome as an exciting challenge! However, The Thing is, I sort of figured G´s classes would be easier. I mean she knows that I am still a pointe-beginner, and would not expect me to do too advanced stuff.. But no such luck. While the barre was relatively easy compared to Madame´s painstaking boot-camp, center was anything but. New steps I had never done before, and in combinations too fast for my feet to grasp. The advanced girls had a blast, and I was miserable. Finally I  changed back into my soft slippers, so I could at least dance until the end of class!

You may think that it´s no big deal, and that I will catch up with the rest. You are probably right. I just resented the sink-or-swim tactic. I do know that our teacher was testing us, figuring out what we have learned while she was away. And I understand how difficult it is to teach a mixed-level class and adjust every exercise to every individual learning experience. And yes, I really miss the attention I was getting from Madame. You may call me a Big Ballet Baby, but I´m far from confident in those pointe shoes. All I ask is that you do not push me into the deep end without throwing me a life-line too!

Dear reader, before you suggest I talk to my teacher, I already did. I know that G really cares for her students and wants us to learn, advance and still enjoy our dancing. I told her class was too difficult for me, and she agreed. She has already promised to give simpler exercises next week. Though I almost wish I had been wrong, that somehow she would have thought it possible for me to be that advanced already. Maybe she even did.. Sadly, I´m no ingenue at ballet. I have my dues to pay, and tons of relevés to do - just like every other dancer. But there is hope. I am not hopeless. And you know what? I used to be a swimmer before I did ballet - so there will be no sinking to the bottom for me!


Underwater picture taken for Australian Ballet´s new Swan Lake (choreography Graeme Murphy).
Dancer: Simone Goldsmith. Photography by Hugh Hamilton & Keith Lo Bue

May 14, 2011

Friday 13th


"You are not doing well because you're having a good day, you're doing well because you pushed through your bad days!"

Just something my teacher said to me today after class. I was feeling quite sorry for myself, having had two bad classes behind me. You know, the kind where you are just trying to keep up, and even that effort is sucking all the energy out of you. After our first pirouettes, it was a sinking feeling right until the end of pointe class. Though, in my defense, I have barely danced this spring. The past 5 weeks, I've managed a total of five ballet classes, plus three hours of pointe which are on the same days as the three advanced technique class I took. Before yesterday, I had been away for two weeks. Easter and work and working away in Germany, and recovering from not sleeping enough while working. Well, no more of that. I am back, starting with three classes per week, and working myself up from there.

Friday has been my favorite ballet class (90 min adv + 60 min pointe) for the past year, and after being away for too much I might have had my expectations a bit too high.. I was just so excited to be back in class that I had forgotten how hard ballet actually is! You can't just take a break and then jump back in as if nothing. No way. The other thing that threw me off, was that Madame is currently unavailable to teach (she should be back for the fall/winter semester). If you have been reading my blog, you know what an impact she has made on me and my dancing. It's not only about the steps and exercises we get to do. It is something about her way of coaching the best out of everyone. It helps that Madame is very encouraging, gives lots of personal attention (so much to correct and improve!) and never gives up on you. This makes me feel both safe and challenged, and happy. I have to admit that I have many insecurities (I suppose I'm not the only one?), and for this class I would have needed the extra TLC as much as the kick in the derrière!

Well, I did not get the proverbial kick, but an actual slap on the butt for "slacking off" the past month. It was a friendly gesture though, administered by my other main teacher G, who came back from her maternity leave early to step in for Madame. G is quite an energetic teacher, pushy and demanding, but mostly in a good way. 

Now I just have to reacquaint myself with G's way of teaching and style of dancing (quick and springy!). It's like when you haven't seen a friend for a long time, and you need to do some catching up to get back on the same page. I'm also going to put in real work to get my feet back under me! And I'm excited about this summer, when there is not just the one great ballet class to look forward to, but three. And number three is a charm, right? I might yet get my groove back. To conclude with a short recap: I had a bad day. I sucked. I will get over it. And hopefully, I will be stronger for it.

Wishing you all the strength, courage and determination to take the lows with the highs and to keep dancing the roller-coaster that is life. Phew. 



For creating a "word cloud" (above blog post) similar to mine, go to www.wordle.net

May 10, 2011

First Date


We met in a tiny but crammed ballet shop, far away from home.. It was not love at first sight, as I tried on at least 20 pairs before my toes slipped into your boxes (oh dear, where am I going with this?) - but it seems this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship..

More to follow on my next post: Pointe Shoes and Pils, Bitte Schön!

May 2, 2011

Got Any Elan?

Definition of élan: enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness.

Lately my ballet classes have been far and few between, whittled down to a meagre one or two per week. Work trips, Easter holidays, dodgy ankles, you name the it, I have not danced because of it. It is really unacceptable, especially when you´re a ballet geek like me! Last week I finally managed to take three intense classes in two days, to make up for a week of not-dancing. Three days later, my right calf keeps still cramping up. Not to mention the out-of-shape panting I did in class, earning a raised eyebrow and an expression of amused pity from my teacher.. 

Just a few months ago I thought of myself as vigorous beyond my years (there will be no number on this subject, not ever), and sure enough, I could easily keep up with kids half my age. Now all I feel is a slight panic setting in.. What if I can´t haul myself out of this rut? What if it´s all down-hill from here? Which is utter rubbish of course. Has to be! After all, I have been here before, and I´ve always managed to bounce back! So, as soon as I return from my upcoming work trip (last before fall), it´s back to three weekly classes, running on days-off, then classes times four and maybe even more! I mean I´ve got the enthusiasm, evidenced by a serious habit of ballet-blogging and tweeting, and I posses the (sometime) liveliness too - provided there´s enough sleep and or coffee.

All I need is the "assured vigor" - piece of cake, right? And rest assured that there will be plenty of cake in Germany. We are leaving this Wednesday, on a refreshing 7:30 morning flight, and will return on Mother´s Day next Sunday. Of course I had to do some googleing, and was surprised to find out that Essen is quite the dance city. There is the Folkwang University of Arts, which has a renowned contemporary dance program (think Pina Bausch), and then there´s the boarding high school of performing arts Gymnasium Essen-Werden. I read somewhere that their classical ballet program ranks among the top 5 in Germany! In addition there are a number of dance festivals and even competitions. I checked out the schedules, but performances for my time slot were sold out already. I did, however, find one dance school (RAD) which offers one adult ballet class after 7 p.m. Any earlier won´t do, since this trip is work, not pleasure! 

Anyway, I will be packing my dance gear just in case. There is of course the distinct possibility that after a hard day´s work I will crave nothing more than a comfortable place to hoist my feet up. That and a cold Weizen (local beer).. Well, vigor can wait another week. After which I will be working my sorry butt off - with joy and enthusiasm and all the liveliness I can master. Gotta get me some of that élan!



P.S. Comments are as usual most welcome, though I might not get back to you before May 9th.

Picture above post: Katie Williams, ABT, "Ballerina Crossing". Photo copyright of Gene Schiavone.