August 20, 2012

Less is Not More


I was really looking forward to this dance semester. My dance school is offering daily ballet classes (Mon-Fri) at my own level, with all my favorite teachers. I was planning to continue with my Triple-Tuesdays, with technique classes backed up by pointe and even throw in some extra Sunday ballet at another school. Dance to my heart's content. But, unless current circumstances improve considerably, I'm forced to make drastic cutbacks on my dancing hours. I'll be lucky if I can manage two classes a week. I know it's not the worst case scenario ever, but it still makes me miserable.

We can't always get what we want - it's one of the earliest life lessons learnt. Adult dancers work, study, have families and budgets to balance. And unless you're living in Big City, daily ballet classes for adults are a rarity. You wish for more, but if all else fails, you have to settle for less. I have been here before. Back in my student days, I could barely afford the one weekly dance class. Fortunately, I had a teacher who gave me free classes in exchange for the occasional baby-sitting. And I was okay with less, as there was other stuff to keep me interested, busy and occupied.

It's not like ballet makes up my entire pie of life, it is merely a (very tasty) slice. But I would be lying if I didn't admit to the huge size of it! And it's not like there hasn't been an on-off relationship with ballet before. During the Big Break of 2003-2006 I didn't take a single class. This time around, however, stepping back does not feel right. For one, I'm in great shape and don't want to waste it. There is so much work to do, to learn and to enjoy!

Class Time

One class per week is an introduction, if you are new to ballet. Like nibbling on a bite-sized appetizer. You get a taste, but it's not yet time for the main course. If you have been dancing for a long time, one class per week is a reminder of what you're missing. It's also hard work, no matter what level you're dancing. Even if you stretch and work out, you're never quite ready for class. Arabesques - ouch. Jumps - where did all the ballon go to? But once is still better than never.

Two classes a week is just enough for minimal sustenance. It keeps the systems operational, without loosing bounce or closing the doors on turn-out. There's even the possibilty of progress, especially if you focus on quality. For me, this means working on my projection, on directing the eyes, using the head and presenting myself. I also need to fix the placement of my hips - I have this bad tendency of lifting my hip when the leg goes into retiré for pirouettes. There are of course many other things to think about, but it's easier to work on one correction at the time.

Three classes a week is where you move from maintenance to pushing comfort zones. Muscles start to respond better, strength, coordination and balance keep improving. Even if you haven't danced for long, you see visible progress. It is also the point where many start craving for more. That fourth class is just around the corner..

Four classes a week is where classes become a habit, a way of life. Ballet begins to take presedence over other ways of spending your free time. And you do not mind in the least. On the contrary, it is a joy to keep the motor running and yourself dancing. And your hunger keeps growing. Surely there is room for yet another class?

Five classes a week is where it seems there's no turning back. You're hooked on ballet. For professionals and dancers-in-training it's the minimum amount of class time, for you it's the ultimate in luxury. From five it's the shortest pas to six days and double classes, to obsessing about forwarded heels and attitudes, to thinking you can't live without dance. I have been there. I am here now. Knowing about all the classes I'm going to miss makes me sad. The fact that I don't know when things will get back to "normal" makes me miserable. But two classes a week is not not-dancing, and whining about it doesn't really help. I need to look at this positively. How do I turn less into a little bit more?


22 comments:

  1. You got it spot on about the number of classes and the desire for more! I've been doing 4 classes a week at most and it feels the perfect amount right now. I'll be a student again this autumn and I really wouldn't want to give up any classes! I will have to though. :(

    I hope your situation will change for the better very soon! Hang in there!

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    1. Thank you, Iina! I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hopes up high :)

      There are many ways to enjoy ballet; you can view it from a distance, sit in the audience, watch youtube and read all about it. For some this is the only way, for others it's a necessary and delightful supplement. But nothing can replace dancing itself, that feeling when you move with the music, when you elongate, glide and fly through the air.. Sigh <3

      We will manage with less, and appreciate every moment we get. Right? :)

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  2. I am sorry to hear this, and I hope your financial situation will improve soon. Meanwhile, does your dance school offer scholarships for adults? That, I guess, is a long shot at best, but worth trying. Perhaps you could present your blog, show the impressive visitor stats, explain your situation, and ask if they would be willing to give you a few free classes per week in exchange for...well, the free advertising you are and have been doing your blog by staying so loyal to your school and writing mostly very positive things about your teachers?

    Don't give up or get miserable. Get creative and fight.

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    1. Thanks for your encouragement. Sadly, there are no scholarships for adult students (at least not in my age bracket). My school does know about my blog, and I assume they know about the postive (and free) advertising the school's been getting. But asking for favors is a line I don't want to cross. Anyway, I seriously doubt they would be willing to sponsor any of my classes.

      But I will figure something out! There are for instance some places/spaces where I could do my own barre, just to tie me over. I have enough experience not to mess my technique up. And the two classes I hopefully get to keep - they are with the best teachers around! So, at least there's quality, if not quantity :)

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  3. I feel for you Johanna,I understand you perfectly...I am in a similar situation as you; can take many classes which make me feel alive and happy, they make me forget all the worries and down moments I have in here; but here it comes i might have to move out of my apartment and as you know there are no cheap apartments in this city so when i move out things will also change for me and same as you I don´t know how im going to survive with less hours... But we´ll survive and will find the moment when we can take more classes; i think asking the teachers how you can continue improving, even at home with specific exercises or even a routine is a good idea :) Im sure they would help!
    Cheer up ballerina! You won´t stop dancing even if you cannot go to class, you´ll find your way! :))

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    1. Baluka, I'm sorry to hear about your apartment troubles. I hope you find something affordable if you have to move. It would be a shame if you had to dance less because of it.

      Good idea about the exercises. I have always done some ballet specific "homework", now I'll just have to do more! I'd rather not be my own teacher (can't spot all my mistakes), but it's still better than nothing.

      Thanks for cheering me up! :)

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  4. I'd like to point out that it's also ok to take just one class a week. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about ballet as you are, but still like it too much to quit altogether. Not everyone is as goal-oriented with ballet as you are, nothing wrong with aiming for perfection, but for some it is enough to enjoy a class now and then, once a week, twice a week, or even once in just two weeks.

    I know that no significant progress can be expected with such a random schedule, but if I had, say four classes a week regularly, it'd get too serious for me and I'd stop enjoying it. And it's not that I just started, I've danced for nearly 10 years as an adult (and more as a child) and I've found too many classes a week is not good for me. I like to save time and energy for other sports and dance forms too, still not forgetting ballet. People are different :)

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    1. Of course it's ok to take just one class a week! Jeez...

      I'm not telling anyone how to dance or how many classes you should aim for. This is strictly from my own point of view, describing my own experience and desires. I like being serious about it, but that doesn't mean every adult dancer should do the same! Where did you get such an idea from my writing?

      Lots of my dancing friends take less classes than I do, but are no still passionate about it. You can enjoy ballet at many levels, and with different intensity. I also know that many are happy with what they have achieved already, and do not place progress above all else.

      This is hard for me on a personal level, and I'm sorry that you have misconstrued my setback as somesort of criticism on your (or anybody else's) amount of dancing. I don't look down on you for needing/wanting less. I'm glad you get to enjoy dance according to your liking!

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    2. Well, the heading says "less is not more"... But I did not take it as criticism, nor did I meant to criticize your way of taking classes. I just wanted to say that it is ok to take less, for some people, like me, it works better.

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    3. Yes, the heading says that. But it was written from my point of view, expressing how I feel about my current situation. I did not mean to imply a general statement for all dancers. This being a personal blog, not a website for adult dancers.

      I would never dream of judging other ways to dance. Obviously it is ok to dance less, and yes, I'm fully aware that not everyone shares my passion to the same degree. But I don't want to write a disclaimer into every post, I trust readers know what I mean. So I'm Not saying my way is better. It just happens to be my way, that's all.

      Everyone needs to discover what works for them, and dance/live accordingly. Your comment bothered me a bit because I had just revealed that things are not so great, and that I'm not happy about giving up my classes.

      But thanks for making your point, I do understand. :)

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  5. Dear Johanna, I am so sorry that you have to give up your classes. I understand how distressing it is and I really hope that the change is temporary. I am trying to cram in as many classes as possible to guard against the same thing happening to me, which it will. It's almost inevitable, I think. It's funny how taking as many classes as possible isn't just an addiction and a race against time (aging) but also a race against the bank account! I admit to being addicted to ballet, too. I feel your pain.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! :) It is really hard to let go, especially now. I do feel a bit like you - racing against time, wanting to get as many classes as possible. Even though I have loads of good years left in me! Two classes a week will just have to do for a while. Like I wrote, it's not the worst case scenario! And yes, I'm sure this will be only a temporary setback.

      I still have one class saved from summer, so next week I get to take class on three days - yay! Hope everything works out for you too :)

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  6. I will never be a ballet dancer, that hurts a little.

    /Avy

    http://mymotherfuckedmickjagger.blogspot.com


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  7. Johanna ~

    Lovely blog; I'm so happy to have stumbled upon it. I'm sorry to hear of your current setback. From what I gather, this may decelerate but certainly won't halt your advancement. I hope you'll be able to get to the studio more frequently in the near future!

    I wonder whether you'd offer your thoughts on complementing a twice-weekly adult beginning ballet class with regular floor barre exercises at home. I'm 31 years old and will be starting ballet for the almost-first time. (I took ballet classes 3-4x/week for a year while living in Paris, but this was nearly a decade ago.) I'm in great shape, very musical, flexible/coordinated and experienced in yoga, but did not dance as a child and therefore lack any ingrained muscle memory for the discipline. I hope to increase to 4-5 classes per week over time (and dream of advancing to a level, one day, at which I can go en pointe), but I wonder for the moment whether 2 classes/week plus daily at-home exercises would be sufficient for real progress/assimilation.

    I wish you all the best in your dance-related endeavors, and look forward to continuing to read about them!

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    1. Hi Pria,

      thanks - and I'm glad you stumbled here! :)

      Two classes per week is a good way to re-start your ballet regimen. It's much better to increase class time gradually over a year or two. Especially in the beginning, when you are still learning how to execute exercises properly. Quality is now more important than quantity. Of course, what often happens is that you want more before the first year is over! Anyway, I would advise new beginners to start with two classes, and consider up-grading to three only after the first (half-)term.

      Pilates is a great way to complement your ballet training. You get to work on the all-important deep core muscles. Which you need for balance, posture, extensions, jumps, even pirouettes!

      Sounds like you're an intelligent and very motivated dancer, and I'm sure you will do very well! Wishing you many happy classes to come :)

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    2. Many thanks, Johanna, for the advice and encouragement... all much appreciated! Best of luck and happy continued dancing to you!

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  8. For a couple years my work schedule only allowed one class per week, and it is tough. Every class you feel like you are re-learning everything from scratch. It is also more exhausting. I know a number of yoga studios offer free classes in exchange for working at the studio - cleaning, reception, or web maintenance. Maybe you could inquire at your local studios?

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    1. Oh, I know what you're talking about.. The last time I took one class a week was a pain - literally. Developpés to the back had me cramping and it took three days to recover from each class. Also, speed is the first to go, followed by bounce in grand allegro. One class per week might still work on a beginner level, or as a very temporary solution - but not in the long run.

      I'm still hoping that things will improve soon, but if they don't I'll just have to figure something out. Right now I'm down from eight classes to two, which is still danceable. But the worst case scenario of no classes at all is looming around the next corner.

      Thanks for commiserating and sharing those tips, it's a good idea :)

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  9. First of all I have to thank you for your great blog that gave me the courage to start ballet as an adult beginner. Your posts also helped me to find the perfect teachers (I’m now in the basic level of M-P and starting from the beginning with Silvia) I have danced for one and a half years now and it has been great fun.

    But that is also the reason why am so sad to hear that you have to cut your classes for financial reasons. I think they must be crazy in our school if they don’t realise all the good advertising you are doing every week for them. I truly believe that I’m not the only one that has chosen Footlight over the other schools in Helsinki because of your great posts. I just hope they realise this and help you somehow before you have to cut more classes from your schedule.

    I hope you have a great ballet autumn even if it seems like a difficult one now!

    Nina

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    1. Thank you, Nina! :) I'm so happy that you've found the perfect teachers for yourself. Oh, and in case you haven't read it in my blog, Gabriella's classes are awesome too! Her basic level is more challenging than M-P's, but she's very encouraging and gives personal & hands-on corrections. She's helped me a lot over the years, and I feel very fortunate because of it :)

      Thank you for your kind words. You are probably right about all the advertising I've been doing for the school.. But it's always been because I've loved my classes, not because there's a deal involved. I think I would like to keep it that way. But, having said that, I wouldn't mind some bonus classes as a Christmas present ;)

      I'm still hoping that things will turn around soon. The good news is that I'm able to afford another month of dancing, courtesy of Dad's Dance-Aid. If I really stretch my cents, I might even get myself daily classes! Fingers crossed! :)

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  10. I have a demanding work schedule as an orthopedic surgeon and fracture season always limits the classes I can take. Usually i take 4 classes a week but when the motorcycles come out i work late into the night and miss my classes. To help, I made myself a barre and got several DVDs of classes that I can do at anytime. The DVDs aren't free but they are much cheaper than classes! My favorite series is Dimitri Roudnev.... I don't have the space for the grand allegro but working some steps over and over again at least helps me improve. Hope this helps!

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    1. That is something I would love to do! First, I would have to clear some space, and put down a less slippery floor.. but it's not impossible. I have a DVD from David Howard (Advanced ballet class), and I also like to make up my own exercises. Of course, there's no teacher to give corrections, but I could work on the basics.

      Have to check out Dmitri Roudnev, he's new to me. Thanks for sharing. :)

      Also, I was not aware there's fracture season - yikes!

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