September 14, 2013

Shy Swan



This week, we have been working on this beautiful center adagio... It begins with a developpé to the front, then through first into arabesque plié, then developpé ecarté, followed by attitude promenade, into arabesque allongé. It's simple enough, though hardly easy. As if ballet is ever easy... But the real challenge comes with the port de bras. Swan arms! When my teacher demonstrated, it was as if Odette had come alive... No artifice, no cliches - but a fleeting moment of heart-stopping beauty. Feminine, fragile yet strong at the same time. Then it was our turn. "I want to see different swans... Be beautiful, make me enjoy it." At this point, [insert panic] and enter ugly duckling.

I can handle the basic second, third or fifth port de bras just fine - it's what I've been practicing since 1991. You learn the technique, and then it becomes your comfort zone. If you're a shy dancer/person like myself, it's a safe place to be. I can hide behind technique. Why? Partly, because ballet is such an unforgiving art form... A great joy to learn and to experience, but hard. Every flaw and mistake is immediately visible. Every bad day is on display for others to see. Sometimes, it feels like you're naked. But you cannot be an artist without daring to be vulnerable. Yes, I wrote "artist" - even though I'm just your average middle-aged late-starter recreational ballet dancer.

When our teacher told us to be "swans", my immediate thought was: I don't know how to be a swan, I will look silly trying to be one, which arm goes first and how did she make it look so beautiful, and what if I totally suck, and where can I hide... Lots of thoughts, even before the first move. But I gave it a try, duckling-style, and it was not so scary. Next time, Madame gave us a more detailed demonstration of the arms, and I tried to copy it as well as I could. Even though she said that the port de bras could be a little different for each of us. However, "different" means revealing yourself, showing your interpretation of the movement, your style (or lack thereof) - and I was not ready.

I'm still not 100% out there. But my confidence is growing. During the summer, I had more opportunities to "colour" my dancing, and to "play" with my port de bras - and it felt so right. After a lot of square & academic dancing, it was even liberating. Then, one of my summer teachers gave me unexpected and positive feedback, which made me very happy. I was doing my own thing (without changing the exercises of course) - and it turned out to be a good thing!

Now, it feels like everything is new again. I have a dream ballet schedule, I get to work with my favorite teacher on three days instead of one, and I have another awesome class on Sundays (with various teachers). There is still strong emphasis on clean technique, but I've been getting a lot more feedback on expressing myself. How to use my head and eyes, how to breathe into the movement, how to make it look interesting... How to dance, really. It's been an amazing experience. This duckling might yet grow into a swan.



17 comments:

  1. Isn't it wonderful when this happens? Especially for middle aged ladies like you and me? I have been experiencing similar things in my flamenco classes recently. Now I feel I must work even harder to keep it up. But I love it.

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    1. Yes, it adds the "extra" to the "ordinary". Really, it changes everything. And like you said, it raises the bar/re... and opens the door to a whole new world. I love it.

      Thanks for sharing your experience. :)

      - Johanna

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  2. Port de bras is never easy in any context. Not even in class. In Swan Lake (particularly Act III when Odette flutters in silhouette as Siegried pledges his love to Odile) or Pavlova's Dying Swan it must be particularly demanding. I am very impressed by your accomplishments. I don't know what dancers say to encourage each other in your country but here they say "choukas" or "toi-toi" and that's what I say to you.

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    1. Thank you, Jane! I'm not there yet.. far from it, actually! Right now, my basic port de bras is pretty clean, sometimes stiff or academic. But on really good days, it feels like something else entirely. Like painting the air. Like there's a connection between the music and myself. When that happens, I don't think, I just feel. It's a wonderful feeling.. :)

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  3. Thank you for this wonderful post. I agree with you in many ways! By the way, what is your favourite part of class?

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    1. Thank you so much. :) My favourite part? I would have to say that I love a good class from first tendu to last reverance. Especially if one of my fave teachers is giving class! Although, some days are different... If I'm feeling very stiff or sore, barre is not my favorite time. But you still need it for a good & strong center. Hmm... Let's say I like fondues better than frappés, ronde de jambes better on the floor than en l'air, grand battements more than developpés... But I do like barre. And I do love center.

      Another favorite part of class: when you body warms up, you feel the music, and your inner ballerina/swan comes alive.. ;)

      What's not to like about ballet class?

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  4. What a great post! And I do believe the little duckling has INDEED turned into a swan! Certainly your words are elegant and graceful and lovely. Brava! Enjoyed reading.

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    1. Thank you so much, Terez :) Coming from a writer like yourself, that is quite a compliment! As for my inner duckling/swan... it comes and goes. I wish I could have more courage in class, more abandon. But whenever things get really challenging (and interesting), I tend to regress to safe territory. Last class, our teacher told us that we were using only 20% of our dance capacity! And she wasn't talking high legs or turnout. But it's hard when you have previously been drilled to dance squarely & academically. And a little intimidating when your teacher's port de bras alone is a source of inspiration even for seasoned pros! But I love her style and artistry, and I'm going to keep stepping out of my comfort zone...

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  5. Hello! I wanted to say that I absolutely ADORE your blog (as in, I check in every day to see if you've posted anything new, and read old posts as well). I find a lot of what you say (as in, everything) right to the pointe! I'm not an adult dancer- I'm just sixteen, but I am a year behind my class mates due to injuries. Pretty much everything you post I relate to! I think you're very brave and talented and just very very brave. Ballet is hard, and I have to say I look up to you very much. Good luck with your ballet endeavors, as well as blogging!
    -Dixie

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  6. Thank you, Dixie... It makes me very happy that you can relate to my writing - and it inspires me to keep going! But I don't know if I'm all that brave... Ballet is hard, like you said, but that's a big part of its appeal. Dance gives me great joy, whenever, whatever. Sometimes, I do get frustrated. And oftentimes, ballet's technical demands are obstacles I cannot simply jump over (although I love to jump). But we dance with our own bodies and minds, and make the most of it.

    I hope your injuries are a thing of the past, and that you will find catching up a challenge to embrace! One thing is certain: time off gives us time to reflect, and rebuilding strength and proper technique makes a stronger dancer. Both will benefit you.

    Wishing you lots of joy in dance!
    - Johanna

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  7. I love how you put it, no artifice, no cliché, just a moment ...
    Just reading that made me catch my breath and really see it for a moment, so nice when we get those moments in class right before our very eyes.

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    1. Thank you, AB. With this teacher, we get it every class - sometimes to the point of distraction! Really, as you watch her dance (even when it's at the barre), it's very easy to get lost in the beauty of it...

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  8. I really wonder how my teacher keeps a straight face when we do swan arms. I think she must love us a little bit. My teacher is Catherine Tully of 4dancers, she has AMAZING epaulement!

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    1. Lisa, she probably does! How could she not, when she gets to see her ducklings grow into swans.. Seriously, I have wondered the same in our classes. Our teacher has danced the part of Odette/Odile herself, and that artistry and elegance is always present. It's wonderful to have such inspiring teachers, is it not? :)

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  9. Wonderful post! Sometimes I forget to stop focusing on each individual muscle and just DANCE. Thanks for a great reminder. :-)

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    1. It's always a challenge to let go, but not so much that you loose it altogether! Of course, the more you dance, the easier it gets. Though not really - because ballet is never easy. But you do get better! Hope that makes sense. :)

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  10. A friend last summer play the variation of the white swam, an I think it was pretty to see that someone interpreted the shy wam.

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