October 20, 2013

Lesson Learned


It happened two weeks ago. We were doing this beautiful and rather challenging adagio in center, to the left side, leg up and in grand ronde de jambe... When I kind of lost my focus, my control and my balance. Normally, it's not a big deal. We're not machines, mistakes happen, and it's all part of the dance, right? But that time, I got this sinking feeling... And with it my confidence flew out of the studio. It's a hole I've been in before, and one that's damned hard to climb out again. Even though I recognized the feeling and knew that I should have axed it right there and then, I could not. But why? I had been counting the hours to be in that class again, it was my day off and Madame was teaching. It should have been ballet bliss, because usually, it always is.

What I had not taken into account: I was exhausted from a long eight-day working week, which included a four day expo out of town. After working weekends, you normally get a day off, but I was in the office on Monday - but not before an early morning root canal appointment. Torture. The next day, I dragged myself out of bed, because the mind is stronger than the body, and went to morning class. Noticed that my left foot was a bit painful around the peroneal tendon, but not so bad as to stop. The following day, while sliding my other foot to the back, I pinched a nerve right at the base of the big toe. It felt like going over a cheese grater. Oh, and to top it all off, I've been having another bout of positional vertigo. When I tilt my head to the right (like you would in a cambré), the room goes spinning for three seconds or so. It's all very annoying - but there are really no excuses. Either you stay home, or you work to the best of your abilities. What you do not do is give up.

I lost my confidence. Somehow I came to the conclusion that I suck. We have all been there, we even make jokes about it - because bad days happen to everyone. Sh*t happens. When I should have kicked myself into the butt and focused on class alone, I was giving myself a hard time instead. Even though I was still getting corrections. Praise too. The next day I thought, let's have a fresh start - but I kept falling back into my hole. One bad day turned into a bad week, and I knew that I was heading for trouble. That's when my teacher stepped in; it was time for an intervention. I'm very lucky that way. She knows me well enough, and told me exactly what I needed to hear. It was a private conversation, so no details here, but I will tell you that it was firm and kind. It lifted the fog off my brain. Not all at once, but I made the extra effort. I've been feeling my normal self since. Happy to be in class, no matter what.

Here's what I've learned: If you are walking-dead tired but still long to be in class, go easy on yourself. If you are achy, sore or are suffering from minor ailments, and still feel you have to be in class: don't push it. Don't expect to be your usual strong/balanced/good at turns or whatever it is you're usually good at. Do not compare yourself to the girls with the highest extensions or most flexible bodies, or whatever it is you don't possess. Remember that we are each unique. Appreciate all that you can do. Listen to your body. Breath. Most of all: be kind to yourself.

I have this one teacher who has a very special talent of creating a happy class environment. When Madame makes her rounds along the barre, every student gets positive feedback, a "good" here, a "bien" or "beautiful" there. Madame is also very demanding, and gives a great deal of personal and detailed corrections. Guidance too. She really sees everything that you do, and everything that you could be doing. I swear she has some kind of sixth sense. Maybe even x-ray vision. Seriously, I love her classes. I feel that she not only sees the present me, but also the dancer that I'm capable of being... Which made me think. Why be so damn hard on myself, when my teacher is so kind and positively encouraging? In the end, we can only dance with our own bodies - and we should not let doubtful minds get in the way. Believe in yourself. Know that you can.


Painting above by Katya Gridneva, 1965.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you for this, Johanna! I've been down for some reason and skipped few classes. Just not feeling it. I usually have 3-4 classes per week and now it's been about a week since my last class and it feels like forever. Happy to go back tomorrow and start "fresh" after this not-planned-mini-vacation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Minna - it makes me happy when my writing helps or inspires other dancers! What I can tell you from my experience: Unless you are sick, or very tired, or out of town... try not to skip too many classes! Sometimes, we just don't feel it - but our bodies (and minds) can still benefit. I'm glad to hear that you will be back in class tomorrow. Enjoy your fresh start! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love this post. It applies to us non-dancers, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Naima. I agree with you, although I didn't think about it while writing this. :)

      Delete
  4. One of the biggest issues for dancers like us is our regular-pay-the-bills-like-a-grown-up life. The stress, complications, time restrictions, etc. affect us mentally, emotionally, and physically so that when we head into the studio - where our hearts are - we sometimes take that baggage with us. I've really been dealing with a lack of confidence that has nothing to do with ballet but has been so bad for my dancing, even messing with my desire to dance!!! I had a talk with my Awesome Ballet Teacher about it today as well! Be kind to yourself and listen to your body are two things that I was reminded of today too. Thanks for your post today, it's another reminder to dream and to believe that dance is for me, not just to watch, but to enjoy!

    ~Lorry

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes... Usually, class is a baggage-free zone - that is one of the reasons it's such a happy respite! But you can't always shut it out, sometimes it's just too complicated... And the worst thing? When dancing itself creates new baggage to lug around. That's when all alarm bells should go off! Dance is what we love to do, and whatever else happens, we must keep it that way. Take a break from class only if it really feels like the right thing to do, not like you're making things worse. And if you still feel shitty in class, give yourself a break. You don't have to be 'good', it's enough that you're there to make something out of it. It can be a small thing, maybe just work on your port de bras, or one correction. Listen to the music, let it carry you. It will come back.

      Thank you for your comment, and that wonderful post you wrote about being humble in class. I feel the same way.

      xx Johanna

      Delete
  5. I recently had one of those days that turned into a week of low confidence and poor performance. Whenever that happens, I find it helpful to keep the following in mind: dancing is an exercise in patience and self love - you have to be patient with yourself, learn to encourage yourself (even when your teacher does not) and also to forgive the mistakes you make. When I am patient and kind to yourself, my "low confidence" days decrease and my dancing improves a lot. Thanks for the great post! It's always good to have a reminder like this.
    Tochi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Tochi, for the reminder! I'm not the most patient person - it's something I need to work on. You said it very well, dance is indeed an exercise in patience and love. <3

      Delete
  6. Thank you so much for this post... I tend to forget to just breathe when I´m in class because of my expectations. I also had a few bad classes last week. Then I found this wonderful article: http://dancehealthier.com/2013/10/09/breathe-one-step-at-a-time/
    It just feels so true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for the link! I tend to hold my breath when we are doing a tricky/hard exercise - but dancing is not diving under water... Holding your breath makes you tense up, and that pretty much ruins any fluidity of movement. It also tires you out. I noticed it last Sunday, when we were doing longer exercises than usual (in center). It's really important to pace yourself, catch a breath whenever possible. And really breath into the movement. Definitely something to work on!

      Delete
  7. I love this post and your blog.. so inspiring... :) . I have recently joined ballet class and I am an adult.... I live in that part of the world where there is only one class in the city which teaches ballet.. You are a great inspiration johanna..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much... It makes me happy to know that my writing is inspiring. You know, us adult ballet dancers are pretty the much the same everywhere: we move mountains to make our classes happen. It's wonderful to share this passion with other dancers! I hope that you have a long & blissful ballet journey ahead of you! Keep dancing :)

      - Johanna

      Delete
  8. Oh, what a wonderful post, and I so enjoyed everyone else's comments, as well! This one is a "must reread" for me!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you a lot for this beautiful post. I haven't been able to join Madame's (as you so nicely call her) ballet classes since January this year due to too much work and long hours trying to cope with all the tasks. Now I'm working abroad and most likely next time I can join classes in January. I'm eagerly waiting for your posts because they make me feel like I can get at least a little "taste" of ballet class even if I'm not there physically.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Your posts are amazing...you are so inspiring. Maybe you could check out my blog. I just started it and was hoping for some pointers from more experienced boggers. Thanks so much!

    http://balletestamour.weebly.com/1/archives/11-2013/4.html

    ReplyDelete

The Balletlove Interview

A while back, Singaporean dance wear company Balletlove.co  asked me if I would like to do an interview. As it happens, Balletlove.co is no...