January 20, 2015

Quality, not Quantity

Quality, not quantity. How many times have you heard it, and still felt frustrated because you can't developpé your leg past 90 degrees or turn multiple pirouettes? Today, we had an adagio/stretch exercise where the last developpé a la seconde turned facing the barre. On my right side, it's a struggle every time. I try to lift my knee as high as it allows, but when I extend the leg, it feels jammed. Like something is pushing it down. I've had this problem for as long as I've been dancing. I work, do the best I can, but there's been almost no progress. You can understand how one might give up trying... Especially when the body feels tired, and the barre that I'm facing has a mirror behind it. There are times, when I don't like to look at myself. My mirror image shows my struggle, and it's not pretty.

I was so frustrated today, lifting my leg up, feeling the effort but not seeing the result, that I gave up. My mind was telling me: "What's the use, you will never have a high developpé, where's the fun in trying?" But it's no way to dance... You have to give your body and mind a fighting chance! Because when you practice halfhearted, it shows. The movement loses conviction, it becomes something that is in-between. Not ballet, not anything really. My teacher, she noticed. Of course. And she gave us (me) the Talk.

It is about quality, not how high you can extend your leg. Not even professional dancers have their extensions always up to their ears (although my teacher does). When you are well placed, a developpé is beautiful at any height. Also, it's not just about the destination. The journey is equally important. The way your foot leaves the floor (through a high demi-point), touches the shin at coud de pied, caresses the leg all the way up to your knee, stays pointed while you lift the knee, making room in your hips, engaging your core, stretching and turning out the working leg, keeping the back long, then extending, elongating, breathing, reaching out...

Work on your technique and your strength as much as your body and life allows. But as you dream of greater heights, do not lose sight of what can be beautiful right now. Make every developpé count. And please, never feel it's worth less just because it rises low. The lines you draw with your arms, feet and legs - they have no limits.

I have no picture of me in developpé a la seconde, but this is a good stretch for it.

xoxo
- Johanna

6 comments:

  1. Well said. I have been thinking about this recently. I am approaching fifty, and I start feeling my body's limits (which was/is hard to admit.) There are some things that might not get better any more. I try to feel the beauty of the moment.

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    Replies
    1. Like I wrote, it's the quality of placement and process. You might not get better at high extensions, big jumps or multiple turns, but you can always work on clean technique, beautiful placement and expression. I'm also inching my way into fifty, but I haven't yet reached the point where I feel I'm on a decline... Perhaps because I've had the most nurturing teacher in the past years, and as a result have advanced way beyond what I thought possible. But I might have to accept that a higher developpé is never going to happen. And by accepting I mean loving what I CAN do. Like you said, feel the beauty of the moment...

      Thank you for your comment! :)
      - Johanna

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  2. That's just...exactly what I needed right now. At my age, I have pretty high hopes that I -can- improve my developpes and releve lents with enough effort and practice, but it's, obviously, not happening fast. As a result, I am constantly on the verge (or past it) of jeopardising my technique to get that foot higher. I think I needed someone to remind me to not only mind my technique, but to also make it beautiful, no matter how low I currently reach.

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    1. Yes. Quality must always come first. That doesn't mean you can't push and test your limits, but it means you have to be patient and disciplined about it. In the end, that will get you the most enduring and beautiful results. And remembering that every step along the way is of equal worth, kind of takes the pressure away... I'm glad that my teacher keeps reminding me of that.

      Thank you for your comment, and keep up the good work! :)
      - Johanna

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  3. Excellent, thank you! Just a note about age: I am 57 and will be 58 this spring. My 67 year old friend is usually the oldest in class, and I am the next oldest. It is easier for me to get an injury, and I must be more diligent than ever with the rehab from each injury. Then, it certainly behooves me to continue on a regular basis with whatever exercises I was doing for that rehab (currently for knees and mid to low back). That said, each year I improve, and I am a better dancer now than I have ever been. I continue to learn amazing things that help me dance better and enjoy it more. The level of my dancing most closely correlates with how much in the way of ballet classes and cross-training activities (yoga, swimming, & hiking) I am able to do per week, NOT with my age. So I encourage everyone to boldly continue to push the "age envelope," and, as you said, enjoy each step of the process.

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    1. Yes, most definitely. I have much better technique now than I did in my twenties, and I'm also more flexible. Not to mention more expressive... But I've also noticed that taking longer breaks is harder on the body (when you return to class), and that it takes longer to recover. It's a balancing act. You can't neglect what the body is trying to tell you, especially not with painful messages... I hope to dance well into mature age, and possibly beyond! There will probably be more adjustments along the way, but right now I enjoy pushing the envelope more than ever :).

      Thanks for a very inspiring & uplifting comment!! :)
      - Johanna

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